February 28, 2012

Obama touts algal biofuels; $14M in new R&D funding; $2.28 per gallon algal biofuels in sight?

As President Obama highlights the role of algal biofuels in the long-term energy strategy, critics and supporters duke it out over the nearer-term prospects, as R&D spending increases.

In Washington, the Obama Administration outlined a new $14 million round of R&D grants for algal biofuels, as the US President highlighted algal biofuels in a speech at the University of Miami which focused on energy policy.

In Miami, the President said: “We’re making new investments in the development of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance — algae. You’ve got a bunch of algae out here, right? If we can figure out how to make energy out of that, we’ll be doing all right. Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in the United States. And that means greater energy security. That means lower costs. It means more jobs. It means a stronger economy.”

$14 million for algal biofuels R&D: DOE

Through ARPA-E, the Energy Department will make $14 million available to support research and development into biofuels from algae, which it said has the potential to replace up to 17 percent of the United States’ imported oil for transportation. In addition, algae feedstocks offer additional benefits, such as an ability to be grown in ponds near industrial facilities where algae can feed off the carbon emissions from power plants or digest nitrogen and phosphorous from municipal waste water. The Department is currently supporting more than 30 algae-based biofuels projects, representing $85 million in total investments.

Through the new funding announcement, the Department will seek proposals from small businesses, universities, and national laboratories to modify existing facilities for long-term algae research and test new production processes that could lead to commercial biofuels made from algae. Specifically, the new projects will establish and operate research “test beds” for algal biofuels that can facilitate development, test new approaches to algae production, and discover innovative ways to minimize the water and nutrients needed to mass produce algae for commercial biofuels.

This research will support the Biomass Program’s goals to model pathways for significant (>1 billion gallons per year) volumes of cost-competitive algal biofuels by 2022.

A copy of the full funding announcement can be downloaded here.

Obama’s algae program “weird”: Gingrich

In Washington, Newt Gingrich rebutted Obama’s algae program, deeming it “weird”. Gingrich has been mocking the speech since Thursday night, when he stood in front of an Idaho crowd suggesting that he should take a bottle of algae with him and “go around and we can have the Obama solution.” The Republican candidate indicated concerns that algae would end up the next Solyndra “You know the President had this magnificent solar power investment and took 500 something-million of your money, (he) visited the plant because it was the plant of the future,” Gingrich said. “I suspect in the next few weeks we’ll see him at some algae plant.”

Obama responded to critics, thus: “You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, and you know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices. If we’re going to take control of our energy future and avoid these gas price spikes down the line, then we need a sustained, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, and more.”

Smearing the sector

But CJ Ciaramella penned a scathing critique of the US Government’s algal biofuels, in an article focused on Sapphire Energy and Obama Administration support, entitled “SAPPHIRE IN THE ROUGH: $100M in federal money; 36 jobs created,” which highlighted Sapphire Energy lobbying expense and drew attention to Democratic-leaning political donations by the company and its executives.

Reversing itself, the article then pointed out that the Algae-based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act of 2010 was co-sponsored by Republican House member Brian Bilbray, whose district encompasses the algae-tech corridor in San Diego, a bill which was passed in the House but stalled in there Democratic-controlled Senate.

The article has been getting some forwarding attention within the algal biofuels community.

$2.28 per gallon algal biofuels?

Also in California, OriginOil announced a new company study indicating a potential production cost as low as $2.28/gallon ($0.60/Liter) for gasoline or diesel using a blend of algae and waste feedstocks, using the latest growth, harvesting and fuel conversion technologies from OriginOil and other innovators. OriginOil’s comprehensive model analyzes the entire algae production process at scale, integrating the latest advances in growth, harvesting and fuel conversion.

In the lowest-cost scenario, algae harvested using OriginOil’s Algae Appliance is blended with waste feedstocks and converted onsite to achieve a modeled production cost of $2.28 per gallon for gasoline or diesel. This cost roughly doubles to $5.44/gallon ($1.44/Liter) when using pure algae feedstocks. The model assumes a production footprint of at least 50 hectares (124 acres).

Can lowest-cost biofuels even qualify as renewable fuels?

A friend of the Digest writes: One topic worth discussion as the USDA’s BioPreferred [and other programs] are rolled out is the use of fossil carbon. For example, the use of waste CO2. What if the CO2 comes from a coal burning power plant? This is a great use of the CO2, perhaps better than sequestering it underground, but would the resulting succinate be biopreferred? What if a company like Proterro makes sugar from coal plant CO2? Can that sugar be used for biobased materials? My concern is that the program may hinder the types of novel innovation we need to creatively and effectively deal with waste CO2 and to have options other that sequestration.”

Continue the discussion forward

The Digest has re-ignited its commentary section, here at Biofuels Digest: The Community.

Many of you will recall that the Digest maintained a lively comments section for its articles for a long time. So many spam comments were coming in – as much as 5% of the entire size of the Digest article database, in a matter of a few hours, that it was crashing the website, forcing us to shut down the Comments section.

We’ve re-established a commentary section here, where you can respond to articles, start your own commentary threads, and interact directly with other members of the Digest community. Right now, there are threads on “Waste CO2, should it count?”; the Renewable Fuel Standard; the Cleantech Conservative, and new ideas for financing aviation biofuels.

Original post available here.

U.S. funds alternative fuel research

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- More than $40 million will go into new research to encourage the development of alternative fuels for automobiles in the U.S. market, the government said.

The White House announced it was making $30 million available for developing technology for the use of natural gas in automobiles and another $14 million to support research and development of biofuels derived from algae.

