Oil Plants

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An idea I had some weeks ago is genetically engineered plants that synthesize petroleum oil from hydrogen and carbon. If the need for such a thing was upon us in the next few years, how hard would it be to create oil-gourds, bamboo, algae etc.? Also to what level could huge fields of such plants cope with the world's oil needs?
 

Ouabache

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You and some bright scientists are both on the same track.
In 2000, Bernie Tao at Purdue talked about using plants oils, as a viable substitute for petroleum. Coconut oil and other tropical oils could make a high octane biodiesel fuel, because they produce oils with relatively short carbon-chains. Soybeans and corn are two of the highest oil-yeilding plants but they make oils with longer carbon-chains and would require additional energy to process them into a gasoline-like fuel. However they could be genetically modified to yield shorter carbon-chain oils.

There are many industries dependant on petroleum resources beside transportation and energy. They are used in paints, laquer, printing inks, adhesives, plastics, synthetic rubber, asphalt, polish, candles, clothing, medicine and a host of other products. Prior to World War II, plant oils were used to make many of these products.

As far as coping with world oil needs, we have so many other useful energy alternatives (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, hydroelectric and fuel cells) that become cost effective as petroleum supplies are depleted.
 
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Ouabache said:
You and some bright scientists are both on the same track.
In 2000, Bernie Tao at Purdue talked about using plants oils, as a viable substitute for petroleum. Coconut oil and other tropical oils could make a high octane biodiesel fuel, because they produce oils with long carbon-chains. Soybeans and corn are two of the highest oil-yeilding plants but do not make sufficiently long carbon-chains to make gasoline-like fuel. However they could be genetically modified to yield longer carbon-chain oils.

The link says we'll always need petroleum oil to produce some kinds of plastics, why is that? Can't the hydrocarbon cains from these plants be built up into longer lengths like petroleum oil is? It's all the same chemical structure, except length. What's the problem with that?
This also forgets about Drexler style nanotechnological assemblers wich will exist oneday.
 

Ouabache

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The carbon chains in plant oils are longest, in the fatty acid chains. All the natural ones, at largest are only 22 Carbons long. Perhaps some biochemists can lend some more insight. I don't believe plants can make a fatty acids 200 C's long.
Personally, I think once we run out of petroleum, we will get along fine without it. We are pretty ingenious creatures and can find other materials to work with.

Synthesis may be another alternative in making hydrocarbons of prescribed chain lengths, but is very energy intensive. There would have to be a great need for the end product (e.g. medicine) for that kind of investment. Future technologies (like nanotechnology which you mentioned) may offer even more efficient methods of synthesis.

We need to take caution, in synthesizing all sorts of materials, not produced in nature. Our bodies did not evolve in their presence and may be potentially harmful to us.
 
Ouabache said:
We need to take caution, in synthesizing all sorts of materials, not produced in nature. Our bodies did not evolve in their presence and may be potentially harmful to us.

That's what animal testing is for:) Sure, it makes me sad to see plastic bottles out in the woods that have been there for longer than I've been alive. Plastics can build things you really don't want to rot however. Also medical like you said. That stuff wouldn't work if it was made of cast iron, woven hemp fibers etc.
 

Ivan Seeking

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The Copaiba Langsdorfii, an Amazonian tree, produces a sap which is so similar to diesel that it can be poured straight into a truck's fuel tank.
http://www.the-tree.org.uk/EnchantedForest/wyrd2.htm

...Just as cows give drinkable milk, trees can yield fuel pure enough to be burned in diesel engines. Dubbed the diesel tree, Brazil's Cobaifera tree is the Guernsey of the forest, each mature tree being able to produce 30 to 40 liters (8 to 10 U.S. gallons) per year.

Though not likely to become a significant source of diesel fuel in temperate climates, in the tropics Cobaifera plantations might produce as much as 25 barrels of fuel per year. Still, Cobaifera relatives in the same genus, Euphorbia, are producing 10 barrels per acre in northern California....
http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF3/358.html

Twenty years ago, when I first mentioned this tree to my workmates I was nearly laughed out of the room. :biggrin:
 
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