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Craig Venter: Genomics vs. Oil Economics

VenterJ. Craig Venter may be known for splicing genes, but he’s not one to mince words. Speaking in San Francisco last night as part of the Long Now Foundation’s lecture series, Venter implored members of the audience to not let the failures of first-generation biofuels shake their faith in biofuels as a whole. “Corn-to-ethanol just is not going to get us there. It’s a negative carbon balance and has been heavily subsidized by all of us,” he said. “This is just the wrong experiment taking us very much in the wrong direction.”

Venter is trying to tackle the problem from another angle, using “biofuels by design.” He says his own startup, Synthetic Genomics, could deliver in as little as 18 months a biofuel that turns carbon dioxide into octane.

He also during the talk delivered his usual verbal jabs aimed at the traditional industries that he hopes to disrupt. He quipped that in a meeting with oil executives he told them if they don’t want to invest to solve the problem they helped create, then he would be perfectly happy developing the solution without them. That’s classic Venter.

One of the last slides of his presentation also listed the goals of his genomic experiments, which included nothing short of replacing the petrolchemical industry, advancing genomics as a major source of energy, discovering antibiotics and vaccines, and oh yes, manufacturing life. Right, all in a good day’s work.

Venter wasn’t completely anti-fossil fuels in his speech. He’s currently working with BP to develop a microrobe that would metabolize earthbound coal into methane. “This doesn’t stop taking carbon out of the ground,” he conceded. “But it’s about a ten-fold improvement over mining coal and burning it.”

14 Responses to “Craig Venter: Genomics vs. Oil Economics”

  1. @Uncle B

    Using the traditional American crops for bio-diesel production is not possible, still positive carbon output.

    However I agree on the rail front, I never understood why there isn’t MORE light rail for medium distance travels. And if there was a car that you can use for local use on site, preferably electric that would avoid most “convenience” problems people like to jabber about.

  2. Uncle B

    Diesel engines are more efficient by design than spark ignition engines – look it up on the net – McBush still thinks the net is something you fish with, don’t be like that. To develop corn into ethanol is to prolong the spark ignition engine and low efficiency – make bio-diesel and get the biggest bang for your buck – it’s simple physics – Then go steel wheel to steel rail wherever possible – lowers friction and fuel consumption enormously. Now, make work weeks that accommodate humanity and the transport problem instead of relying on ideas and conventions from the ancient past and religious ritual. Allow hemp production, it gives bio-diesel and pulp fiber for paper in annual crops – fuel and material for lighter cars? We will never know as long as we hang on to 1930s laws and technologies – God help America get out of the 1930s and into the 21st Century before the Chinese and India eat us alive!

  3. Green energy is definitely the best solution in most cases. Technology like solar energy, wind power, fuel cells, zaps electric vehicles, EV hybrids, etc have come so far recently. Green energy even costs way less than oil and gas in many cases.