The natural gas program in part targets technology needed to build fuel tanks for passenger vehicles that can handle the high pressures of natural gas. The funding for algae-based biofuels will help develop technology the White House said could replace as much as 17 percent of the oil imported into the United States for transportation use.

"Through the new programs announced today, we can help revolutionize the way Americans fuel their cars, saving money for families and businesses while building new industries here in the United States," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

Tensions between Iran and countries leery of Tehran's suspected nuclear ambitions helped push oil prices to nine-month highs, sending U.S. retail gasoline prices to more than $3.60 per gallon. Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama blame his energy policies for high gasoline prices.

The United States is a net exporter of gasoline.

Why Did Obama's Favorite Algae Biofuels Company Break Up With Dow?

An innovative algae biofuels company favored by Obama’s Energy Department was also once a darling of Dow Chemical.

But Florida’s Algenol Biofuels ended its partnership with Dow in 2010, shifting its pilot project from Dow facilities in Freeport, Texas, to Algenol’s laboratories in Lee County, Florida.

“Algenol felt that Dow had contributed as much as it could,” Algenol CEO Paul Woods said in an e-mail.

Algenol's plastic bioreactors prevent water from evaporating and collect ethanol naturally produced and released by algae.

President Obama highlighted algae as an vehicle fuel source in an energy address he delivered at the University of Miami last Thursday, drawing mockery over the weekend from Newt Gingrich and other conservatives.

Algenol Biofuels was behind the reference, having received $25 million in stimulus funds to develop an innovative process for collecting ethanol naturally emitted by living algae.

Dow touted the process as its own in this 2009 press release:

In line with Dow’s sustainability efforts, the project exemplifies the Company’s commitment to providing solutions that improve energy efficiency, promote renewable energy and advance the environmental performance of its existing energy sources. According to Rich Wells, Dow vice president, Energy & Climate Change and Alternative Feedstocks, “This is yet another way that Dow is helping to solve world energy challenges with our expertise in sustainable chemistry that is good for the world, and good for business.”

via Dow Announces Plan to Build and Operate a Pilot-Scale Algae-based.

Dow was terse about the breakup this week, sending this official statement via email:

Dow and Algenol mutually agreed to terminate the Joint Development Agreement between our companies. Dow leaves open a positive relationship and the opportunity for future sales of film and plastic developed during the program.

The company did not respond to a request for elaboration.

But Algenol Biofuels CEO Paul Woods did:

Algenol felt that the development agreement had run its course and that Dow’s help in developing its plastic photobioreactors was completed. Algenol wanted to use different partners to further develop its plastics and photobioreactors and to no longer be open to sharing its intellectual property with Dow.

Algenol grows blue green algae in saltwater in sealed plastic bioreactors. The containers prevent water from evaporating—a problem that has dogged more conventional efforts to produce ethanol from algae. A government study concluded those conventional efforts require up to 350 gallons of fresh water for each gallon of algal ethanol.

The study also found that domestic ethanol produced from algae could replace 17 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Original article available here.

The Secrets Of Algae, Continued

Northwestern University

Image via Wikipedia

Nuclear energy holds great promise if, among other things, its radioactive waste can be better disposed. Compared to solar panels, wind farms and biofuels, it produces a large amount of energy with low carbon dioxide emissions at a relatively small cost; the technology is mature. In addition, river and ocean habitats need not be disturbed as in the case with hydro power.

But nuclear plants also produce a lot of spent fuel and suffer from the latent risk of a meltdown. Human and design errors like the 1986 Chernobyl explosion and natural catastrophe like last year’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster have led some countries to shutdown old plants and cease building new ones.

The Chernobyl incident made a huge impression on a young Derk Joester, now the Morris E. Fine Junior Professor of Materials and Manufacturing at Northwestern University. Back then he was a teenager living in southern Germany, when the radioactive dust started raining down. Today his research includes finding materials that can help with a clean-up.

The difficulty lies in finding a cost-effective, efficient solution that separates radioactive elements from non-radioactive ones. But Joester is hopeful that last year’s discovery in his lab will lead to a novel solution in the near future.

One of the hardest selectivity problems to solve has been calcium strontium-90 versus calcium. Calcium is common in the environment, but has similar properties to strontium-90. During remediation efforts, scientists have to separate the strontium from calcium, whether the elements are in water, soil or elsewhere. Commercial ion-exchange materials are mostly non-organic and expensive to make. They also create a large amount of waste.

But he and Minna Krejci, a recently graduated PhD student in Joester’s lab and lead scientist on the research findings, along with Lydia Finney and Stefan Vogt of the Argonne National Laboratory, found that the pea-pod-shaped green algae Closterium moniliferum is highly selective and can be concentrated to a much smaller volume before and after the selection process.

“The algae right now aren’t better than the available materials but they have significant advantages,” explains Joester. “Once these get developed further you can take a test tube of them anywhere in the world and let them grow and divide without having to have to airlift in a large volume or weight of material. The use of living organisms that reproduce themselves can be advantage.

C. moniliferum shuttles strontium, barium and calcium through circular vacuoles located at the tips of its pod. The vacuoles can act like a liver and remove waste product from the organism. (Vacuoles have many functions this being one of them.) Specifically, they create strontium, barium sulfate crystals using a co-precipitation process.

“The presence of aqueous [barium] lowers the solubility product of the precipitate relative to pure [strontium sulfate] (which does not precipitate) and enables the sequestration of strontium in the barite crystals,” wrote the authors. By controlling the amount of sulfate in them, the vacuoles control how much strontium is sequestered.

Afterward, the algae can be easily filtered and burned in a controlled process, leaving only the crystals.

