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Will Artificial Trees Solve Our Energy Woes?

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According to a story on the Nature magazine news site scientists have finally figured out the structure of the last of three hydrogenase enzymes.

Why is this important? Because hydrogenase enzymes are the key to splitting hydrogen from water to create carbohydrates in the natural world. Green plants and some microbes and algae use this process. It has long been assumed that, if we understand the structure and operation of these enzymes, we will be able to produce artificial photosynthesis and through that process and an endless supply of fuel in the form of carbon/hydrogen compounds.

The process of photosynthesis is illustrated by the graphic here. Plants take in water through their roots and carbon dioxide through their leaves. They use the energy provided by sunlight to process water and carbon dioxide onto sugar (carbohydrates) which the plants use as food to grow. The byproduct is oxygen which the plants release into the atmosphere. The hydrogenase enzymes in the leaves of the plant serve as the catalyst to make all this possible.

We can turn the sugars made by plants into fuel such as alcohol or biodiesel or even, through further refining, into synthetic gasoline, diesel, or natural gas. The reason that we haven't been doing this to date is that we haven't understood the structure of hydrogenase enzymes completely enough to replicate them and their function. Now however, with this better understanding of the structure of these enzymes, we are one huge step closer to being able to produce artificial photosynthesis.

In an idealized setup, we could pull carbon dioxide out of the air and use solar energy to do the same thing that plants do, combine this CO2 with water thereby creating sugars that we could turn into fuel. The only by-product of this process would be oxygen which we would release back into the atmosphere. When we burn the fuels that we produced in this way we would release carbon dioxide and water as exhaust (just as we do now).

These two components would then become the raw materials for our artificial photosynthesis plants and so would be removed from the environment turned back into fuel again. It is a replication of the natural cycle on the Earth as it is and is therefore the ultimate "green" fuel source, and one which will allow us to go on burning hydrocarbon fuels and maintain our storage and distribution infrastructure "as-is". The faster that we can develop this process, the faster our CO2 pollution and fuel supply woes will be over, forever.

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About Mike Johnston

  • Nursery

    I hope we all can strive to make the planet a better place. How do we do this? Just by planting a tree or two. It’s little steps like this that help the air quality.

  • Better energy means first of all sustainability, but also lower costs, environmentally friendly and future developments.

  • Excellent. Then you’ll let me know if you still have such confidence in Coleman after you’ve read that rebuttal article.

    I’ll leave you with one thought for now. Toward the end of that article, the author points out that Coleman’s categorical insistence that there is no anthropogenic climate change whatsoever should be viewed with as much skepticism as a prediction that global warming will render all life on Earth extinct within three years.

    The truth, as always, is somewhere in between those extremes.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    What you should be against is people who use flawed science, period – whether it’s to scare people, to justify sticking their hands in the sand, or to sell a piece of fucking crap on an infomercial.

    I agree 100%!

  • What I am against is people who use flawed science to inflict fear upon people.

    What you should be against is people who use flawed science, period – whether it’s to scare people, to justify sticking their hands in the sand, or to sell a piece of fucking crap on an infomercial.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    It’s very obvious that Mr. Richardson only wants to read the comments on this thread,from me, that he doesn’t agree with!

    I never said I was against technology or alternative resources that would take the proverbial “Load” off of Earth’s back!

    What I am against is people who use flawed science to inflict fear upon people.

    Does it really even matter what “Al Gore” does?

    Well, considering he’s the one who won a f*cking Nobel Peace Prize on his ability to open peaople’s eyes to this Earth crisis, then if he really believes the sh!t spewing out his mouth, shouldn’t he be leading by example?!

    On our planet, we have species going extinct to extreme levels not seen in millions of years. We have pollution entering our environment from our cars, factories, and cities at an alarming degree.

    Yea..and without all that “wasteful nonsense” called scientific hypothesizing, you wouldn’t have any information to support your rant about pollution,etc!

    Ultimately, you’re little rant downplays all the good that our country and others have done to negate a lot of the pollutants!

  • Jordan Richardson

    Brian, an overwhelming majority of the scientific community subscribes that there is, at the very least, some degree of human causality in regards to climate change/global warming/whatever you want to call it. Is it not completely irresponsible of us to ignore these obvious warnings and bicker about who caused it, where it came from, and divide into rather convenient political stances?

    Is it not simply common sense that we need to take better care of our environment? Does it really even matter what “Al Gore” does? It sure as hell doesn’t to me. I want to leave a cleaner, better world behind when I die. To me, that means taking care of the environment as much as I can, cutting down on pollution, and living with simplicity. It’s not rocket science and I didn’t need “Al Gore” to tell me to live this way, either. Taking care of the environment is not a fad, nor does it rely on endless theorizing about climate change, the various levels of C02, and all of this other wasteful nonsense.

