Before alternative energy, biotech was the next big thing in California's Silicon Valley, with PhD-stocked startups racing to decode the genome and create new and better drugs. But innovators are discovering that the two fields have a lot in common — especially when it comes to biofuels. First-generation biofuels are limited: corn ethanol packs less energy per gallon than petroleum, and new fuels like biodiesel often can't be used in car engines without expensive technical conversions. That's a hidden obstacle to wider adoption; there is a trillion-dollar infrastructure already in place around petroleum, and changing it won't be easy or cheap.
But what if you could adapt biofuels to use our current infrastructure, not the other way around? That's what a handful of biotech companies are doing right now. Startups like Amyris and LS9 are using the tools of biotechnology to produce new bio fuels that are sustainable and ready for use in our cars and trucks right now. The companies create custom microbes in the lab that can produce biofuels to order — even "green crude" that has most of the benefits of petroleum without the drawbacks. The technology is still a long way from commercial scale, but it provides some of the best hopes for a bio fuelled future.