Argonne’s Vogt, who is also an adjunct professor at Northwestern, says, “The interest in the project is very fundamental. How the algae go about doing this, there may be other ways to exploit that.” He adds that the research institution partially funded Krejci’s PhD research in order to address a question that is relevant to both the institution and the US Department of Energy, and at the same time develop methods that would improve the techniques the scientists use such as interfaces. The research is mainly funded by the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN).

Joester’s lab is now looking at how to make the algae more efficient and scale the process.

Original post available here.

OriginOil Study Concludes Algae Producers Can Make Gasoline And Diesel For As Little As $2.28/Gallon

OriginOil, Inc. (OTC/BB: OOIL), developer of a breakthrough technology to convert algae into renewable crude oil, today announced a new company study indicating for the first time that algae producers worldwide can now make transportation fuels cost-effectively themselves.

The Company’s analysis points to a potential production cost as low as $2.28/gallon ($0.60/Liter) for gasoline or diesel using a blend of algae and waste feedstocks, using the latest growth, harvesting and fuel conversion technologies from OriginOil and other innovators.

“In his recent energy address, President Obama cast an unconditional vote for U.S. energy security using algae to replace up to 17% of our imported oil,” said Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil’s CEO. “This is no pipe dream: we now know that any algae producer can make gasoline and diesel right at the point of production, and compete with petroleum.

“The Administration’s policy commitment, combined with the U.S. Defense Department’s long-term commitment to include biofuels in its operations, will help bring about the wide adoption of algae-based fuel in this decade," added Eckelberry.
The company cautions that this is a first look at the impact of these new technologies that is subject to large-scale revision. OriginOil will make the model available to algae producers at no charge for their business planning and intends to solicit private input from the algae industry to improve it continuously.

“Yesterday President Obama spoke about the potential of algae biomass to displace 17% of our current consumption of petroleum”, said OriginOil scientific advisor, Dr. Thomas H. Ulrich, previously an Advisory Scientist at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL). “This is not unreasonable given recent improvements in biomass harvesting and collection efficiencies and other technology enhancements being made by companies like OriginOil in partnership with the INL for further developing and validating these technologies.”

OriginOil’s comprehensive model analyzes the entire algae production process at scale, integrating the latest advances in growth, harvesting and fuel conversion. In the lowest-cost scenario, algae harvested using OriginOil’s Algae Appliance™ is blended with waste feedstocks and converted onsite to achieve a modeled production cost of $2.28 per gallon for gasoline or diesel. This cost roughly doubles to $5.44/gallon ($1.44/Liter) when using pure algae feedstocks. The model assumes a production footprint of at least 50 hectares (124 acres).

Low cost and ready availability of waste products are behind U.S. plans to implement a blending strategy that includes algae for its high energy content and petrochemical profile. In December 2011, the Defense Logistics Agency announced the single largest purchase of biofuel in US history, using a blend of algae and waste cooking oil.

Dr. Ulrich, a key contributor to developing the Blendable Feedstock Standard in which OriginOil is collaborating with the Department of Energy, went on to say, “The lowering of these costs is the result of integrating harvesting and collection preprocessing strategies that can benefit from the blending of the physical and chemical properties of different combinations of biomass feedstocks and other waste products.”

“What we need now are well funded and coordinated efforts by industry and government to integrate and test the best of these diverse technology enhancements. It is very important to validate these promising technologies at the pilot as well as at the commercial production scales. Government support of such scaled projects is appropriate and critical to our nation’s energy independence," concluded Ulrich.

Original post available here.

February 21, 2012


While biofuels made with ethanol and soybean oil dominate the renewable energy debate, not everyone is aware that single-celled algae can also provide a valuable fuel source. Microalgae, the bright green “scum” most often observed on lakes and ponds, contain the same kinds of organic oils as corn or soybeans that make them viable for biofuel production. In fact, most of the petroleum we currently rely on is made from fossilized algae. But innovations in recent years have enabled scientists to convert non-fossilized algae into crude oil, a development which may provide a solution to our reliance on petrochemical energy.

OriginOil, an American company responsible for several breakthroughs in algae-based biofuel technologies, announced a commercial agreement last week with Aquaviridis, an algaculture company based in Minnesota with several sites in Mexico. The new agreement (made possible by the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA]), will create green jobs in both countries by introducing technology developed by OriginOil to Aquavirids’s algae processing facility in Mexicali, Mexico. While the agreement deals with algae production for a range of uses, OriginOil’s new technology promises to improve the efficiency of algal-oil fuels in a commercial capacity.

Thomas Byrne, president of Aquaviridis, explained, “After evaluating OriginOil’s portfolio, our technical team felt that OriginOil had some novel, scalable, and potentially game-changing technologies for algae harvesting and growth enhancement. We are excited about the opportunity to work closely with them as a partner during our research and planning stage. Having the right partners and technologies is critical, as our expectation is to have this facility in revenue this year.”

The newly modernized facility intends to proceed from research and development to a 10 acre pilot algae farm by the middle of the year, and commercial scale algae production is scheduled for the second quarter of 2013. Assuming commercialization is successful, the deal could pave the way for a series of algae farms and production facilities in both the US and Mexico. OriginOil’s vice president of marketing, Ken Reynolds, has high hopes for the project.

“The Mexicali Valley is a great place to develop an algae industry, given its climate and access to industry research and resources throughout North America. With the U.S. as a neighboring market for high value exports, Mexico is in an excellent position to take the lead in areas such as research and production of algae for nutritional products, animal feed, and oil for biofuels, which would create long-term regional economic growth and job production,” he said.


