August 3, 2009

Algae Biofuel Alternative Energy Deals

By James Rickman, CEO - SVS LLC

The algae sector is getting more attention recently as a top contender to what is now commonly referred to as a ‘third-generation’ biofuel. The reasoning could lie in the fact that previously, very little information was provided on algae used as a biofuel feedstock. As research increases, so does the level of interest and investment.

Recently, we siginificant investment into the "algae biefuel' market including; ExxonMobil (XOM) has partnered with biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) to research and develop next generation biofuels from photosynthetic algae.

ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company has entered into a research and development alliance with SGI, a privately held company focused on developing genomic-driven solutions and founded by genome pioneer, Dr. J. Craig Venter, to develop advanced biofuels from photosynthetic algae that are compatible with today’s gasoline and diesel fuels. The initiative would require ExxonMobil to spend more than $600 million, including $300 million in internal costs and potentially more than $300 million to SGI.

Thus far the oil supermajor has invested more than $1.5 billion over the past five years on activities that improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions including technologies to improve automobile efficiency like tire liners, advanced fuel-economy engine oil, light-weight automobile plastics, and an improved lithium battery separator film for hybrid electric cars. However, now we are seeing increases accross the board in "algae, palm oil and other" alternative energy crops.

Several large energy companies like Boeing (BA), Shell (RBS.A) , ConocoPhillips (COP) , BP PLC (BP) and Chevron (CVX) are also investing in algae biofuels including alternative jet fuels.
There are now three publicly traded "Algae Biofuel" companies. PetroSun (PSUD.PK) and more recently OriginOil (OOIL.OB) and PetroAlgae, (PALG.OB) have also gone public. PetroAlgae is also the industry high flyer, and is doing some interesting work growing duckweed.
Additionally, the U.S. DARPA has provided $35 million to San Diego-based companies SAIC (SAI) and General Atomics to pursue the creation of algae-based jet fuel. You might also find interesting updates in my recent article; "Sustainable Bio-Fuel Aviation Performs Well".
We have seen the implementation of a new technology, BioGauge™, developed by International Energy, Inc. The technology is able to quickly determine the accumulation of bio-oil and other valuable compounds in microalgae, which is predicted to catapult the importance of algae in the biofuels commercial sector.

US-based bioenergy company OriginOil announced in May that it developed an extraction method to help transform algae into a competitive transport fuel. The company plans to commercialize the patent-pending solution for use by others in the algae industry.
In addition, cities are even jumping on board to utilize algae in order to meet energy demands. Electricity sources in Venice, Italy will be diversified by using algae in order to produce 50% of the city’s electricity needs. The city – famous for its canals – will turn its algae problem into a solution by utilizing the third generation biofuel by producing electricity from two types of algae that can be found regularly growing over the seaport and clinging to ships.

Other developments include U.S. retailers such as grocery-store chain; The Kroger Co. (KR), discount retailers Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) and warehouse store BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. (BJ) are increasingly selling blended discount gas to draw customer traffic and boost sales in other departments.

Keep an eye on India's manufacturing of Jatropha blended biofuels; the wonder plant produces seeds with an oil content of 37%. The oil can be combusted as fuel without being refined. It burns with clear smoke-free flame, tested successfully as fuel for simple diesel engine. The by-products are press cake a good organic fertilizer, oil contains also insecticide.

Few advantages of Jatropha are:
Jatropha is adapted to a wide range of climates and soils.
It can grow almost on any type of soil whether gravelly, sandy or saline and thrives even on the poorest stony soils and rock crevices.
It is a drought resistant perennial living up to 50 years.
It is significant to point out that, the non-edible vegetable oil of Jatropha curcas has the requisite potential of providing a promising and commercially viable alternative to diesel oil since it has desirable physicochemical and performance characteristics comparable to diesel. Cars can be run with Jatropha curcas without requiring much change in design.

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