Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Technology Review speaks of 20,000 gal/(acre year) biofuel production

Back in March 2009, IPBiz wrote:

As noted by IPBiz, IAM used material in MIT's Technology Review to prop up Intellectual Ventures against a "troll smear" by Matt Asay. The IAM argument would seem to run: if it's discussed favorably by MIT Technology Review, it must be good technology, and thus IV has good technology in addition to whatever else it's doing.

Of course, IPBiz recalled how favorably MIT Technology Review discussed the completely fraudulent work of Jan-Hendrik Schon:

IPBiz notes the following commentary by the same MIT Technology Review on the fraudulent work of Jan Hendrik Schon:

Hendrik Schön is reinventing the transistor at the place it was born. He and his Bell Labs coworkers have produced single-molecule transistors whose electrical performance is comparable to that of today’s best silicon devices but which are hundreds of times smaller. Making such molecular transistors, which could lead to ultrafast, ultrasmall computers, has been a goal of researchers for years; Schön’s clever design established Bell Labs as a leader in the race. But Schön is not interested in simply reinventing the transistor. He wants to change the very materials that form microelectronics,replacing inorganic semiconductors with organic molecules. Schön has made an organic high-temperature superconductor, renewing hopes that superconductors could have widespread electronic applications. He also helped devise the first electrically driven organic laser, which could mean cheaper optoelectronic devices. The soft-spoken Schön recalls being “very surprised” by how well his molecular transistors worked. But it won’t be a surprise if Schön helps transform microelectronics.

This rosy, but highly unrealistic, picture put forth by MIT Technology Review was vaporized when it turned out that all of Schon's work was fabricated. What was a surprise was how easily Technology Review was duped.

On July 27, Kevin Bullis writing for Technology Review may have suffered a Schon moment in his article titled: A Biofuel Process to Replace All Fossil Fuels which started with the text:

A startup based in Cambridge, MA--Joule Biotechnologies--today revealed details of a process that it says can make 20,000 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. If this yield proves realistic, it could make it practical to replace all fossil fuels used for transportation with biofuels. The company also claims that the fuel can be sold for prices competitive with fossil fuels.

One might ask how many photons per (acre-year) are needed to make 20,000 gallons of any biofuel? Perhaps, Jan-Hendrik is alive and well and in Cambridge? For some background on issues, one might look at "Closed photobioreactors as tools for biofuel production " Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2009, 20:280–285, which notes a photoconversion efficiency [PCE] of about 9%, and states: for reaching the ceiling of 9% PCE, photo-bioreactors have to be
almost ideal concerning mass and light transfer.
That is, of photosynthetically active photons in sunlight [PAR, 400-700 nm], only about 9% go into photosynthesis. Then, one must consider "how many" photons are needed per molecule of biofuel.

Elsewhere, Brendan Borrell speculated on what the organism (asserted NOT to be algae) might be:

One striking possibility is that Joule’s organism is an aquatic plant.

Todd Michael, a plant ecologist at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, who has been studying the potential of freshwater duckweed to be used as a biofuel was surprised by the new announcement. His team speculates that Joule’s organism is the duckweed Wolffia, sometimes called watermeal. The genus includes the smallest flowering plants on Earth.

Bill Sims is CEO and president of Joule Biotechnologies.

**Past post



Algae: The next biofuel bet


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