British economist Lionel Robbins coined the classic definition of economics: the study of scarce resources which have alternate uses. Indeed, both the “scarcity” and “alternate uses” of conventional biofuel sources seem to present obstacles for their long-term cost competitiveness. This is because soybean and corn oils necessarily demand an important tradeoff—to produce fuels like ethanol, farmland and crops must be designated specifically for fuel instead of food. The price of soybeans, for example, has soared in recent years to reflect direct competition between biofuel producers and manufacturers of a multitude of other soy-based products. These competing interests within the agricultural industry have prevented soybean and corn fuel from becoming price competitive with petroleum, despite biodiesel and ethanol typically receiving the lion’s share of renewable energy subsidies. (The legislation providing for the ethanol subsidy expired on Dec. 31.) Moreover, political pressure from the petroleum industry could complicate any meaningful changes toward renewable energy in the long-term—such a fundamental shift would cost countless oil refining jobs, a prospect which has sparked opposition to emerging fuel sources from the multi-billion dollar oil industry.

But algal-oil fuel production may avoid these economic pitfalls. While countless food products are composed from corn and soybeans, pond scum has substantially fewer alternate uses. And fewer competing interests within algae markets means potentially lower prices on fuels made from algae biomass. Furthermore, because algae grow in an aquatic environment which is unsuitable for conventional agriculture, cultivation doesn’t require a tradeoff with farmland which would otherwise be viable for food. In fact, commercial algae production can take place in ocean water or even wastewater. Almost the entire organism is devoted to converting sunlight to oil, or lipids (not the case with corn or soy), compelling one biofuel company to claim that an area of algae the size of a two car garage could potentially produce as much energy as an entire football field of soybeans.

But perhaps most impressively, representatives from OriginOil claim that their technology can be implemented in existing petroleum refineries which could be overhauled and converted to algae oil production. This means that the infrastructure necessary for a complete transformation of our energy market may already be in place, a distinction which could present two potential advantages for proponents of algae fuel: it could ease the transition from petroleum to renewable fuel sources, saving potentially billions of dollars otherwise necessary to build a new energy infrastructure, and it could go a long way toward quelling opposition from the petroleum industry, who could conceivably still profit from algae produced in existing petrochemical refineries.


For now, algal-oil fuels are still far from being cost-competitive with petroleum. There are three primary obstacles to efficient algae production. First, since algae are aquatic, individual cells must be separated from water and concentrated. Second, single-celled algae have a tough outer cell wall which must be cracked before oil can be harvested from the cell. Both of these processes are energy intensive, and therefore costly. OriginOil has addressed these problems with a patented process called Quantum Fracturing, which combines technology involving electromagnetic fields with pH modification. According to OriginOil, this “Single-Step Extraction” process is less costly than conventional techniques, and necessarily results in the separation of water, oil, and biomass. A time lapse video of this separation process can be seen at OriginOil’s website. Finally, because algae processing is inherently energy intensive, energy use must be extremely efficient at all stages of production. OriginOil hopes to sequester and reuse gas byproducts like hydrogen produced by algae growth in order to make harvesting as energy-efficient as possible. Additionally, OriginOil claims that oil-depleted algae cells can be used to supplement cattle feed.

All of which suggests a promising future for OriginOil and algaculturalists across the board. But if algae-based fuels are to meet our growing energy demands, there are still technological hurdles to be cleared. Privately funded research and development from innovative companies like OriginOil and Aquaviridis is yielding exciting results. Before deciding whether to renew ethanol subsidies, the federal government may be wise to give thought to incentivizing investment in emerging energy technologies like algal-oil extraction.

February 20, 2012

Why Algal Biofuels May Never Hold the Key to the Future

The depletion of world rock phosphate reserves will restrict the amount of food that can be grown, a situation that can only be compounded by the production of biofuels, including the potential large-scale generation of diesel from algae. The world population has risen to its present number of 7 billion in consequence of cheap fertilizers, pesticides and energy sources, particularly oil. Almost all modern farming has been engineered to depend on phosphate fertilizers, and those made from natural gas, e.g. ammonium nitrate, and on oil to run tractors etc. and to distribute the final produce. A peak in worldwide production of rock phosphate is expected by 2030, which lends fears over how much food the world will be able to grow in the future, against a rising number of mouths to feed [1]. Consensus of analytical opinion is that we are close to the peak in world oil production too.

One proposed solution to the latter problem is to substitute oil-based fuels by biofuels, although this is not as straightforward as is often presented. In addition to the simple fact that growing fuel-crops must inevitably compete for limited arable land on which to grow food-crops, there are vital differences in the properties of biofuels, e.g. biodiesel and bioethanol, from conventional hydrocarbon fuels such as petrol and diesel, which will necessitate the adaptation of engine-designs to use them, for example in regard to viscosity at low temperatures, e.g. in planes flying in the frigidity of the troposphere. Raw ethanol needs to be burned in a specially adapted engine to recover more of its energy in terms of tank to wheels miles, otherwise it could deliver only about 70% of the "kick" of petrol, pound for pound.

In order to obviate the competition between fuel and food crops, it has been proposed to grow algae to make biodiesel from. Some strains of algae can produce 50% of their weight of oil, which is transesterified into biodiesel in the same way that plant oils are. Compared to e.g. rapeseed which might yield a tonne of biodiesel per hectare, or 8 tonnes from palm-oil, perhaps 40 - 90 tonnes per hectare is thought possible from algae [2], grown in ponds of equivalent area. Since the ponds can in principle be placed anywhere, there is no need to use arable land for them. Some algae grow well on salt-water too which avoids diverting increasingly precious freshwater from normal uses, as is the case for growing crops which require enormous quantities of freshwater.

