Muck and Mystery
   Loitering With Intent
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October 15, 2011
Born Again

And again, and again ...

Environmentalists get in the way. They often ask the right questions, but they’re chasing the wrong answers, often hypothetical or uneconomic solutions. Venture-capital firms invest in trends by projecting returns. But most projections are pretty much bogus, and research shows that experts are no better at predicting the future than dart-throwing monkeys. Big ideas are where real innovation is, and calculations are near impossible. We see returns as a side effect of bringing big ideas to market. ...

Electric cars are coal-powered cars. Their carbon emissions can be worse than gasoline-powered cars. And today the Prius has a very expensive battery. Real change needs to meet the “Chindia price.” That’s the price at which people in India and China will use your product without subsidies. Unless your technology can achieve unsubsidized competitiveness against the market and fossil fuels, you’re just a toy. ...

I’m very excited by biomass and biofuels. We have a company, KiOR, that turns biomass—for instance, wood chips—into gasoline. The potential value of this company is huge. It could compete with regular crude oil without subsidies.

Note that this is Vinod Khosla, who was an advocate for ethanol subsidies and profited handsomely from subsidies and mandates for ethanol. Now, after having looted so well that the price of corn is now so high that ethanol is struggling even with subsidies, he's come out against it.

Biomass and biofuel derived from it never will make energy sense. There may come a time when there are engineered bacteria that directly synthesize liquid fuels, but they will not depend on sunlight as their source of energy to inefficiently turn into fuel. Khosla is just advocating for his next subsidized killing.

We also have a company trying to create [synthetic] meat that tastes as good as the real thing and may be many times more energy- and plant-protein-efficient. We call it “meat 2.0.”
His big idea for liquid fuel is to switch from ethanol produced by fermentation of the simple sugars in corn, to ethanol produced by using the rest of the maize plant, or even tree flesh. The quest is to use the cellulose and hemi-cellulose of biomass, as well as tougher materials such as lignin, into fuel. His big idea for meat is to also switch from using the simple sugars of corn for producing meat, to processes that use more of the plant.

In both cases we already have a solution, though the product is meat and dairy products from ruminants. They live off the cellulose and hemi-cellulose that current yeast based fermentation of corn starch can't use. In fact, the material left after such fermentation is fed to cattle now, and they proceed to digest it and produce meat and dairy.

Meat 2.0 might be more efficient than chicken, pork or farmed fish that are all omnivores and require rich and easily digested food, but it will be less efficient than simply having ruminants graze the rough biomass in the field, leaving behind the mineral nutrients needed to grow another crop.

Ethanol was a scam that enriched some capitalists like Khosla. They are moving on the the next scam. We should not confuse their machinations with sensible energy and food production.

Posted by back40 at 07:47 PM | Energy

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Ah, meat 2.0 It was the late 70s I think that meat was becoming expensive and a lot of work was done to develop analogues. Textured Soy Protein was the most primitive because its texture was not much like meat and it still had the soy "beany" flavour. In a can of fairly low quality meat, though it was acceptable and lowered the cost.
"spun protein" was also developed. Soy was washed to remove flavour then extruded into very thin fibre and spun into bunches which were then spun into bigger bunches and so on. The texture was quite close to meat and flavours were added to make it taste OK.
The only problem was the cost - way above even beef produced in feedlots and certainly way way above grass fed cattle.
An interesting piece of technology but of absolutely no practical value.
But it's probably due for another run. Just the thing to attract government grants and probably some money from the soy producers.

Posted by: ken nielsen at October 15, 2011 10:54 PM

The most promising notion that I've heard about is cultured flesh. It is meat, but not from an animal that ever lived, just a lump of flesh grown in a vat. There's a squick factor, but for some who are concerned about animal welfare it may be a least bad alternative.

I've also heard of work with fungi - we are kin of sorts - that sought to combine the admirable food qualities of fungi with flavor and texture hacks to simulate a meat experience.

For now, I'm still impressed with the evolved system of bacterial symbiosis with ruminants to work magic that makes meat from grass.

Posted by: back40 at October 15, 2011 11:19 PM
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