A Texas based company, Cemvita, has proposed using microbes that eat oil and excrete Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide as a solution for both cleaning out oil wells and generating clean energy.
This is the final episode of our future energy mini-series.
If you enjoy fermented drinks like beer or wine, then you are already comfortable with the use of microscopic organisms for human value. Yes, it’s yeast, which is a microscopic fungus that actually loves to eat starch and sugar, and it excretes ethanol and carbon dioxide. In other words, the alcohol and the bubbles in your beer, and we use yeast and we have for thousands of years in human history to ferment our drinks that we all enjoy. That’s history.
My name is Graeme Codrington, and this is Throw Forward Thursday. So let me take you into the future where we’re able to use microscopic organisms to eat oil. There’s a company in Texas that has discovered a microbe or a microscopic organism that actually enjoys eating the oil that is left behind in old oil wells, and then it excretes hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Now, when an oil well is opened up, I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of oil gushing out. It’s kept under huge pressure underground, and when we make a way for it to come out, it gushes out, and we then extract that oil and turn it into useful fuel. When the oil well begins to deplete, that pressure is reduced and we can suck some of the rest of the oil out, and then it just becomes too expensive to suck the last remaining drops of oil from the bottom of those oil wells out. So, every oil well in the world is left with a little bit of residue oil at the bottom.
A company called Semvita has found a way to actually develop a microbe that can be put into those old oil wells. That microbe will eat that oil, excreting hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which can then easily be pumped out. At this point, it could be very damaging for the environment if you just pump more carbon dioxide into the air. So, we have to separate the hydrogen and the carbon dioxide and then put the carbon dioxide back into the Earth, where it can then be turned into carbon and into fuel or fertiliser for the ground. So, this is carbon capture, as we know it in green technologies, and then you are left with what San Vito calls Gold Hydrogen.
So, it’s not quite the perfectly green solution, but it can be done. They’ve developed a business plan to make it happen and it really looks to me as if it is one of the ways in which we can bring really creative innovation to the energy sector. We’re not, unfortunately, going to remove all carbon-based fuels out of the system as soon as we should, but what we can do is do something clever like this, which is to use the carbon-based fuels that we have in ways that are more friendly for the planet and better for all of us. So, microbes that eat oil and produce hydrogen that can fuel some of the energy needs that we have, it’s probably closer than you think.
Thanks, as always, for joining me in the Throw Forward Thursday studio. We’ve had a few weeks of looking at interesting energy solutions with me going to the Dubai Futures Forum and being in Dubai during the time of the COP28 conference and I hope you’ve enjoyed this little mini-series.
In the next two weeks, we’ll be doing a review of the most important topics that my clients have engaged with over 2023, and then look ahead to what we expect to be talking about in 2024. I’ve done 154 conferences this year and strategic sessions with clients, and the top five themes that I think you’ll enjoy hearing about. But that’s next week. I’ll see you then in the Throw Forward Thursday Studio.
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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.