The algae route sounds almost too good to be true. Having set-up these ponds, albeit on a large scale, i.e. they would need an area of 10,000 km^2 (at 40 t/ha) to produce 40 million tonnes of diesel, which is enough to match the UK's transportation demand for fuel if all vehicles were run on diesel-engines [the latter are more efficient in terms of tank to wheels miles by about 40% than petrol-fuelled spark-ignition engines], one could ideally have them to absorb CO2 from smokestacks (thus simultaneously solving another little problem) by photosynthesis, driven only by the flux of natural sunlight. The premise is basically true; however, for algae to grow, vital nutrients are also required, as a simple elemental analysis of dried algae will confirm. Phosphorus, though present in under 1% of that total mass, is one such vital ingredient, without which algal growth is negligible. I have used two different methods of calculation to estimate how much phosphate would be needed to grow enough algae, first to fuel the UK and then to fuel the world:

(1) I have taken as illustrative the analysis of dried Chlorella [2], which contains 895 mg of elemental phosphorus per 100 g of algae.

UK Case: To make 40 million tonnes of diesel would require 80 million tonnes of algae (assuming that 50% of it is oil and this can be converted 100% to diesel).
The amount of "phosphate" in the algae is 0.895 x (95/31) = 2.74 %. (MW PO4(3-) is 95, that of P = 31).

Hence that much algae would contain: 80 million x 0.0274 = 2.19 million tonnes of phosphate. Taking the chemical composition of the mineral as fluorapatite, Ca5(PO4)3F, MW 504, we can say that this amount of "phosphate" is contained in 3.87 million tonnes of rock phosphate.

World Case: The world gets through 30 billion barrels of oil a year, of which 70% is used for transportation (assumed). Since 1 tonne of oil is contained in 7.3 barrels, this equals 30 x 10^9/7.3 = 4.1 x 10^9 tonnes and 70% of that = 2.88 x 10^9 tonnes of oil for transportation.

So this would need twice that mass of algae = 5.76 x 10^9 tonnes of it, containing:
5.76 x 10^9 x 0.0274 = 158 million tonnes of phosphate. As before, taking the chemical composition of phosphate as fluorapatite, Ca5(PO4)3F, MW 504, this amount of "phosphate" is contained in 279 million tonnes of rock phosphate.

(2) To provide an independent estimate of these figures, I note that growth of this algae is efficient in a medium containing a concentration of 0.03 - 0.06% phosphorus; since I am not trying to be alarmist, I shall use the lower part of the range, i.e 0.03% P. "Ponds" for growing algae vary in depth from 0.3 - 1.5 m, but I shall assume a depth of 0.3 m.

UK Case: assuming (vide supra) that producing 40 million tonnes of oil (assumed equal to the final amount of diesel, to simplify the illustration) would need a pond/tank area of 10,000 km^2. 10,000 km^2 = 1,000,000 ha and at a depth of 0.3 m, this amounts to a volume of: 1,000,000 x (1 x 10^4 m^2/ha) x 0.3 m = 3 x 10^9 m^3.

A concentration of 0.03 % P = 0.092% phosphate, and so each m^3 (1 m^3 weighs 1 tonne) of volume contains 0.092/100 = 9.2 x 10^-4 tonnes (920 grams) of phosphate. Therefore, we need:

3 x 10^9 x 9.2 x 10^-4 = 2.76 million tonnes of phosphate, which is in reasonable accord with the amount of phosphate taken-up by the algae (2.19 million tonnes), as deduced above. This corresponds to 4.87 million tonnes of rock phosphate.

World Case: The whole world needs 2.88 x 10^9 tonnes of oil, which would take an area of 2.88 x 10^9/40 t/ha = 7.20 x 10^7 ha of land to produce it.

7.2 x 10^7 ha x (10^4 m^2/ha) = 7.2 x 10^11 m^2 and at a pond depth of 0.3 m they would occupy a volume = 2.16 x 10^11 m^3. Assuming a density of 1 tonne = 1 m^3, and a concentration of PO4(3-) = 0.092%, we need:

2.16 x 10^11 x 0.092/100 = 1.99 x 10^8 tonnes of phosphate, i.e. 199 million tonnes. This corresponds to 352 million tonnes of rock phosphate.

This is also in reasonable accord with the figure deduced from the mass of algae accepting that not all of the P would be withdrawn from solution during the algal growth.

Now, world rock phosphate production amounts to around 140 million tonnes (noting that we need 352 million tonnes to grow all the algae), and food production is already being thought compromised by phosphate resource depletion. The US produces less than 40 million tonnes of rock phosphate annually, but would require enough to produce around 25% of the world's total algal diesel, in accord with its current "share" of world petroleum-based fuel, or 88 million tonnes of phosphate. Hence, for the US, security of fuel supply could not be met by algae-to-diesel production using even all its indigenous rock phosphate output, and significant imports of the mineral are still needed. This is in addition to the amount of the mineral needed for agriculture.

The world total of rock phosphate is reckoned at 8,000 million tonnes and that in the US at 2,850 million tonnes (by a Hubbert Linearization analysis). However, as is true of all resources, what matters is the rate at which they can be produced.

I remain optimistic over algal diesel, but clearly if it is to be implemented on a serious scale its phosphorus has to come from elsewhere than mineral rock phosphate. There are regions of the sea that are relatively high in phosphates and could in principle be concentrated to the desired amount to grow algae, especially as salinity is not necessarily a problem. Recycling phosphorus from manure and other kinds of plant and animal waste appears to be the only means to maintain agriculture at its present level, and certainly if its activities will be increased to include growing algae. In principle too, the phosphorus content of the algal-waste left after the oil-extraction process could be recycled into growing the next batch of algae. These are all likely to be energy-intensive processes, however, requiring "fuel" of some kind, in their own right. A recent study [4] concluded that growing algae could become cost-effective if it is combined with environmental clean-up strategies, namely sewage wastewater treatment and reducing CO2 emissions from smokestacks of fossil-fuelled power stations or cement factories. This combination appears very attractive, since the impacts of releasing nitrogen and phosphorus into the environment and also those of greenhouse gases might be mitigated, while conserving precious N/P nutrient and simultaneously producing a material that can replace crude oil as a fuel feedstock.

