A longer-term vision, though, is to create new microbial mechanisms for biofuels production, including hydrogen.
The DOE’s Genomics:GTL (Genomes to Life) megaproject funds basic research in systems biology and genomics to further the understanding of the mechanisms that could lead to such long-term bio-innovations. (DOE was one of the funders of the Human Genome Project.) (Acronym serendipity: in the petroleum world, GTL stands for Gas-to-Liquids, a process for converting natural gas to liquid fuels.) (Click image to the right for larger, more legible version.)
Genomics:GTL funding has already gone to Dr. Craig Venter’s Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA) and the Sorcerer II Expedition. In the same way the Venter catalyzed (and infuriated) the scientific community with his approach to sequencing the human genome, he’s collecting and sequencing new species of microbes to understand mechanisms for energy production, with the goal of creating an artificial microbial life form optimized for hydrogen production. It may not work; but the research, the data—and the competition—will certainly move things along.
Mike Millikin is the editor of Green Car Congress, focusing on technologies, issues and policies for sustainable mobility.