    On our planet, we have species going extinct to extreme levels not seen in millions of years. We have pollution entering our environment from our cars, factories, and cities at an alarming degree. Trees are being mowed down and very few are being replanted in their place. The Amazon is being hacked and burned to pieces and people in Africa are noticing the effects it has on their ability to grow certain crops. It’s simple cause and effect: if you fuck something up over here, it isn’t simply you that deals with the consequences.

    So I guess my question to anyone caught up in this ridiculous debate is this: If you knew that you could, with your actions and with your behaviour, leave behind a better world for the next generation, would you? We know that there are better ways to live that can help future generations have a better world, yet in our innate stubbornness we continue to resist them. There’s no reason for anyone on this planet to starve, for instance, but yet we find a way for millions of people each day to go without a meal. I think it’s that same lack of efficiency, that same innate stubbornness, and that lack of action that keeps us, as a species, spiraling as we are above the drain.

    I, for one, would rather not simply go about “business as usual.” But hell, if Brian wants to trust his global warming skeptic, have at it. I honestly think debating this issue is a pretty big fucking waste of time.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Dr. Dreadful… I will have to read the article over that you have linked to. But, I leave you with this:

    You are correct, I do not believe in “Human-Caused” Global Warming. When a 113 page scientific hypothesis is only explicitly endorsed by 4 independent reviewers out of the 2500 that the UN IPCC uses to bolster their statistics in support of the supposed scientific evidence, it makes me question the validity of the “facts”.

    When the major environmentalist mouthpiece named Al Gore utilizes more electricity in one month than an average consumer uses in seventeen. I question the validity of the research being done in favor of Global Warming & the scare tactics being used to place guilt squarely on citizens shoulders.

  • Brian, since you apparently have a desperate personal wish that there shouldn’t be any human-caused global warming, and keep posting the same link to the same paper by the same skeptic, I feel it’s only fair that I should post a link to this piece, which refutes Coleman’s arguments methodically and rather effectively, IMHO.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Why do we need to reduce C02 emissions when there is absolutely no correlation between the increase in C02 & average worldwide or U.S. temperatures?

    The average temperature of the Earth has varied within a range of about 3 C during the past 3,000 years. It is currently increasing as the Earth recovers from a period that is known as the Little Ice Age.

    Crucial Reading on Global Warming Scam

    Granted, I am all for technology that will give us artificial energy & fuel because it would be almost unlimited & inexpensive(at some point),BUT, there is NO climatic emergency from our use of fossil fuels!

  • Erich J. Knight

    Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,………… and that now……… we are over doing it.

    The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
    I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world’s forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

    On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

    It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

    The best estimates I’ve found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
    pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
    that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
    the other 2/3.

    Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

    As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, “Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day’s are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative”. and that ” a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! ”

    Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 10X Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

    This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I’m sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it’s implementation.

    The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
    provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
    structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus


    I take what you mean by “digging” as in burning fossil fuels to power the Industrial Revolution?!

    Still, there is no scientific evidence:

    1. That “CO2 Forcing” exists.
    2. That this supposed abundance in CO2 causes Global Warming!

    Valid Comments on Global Warming

  • Nick

    Natural sources of CO2 are balanced by natural sinks. In this way the level of CO2 was stable for about 10,000 years until we started digging up huge amounts of carbon and pouring it into the atmosphere. AKA the start of the industrial revolution.


  • blzbubba

    “Will Artifical Trees Solve Our Energy Woes?”
    What are “…Artifical Trees…”?
    P.S. (Please preview your publications! ;^) )

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Yea..But, Humans are not releasing the most CO2. Don’t dead plants & trees as well as Volcanoes release far more than we do? So how could we be making an impact??

    Ultimately, Global warming is the reason why we are worried about CO2 emissions and I have to say that Global Warming is a farce delivered by an ex-Vice President with an agenda. The Agenda: Scaring people with flawed science & utter demise + creating massive solution to non problem = Lotsa Money!!

    Though, I do agree we need more energy sources [because I don’t want to give all my money to these oil companies that make millions off of stock trends], it doesn’t equate to an Earth crisis.

    My solution: We need to work on reforestation and replanting. We need to stop focusing on fossil fuel & alternative energy and focus on Artificial energy because we have the technology to make our own! Eventually, artificial energy would be cheaper for the consumer

    Yes… You can call me a “Denier”:)

    John Coleman’s Work

  • Erich J. Knight

    Carbon Nutral is not enough.
    Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!

    This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too. Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration.

    Indeed, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s top Atmospheric authority, is now placing it in the center stage of pro-active solutions for the climate crisis.

    I hope you will come to share my passion in getting the word out on the wonderful solutions provided by TP soils. I’m sort of the TP list (and data base at REPP-CREST) cub reporter, most all my list postings are news items, collaborative work, lobbying efforts with government, writers and journals.

    The new Yahoo Biochar discussion group is here.