It is salutary that there remains a competition between growing crops (algae) for fuel and those for food, even if not directly in terms of land, for the fertilizers that both depend upon. This illustrates for me the complex and interconnected nature of, indeed Nature, and that like any stressed chain, will ultimately converge its forces onto the weakest link in the "it takes energy to extract energy" sequence.

The is a Hubbert-type analysis of human population growth indicates that rather than rising to the putative "9 billion by 2050" scenario, it will instead peak around the year 2025 at 7.3 billion, and then fall [5]. It is probably significant too that that population growth curve fits very closely both with that for world phosphate production and another for world oil production [5]. It seems to me highly indicative that it is the decline in resources that will underpin our demise in numbers as is true of any species: from a colony of human beings growing on the Earth, to a colony of bacteria growing on agar nutrient in a Petri-dish.

By. Professor Chris Rhodes

Original post available here.

NUI Galway joins €14m algae project

Researchers at NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute are involved in a major €14 million European initiative to develop the potential of algae as a source of sustainable energy.

As a partner in the project, NUI Galway is responsible for the initial step of producing some of the biomass required for conversion to biofuel. This will be accomplished by cultivating macroalgae (seaweed) biomass at sea in a one-hectare pilot facility.

NUI Galway’s part of the ‘EnAlgae’ project is valued at almost €1.2 million, over the next four years. Currently, algal bioenergy technologies are immature, but rapid advances are being made in the field.

The project will focus on the cultivation of some of Ireland’s native kelp species, including large brown seaweeds, commonly seen cast up on the beach after a storm. Growth of the seaweed crop occurs in two phases, the first phase of which is being carried out at the Ryan Institute’s Carna Research Station in Co. Galway.

“In our facilities here, microscopic stages of the algae are cultured and sprayed onto ropes. Once the seaweed has been ‘seeded’ onto hundreds of metres of rope, they are deployed at sea in the one-hectare experimental plot in Ventry Harbour, Co. Kerry,” said Dr Maeve Edwards, Research Scientist at the Martin Ryan Institute’s Carna facility.

Seaweed will also be cultivated in Northern Ireland and Brittany in France, with NUI Galway coordinating the cultivation efforts between all three institutions.

Professor Colin Brown, Director of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said he was delighted by the institution’s involvement in the project.

“Ireland and the European Union recognise the need to reduce our dependence on dwindling petroleum stocks and are promoting the use of biofuels. I am delighted to see that bright young researchers in the Ryan Institute have spotted the opportunity to engage in international and innovative research into a source of biomass - in this case, seaweed - whose conversion to biofuels could help in the transformation of the transport sector.”

Original post available here.

Lone Star College-Montgomery students seek cutting-edge energy solutions for master-planned community

In just months, Michelle Coleman, an LSC-Montgomery graduate who now volunteers in the Biotechnology Institute, has seen results in the quest to remediate the brackish aquifer water (on left) using various strains of algae (on right).

THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- The students at Lone Star College-Montgomery are putting a lot of energy into finding low-energy solutions for what hopes to be the first-ever environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable master-planned community in the U.S.

Through a recent partnership with Aperion, a property development company based in Arizona, students in LSC-Montgomery’s Biotechnology Institute are using algae to find biological processes for water treatment, waste remediation, and energy conservation that will directly impact Rio West, a developing community outside of Albuquerque, N.M.

“Our students are part of cutting-edge research and training that reflect brand new sustainable technologies being implemented around the world,” said Danny Kainer, director of the biotechnology institute at LSC-Montgomery. “This is a chance to diversify our institute and teach in the same manner that scientists conduct science, which is through hands-on research.”

The hopes of the community’s developer, David Maniatis, and its chief technology expert, George King, is to ensure the energy produced by the community is more than the energy consumed by the inhabitants, including electricity, materials, and the 65 million acre-feet of water in a newly-discovered aquifer beneath the site. (To put that into perspective, one acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons.)

While finding water in the middle of the desert seems like a simple way to sustain the community, the aquifer water is unsuitable for consumption and unusable for industries.

That’s where LSC-Montgomery students come into play.

Stepping out the classroom and into the lab, a group of students and faculty are developing new techniques for desalinization of the water and remediation of the waste produced.

“We’re taking the water (from the aquifer) and adding certain strains of algae to see which will survive and which will remediate the water,” said Tammie Porter, who after receiving her associate degree in biotechnology last August, is back at LSC-Montgomery working on courses to transfer to M.D.Anderson School of Health Professions.

“Already, we’ve seen results.”

Porter, along with other students, has been working since last fall to find strains of algae that can survive in and remediate the brackish aquifer water. As Kainer explained, even the byproducts of the algal growth can provide additional revenue streams and potentially, make the entire project sustainable.

“To have algae already growing in the lab is great news,” said King, who has more than 35 years of experience in energy, power, water, and waste management. “The living organisms (that students have placed in that water) have surprised us by their ability to survive in that environment. Nature has been doing this, and we’re just trying to figure out how and replicate it. Hopefully, we’ll implement an alternative to chemical remediation.”

