25 December 2015

Fusion power vs future synbio-power?

The Blog

Fusion power plants would likely mean sole power plants feeding entire continents or countries with electricity, giving incredible political leverage to the government or company with the off-switch.

Critics of thermonuclear fusion power have therefore said alternative energy must not just be renewable. It must also be decentralized and easily shared.

At Beliefnet, a post of the L'Ordre blog argues that synthetic biology is the key to developing easily shared and decentralized power sources. They will be circulated to even the poorest communities.

Some attention has been given to developing sustainable fuels using new biologically-engineered bacteria that excrete types of petroleum or diesel (see the BBC report here). Although it has not been covered much in the media, such developments have been frequently successful. However, the microbes currently need such specific feedstocks (namely sugar, which has its own problems of labor, land and cost that make it hard to sustain forever) to create difficulties in supplying the microbes. They may also not be used on an industrial scale due to fears of them escaping and contaminating the environment or being stolen for commercial gain, which probably limits their use to highly secure scientific premises.

In the past, the Beliefnet blog expressed a disbelief in the explanations above, pointing instead to the preeminence of corporate greed over global human welfare as the only reason for the failure to make the microbes available more quickly. This theory was in turn challenged by a post at Afflictor.com, which pointed instead to the idea that synthetic biologists are a marginal minority of scientists, which means a lack of human resources to develop that industry.

J. Craig Venter, the scientist-entrepreneur father of synthetic biology, has since become less interested in developing synthetic biology-based fuel and chemical industries than in medicine and longevity, although the idea of inexhaustible fuels is occasionally used in his writing and lectures.

The new Beliefnet post declared using synthetic biology to make a new fuel industry as highly promising but also potentially dangerous, stating, "It could also literally set the world on fire, if handled incorrectly, so the question of how to handle it and at the same time ensure fairness and equal development in the use of synthetic creatures as fuel sources needs to be addressed more deeply."

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