Fuel Biosynthesis

In the context of the Manifold Sky setting, fuel biosynthesis is the use of specially-designed bioreactors full of algae or other fermenting microbes to produce biodiesel. Fuel biosynthesis is a crucial technological technological development for the continuation of the Manifold's dieseltech-based economic order, as existing reserves of fossil petroleum are either depleted or are not large enough to keep up with demand.


Biofuel is the single most important industrial resource in the Manifold as of the year 10,000 AR, powering every type of dieseltech device and vehicle in existence. One additional benefit of fuel biosynthesis is that, by using plants to produce fuel, the onerous (and odorous) task of processing biological waste from the growing urban centers can be turned to a productive use beyond mere fertilizer - all while producing fresh oxygen from the engine exhaust which would otherwise choke the life out of the Manifold.   Depending on the process used, bioreactors with certain microorganisms can provide useful side-products as well; residents of the Manifold are almost universally fond of multifunctionality when it comes to their equipment. For example, a yeast-based fermentation tank which produces ethanol might be adapted for fuel production, but it might also be adapted to make cleaning solution, chemistry-grade solvents, or (most likely) alcoholic beverages. Similarly, an algae-based bioreactor might employ an edible strain of algae, allowing some of the tank's growth to be siphoned off for consumption during famines.


Primitive fuel biosynthesis processes involved simply turning organic waste into fertilizer with which oil-producing or fermentable crops were grown, but this competed with food crops for limited land space and could have an unpredictable volume due to unforseen circumstances (i.e. drought). In modern times, bioreactor vessels containing algae or yeast are the more preferred method of producing useable base materials, with algae being more popular in regions which don't also have widespread brewing industries. The products of these vessels are then filtered, distilled, and processed with chemical reagents to produce the desired qualities in the fuel end-product. Bioreactor setups can be as small as a building (i.e. for producing generator fuel for an outpost) or as large as a factory (i.e. for operating airship resupply depots).
Access & Availability
Every major nation in the Manifold employs fuel biosynthesis whenever practical to provide for their energy needs, with the only exceptions being pre-dieseltech societies (i.e. most of the Ovinex Island Tribes territories).
Modern, industrial-level fuel biosynthesis is carefully managed - whether via technicians or attached autonet components - to achieve the best biofuel recovery rate for the amount of raw material provided. Small 'household' operations using simple techniques are not uncommon, though the economics of these depends strongly on how remote the producer is from a major industrial hub where it would be cheaper to buy the fuel from a major producer instead.
The use of natural biological processes to produce fuel for lighting and heating predates the discovery of dieseltech by a wide margin, though the exact time period is unknown. References to vegetable-based oils (such as olive oil) being burnt in lanterns appear in the Incunabula of the House of the Unexpected, and later Rostran sources show that the islanders had access to primitive liquid incendiary weapons (likely jugs of flaming alcohol) as early as the Rostran-Ovinex War.   As filtration and distillation techniques were developed over time, the potency of these early biofuels was improved. Though wood and charcoal were the primary drivers of developments in metallurgy and, much later, steamtech, liquid biofuels were once again thrust into the spotlight with the invention of the internal combustion engine. These early internal combustion engines once again relied on vegetable-based oils, as fine-tuning the fuel-air mixture with liquids was easier than it was for solids. Fossil petroleum had a brief heyday early in the dieseltech revolution, but the reserves of this highly useful material were limited in quantity and excessibility.   It was in this climate that scientists instead turned their efforts towards improving the qualities of vegetable-based fuels to meet or surpass those of fossil fuels, though coal and oil would still find more limited uses in the then-nascent polymer industry. Research in this area eventually led to the invention of the fuel biosynthesis process, by which biological waste (i.e. sewage, chaff, or spoiled food) could be converted into biodiesel or ethanol as the situation required.

Cover image: by Diego Torres


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