To provide the students the equipment and resources needed to complete their analysis, Aperion has invested $82,000 in LSC-Montgomery’s biotechnology program.

“This investment is a catalyst to get all portions of this program—algae, biodiesel, fuel cell, and now water remediation, revamped and increased,” said Kainer.

The donation will allow the college to revamp its existing greenhouse to serve as a biorefinery and aqua-culture research center; to make specialized equipment usable, such as a scanning electron microscope donated by Rice University; and to purchase an infrared spectrometer and an automated cell counter, two analytical instruments in the industry that will aid the students in monitoring algal growth patterns.

Additionally, the donation will help further develop the algae photobioreactor (PBR) project initiated in 2010 when the National Algae Association (NAA) partnered with LSC-Montgomery to host the first commercial-scale, closed-loop PBR in the greater Houston area. Housed on campus, this system converts pond scum into biofuel and has provided students with research opportunities, on-site internships, and partnerships with energy industry professionals.

“Scientific research doesn’t normally happen at the community college level, but it happens here,” said Kainer.

Students, interns, and even local high school students are involved in project, including Michelle Coleman, who received her associate degree in biotechnology from LSC-Montgomery last August. Coleman has enjoyed the research so much that she has continued working with the biotechnology institute on a volunteer basis.

“This algae project really gave me a focus, and now this lab is my home-away-from-home,” said Coleman, who became more interested in biotechnology when she began to appreciate the diversity of the field. “I’ve had the chance to start on the ground floor of some amazing research, and I won’t get this opportunity anywhere else.”

Coleman and the other students at LSC-Montgomery are just building the foundation of a project in an ever-growing industry, where according to Kainer, the sky is the limit.

“These technologies and the discovery process accelerate the quest for carbon management in the food, fuel, and fiber industries,” said Kainer. “The management and remediation of organic waste streams is an absolute necessity for any community, region, or nation that aims to be truly sustainable.”

Original post available here.

Algae.Tec Congratulates Strategic Partner The Manildra Group on International Biofuels Certification

Algae.Tec congratulates its strategic partner the Manildra Group on being awarded the world's first commercial certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB)

Perth, Western Australia/Atlanta, Georgia (PRWEB) February 15, 2012

Algae.Tec Limited (ASX:AEB, FWB:GZA:GR, ALGXY:US) an advanced algae to biofuels company with a high-yield enclosed algae growth and harvesting system today congratulates its strategic partner the Manildra Group on being awarded the world's first commercial certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB).

The RSB has developed a Global Sustainability Standard and Certification System for biofuel production. The RSB Certification System is approved by the European Commission, as proof of compliance with the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC).

The RSB Global Sustainability Standard represents a global consensus of over 120 organizations including farmers, fuel refiners, regulators and NGOs, and is intended to ensure the sustainability of biofuels production practices while streamlining compliance for industry.

The RSB has announced that Manildra Group of Australia has been awarded the first completed commercial certification.

Algae.Tec is currently deploying an algae to biofuels production facility at the Manildra Group complex in Shoalhaven south of Sydney, Australia.

Algae.Tec Executive Chairman Roger Stroud congratulates the Manildra Group saying: "Biofuels are the future transport fuels, and having internationally agreed sustainability certification is yet another sign of a maturing industry," said Stroud.

The RSB announcement stated:

The Manildra Group, through its subsidiary Shoalhaven Starches Pty Ltd, is producing bioethanol from starchy wastewater generated by their wheat-processing facility. The completion of RSB certification by Manildra offers tangible evidence that sustainable biofuels may be efficiently and economically produced at a large scale while adhering to ambitious social and environmental standards. The summary report of the audit is available here: www.ncsi.com.au/Roundtable-on-Sustainable-Biofuels-RSB.html

"This is the day we have been waiting for since the launch of the RSB, and we applaud Manildra for their leadership", says Barbara Bramble, Chair of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels and Senior Advisor at the National Wildlife Federation. "This achievement justifies the hard work and the commitment of the stakeholders worldwide who supported the RSB and contributed to the development and implementation of the RSB Global Sustainability Standard."

The RSB Certification System allows farmers, feedstock processors and biofuel producers to demonstrate that their operations comply with ambitious yet practical safeguards, including, but not limited to, the protection of natural or rare ecosystems, food security, and the respect of human rights to land, water and decent work conditions, and the management of water resources.

About the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB)
The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) is a multi-stakeholder initiative launched and hosted by the Energy Center of Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland. More information about the EPFL Energy Center is available at energycenter.epfl.ch.

The full list of RSB members is available at www.rsb.org .

The RSB certification system is implemented and managed by the RSB Services Foundation, a non-profit established in the US.

About Algae.Tec www.algaetec.com.au
Algae.Tec, founded in 2007, is a publicly listed advanced renewable oil from algae company that has developed a high-yield enclosed algae growth and harvesting system, the McConchie-Stroud System. The company has offices in Atlanta, Georgia and Perth, Western Australia.

The Algae.Tec enclosed modular engineered technology is designed to grow algae on an industrial scale and produce biofuels that replace predominantly imported fossil fuels.

The technology has demonstrated exceptional performance in productivity, product yield, carbon dioxide sequestration, and production unit footprint requirements versus agricultural crops and other competitive algae processes in the industry.

For the original version on PRWeb visit: www.prweb.com/releases/prweb2012/2/prweb9194700.htm

February 14, 2012

OriginOil and Aquaviridis team up in Mexicali for algae project

n California, OriginOil has announced a joint venture with algae producer Aquaviridis, based in Mexico. Commerical scale production capacity is expected by the second quarter of 2013. Says OriginOil’s VP of marketing, Ken Reynolds, “The Mexicali Valley is a great place to develop an algae industry, given its climate and access to industry research and resources throughout North America.”

