Biofactories and cowborgs

Clean energy is going to save us. Oh no, wait! Clean energy is going down the tubes. Maybe nuclear energy ia the next big thing after all. Oh, right, except for the earthquake that vaporized all political support for nuclear power. But maybe thorium fission is the magic we’ve been looking for. Or maybe not.

I tell you, these hype cycles are exhausting. It’s enough to make you pretend you don’t care and hope for the best.

When sorting out the hope from the hype, I like to find technically trained people with clear voices, people like Rob Carlson and Tom Murphy. Carlson is on the leading edge of biotechnology and has some encouraging things to say. I enjoyed this piece on The new biofactories. Biotech is promising because it’s granular, scalable, and distributed. Granular, in that it can work in sizes from the humble test tube to a 1000 liter stainless steel brewing tank. So you don’t need a hundred billion dollars just to see if it will work (cough, fusion!). And biotech is scalable in the sense that if it works, you make a lot of product. The fact that it can be distributed means you can make stuff close to where you use it. So not only can you avoid going to the most dangerous part of the world for what you need, you also get to avoid the long trip home from Godforsakenville.

Clearly it would be foolish to say that biotechnology is going to solve our problems, energy-related or otherwise, but it’s coming faster than you think. Read Carlson’s essay and see if you can picture his image of cowborgs mildly sucking on sewage as we milk them for butanol.

Who knows where it’s all headed, but that’s the hype that I’m buying this week.

One thought on “Biofactories and cowborgs”

  1. Hands down, the best discussion of energy futures I’ve ever come across is Prof. David Mackay’s “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air”. It’s a virtuoso performance of back-of-the-envelope calculations; I’d love to see someone re-do it for the US (he focuses on the UK). See for more information.

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