Original post available here.

Study: Algal biofuels show huge potential

It appears that algal could be a legitimate solution in the efforts to combat lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s the verdict of a study by ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, MIT and Synthetic Genomics in the paper .

Its study looked into how various technology options could affect greenhouse gas emissions and on-site freshwater consumption and it found that when produced in large volumes algae has the potential to produce huge amounts of fuel per unit area of production. Therefore, it could potentially expand transportation energy supplies without needing a significant displacement of land and water resources. However, the researchers do point out that algal production remains at an early stage of its research and development and that there may be many possible technology configurations.

It’s not the first time that the companies have looked into algal biofuel production. In 2009, ExxonMobil launched a new programme to research and develop advanced biofuels from photosynthetic algae that would be compatible with today’s fuels. Then in 2011, at the Algae Biomass Summit in Minneapolis, it provided a summary of its efforts to tackle the challenges of large scale production, including: achieving high bio-oil yields at lower costs; the best product systems for growing strains; establishing a bio-oil upgrading process compatible with existing refinery infrastructures; and determining the best product systems for growing strains.

For the latest study they looked at a small-scale open pond facility with three distinct oil recovery options: dry extraction, secretion and wet extraction.

Among its findings were that with wet extraction there is potential for more than 50 per cent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the energy balance can also be favourable. It also found that algal biofuels in saline systems using brackish makeup water can have freshwater consumption that compares to petrol fuels.

Original post available here.

Research under way to harness algae qualities

A research cell under the marine biotechnology department of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute here is conducting research into harnessing the qualities of various algae for diverse uses such as making biofuels, carbon dioxide sequestration, waste water treatment, livestock feed, high protein nutrients and others.

“Bio-chemical profiling of more than 150 algae has been done. These have been cultured and steps are being initiated to look at developing food products, bio-diesel and aquaculture and hatchery feed,” said the department head, Dr K.K. Vijayan.

As a next step, the institute would look at isolating the genes that give these algae their qualities, so that know-how can be given to the industry for the manufacture of different food products and other uses.

Culturing of these algae, massive production and supply to various end-users would also contribute to putting a check on climate change since these algae absorb a lot of carbon-dioxide and instead release oxygen, says the senior research fellow, Ms Preetha. K. They have been seen as major contributors to carbon dioxide sequestration and waste water treatments.

The demand for these algae, also “green cell factories”, has been growing over the years.

The high protein content make them an unconventional food source and some of them have the essential fatty acids and are the rich sources of long chain poly unsaturated fatty acids.

Besides, some of them can also be used as natural colourants. They can have a number of neutraceutical and pharmaceutical applications.

Some of the microalgae are sold as health food or food supplement in the form of tablets, capsules and liquids and they act as antioxidants and probiotics, she adds.

Certain species of microalgae contain high amounts of oil which could be processed and refined into transportation fuels. A section of the microalgae can also be used as bio-fertilizers.

“The research would look at new technical approaches in mass culture, in designing photobioreactors,”Dr Vijayan added.

and in processing methods which will support the extensive production systems. Genetic modification would also be a new area of research, Dr Vijayan added.

Original post available here.

OriginOil demos low-energy Algae Appliance and mobile algae harvester at NAA meet-up

In California, OriginOil demonstrated a low-energy Algae Appliance to industry executives from a National Algae Associate hosted workshop. OriginOil also showed new technologies in laboratory development, and the Max One mobile algae harvester. Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO commented that this was the first time the Algae Appliance was shown to an industry group in the U.S.

The Algae Appliance is a continuous-flow ‘wet harvest’ system that can remove up to 90 percent of the water in which algae lives.

Original post available here.

February 1, 2012

New Technique Discovered to Help Harvest Algae

At the UKs Sheffield University (SU) a team led by Professor Will Zimmerman in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering believes they have developed an inexpensive way of producing microbubbles that can float algae particles to the surface of the water, making harvesting easier, and saving biofuel-producing companies time and money.

One of the cost of production problems that holds algae back as a major biomatter resource is an efficient cost-effective method of harvesting and removing the water from the algae for it to be processed.

Algae have the potential to be a very efficient biofuel producer. The one cell plant produces oil that can be processed to create a useful biofuel. Biofuels made from plant material are considered important alternatives to fossil fuels. The carbohydrate portion can be used for food or to make more fuel.

The SU team’s new technique builds on previous research in which microbubbles were used to improve the way algae is cultivated. The early work used the microbubble technology to improve algae production methods, allowing producers to grow crops more rapidly and more densely and earned Zimmerman and the team the Moulton Medal, from the Institute of Chemical Engineers. The research paper is published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

Professor Zimmerman outlines the story saying, “We thought we had solved the major barrier to biofuel companies processing algae to use as fuel when we used microbubbles to grow the algae more densely. It turned out, however, that algae biofuels still couldn’t be produced economically, because of the difficulty in harvesting and dewatering the algae. We had to develop a solution to this problem and once again, microbubbles provided a solution.”

Microbubble algae seperation
Microbubble Algae Separation at the University of Sheffield.

Microbubbles have been used for flotation before: water purification companies use the process to float out impurities, but it hasn’t been done in this context, partly because the previous methods have been very expensive.

The new system developed by Zimmerman´s team uses as little as one tenth of a percent of the energy to produce the microbubbles. Additionally, the cost of installing the Sheffield microbubble system is predicted to be much less than existing flotation systems.

Zimmerman explains the technology saying, “What we’ve found is that we can separate the microalgae from the water or harvest it using microbubbles that are created by a fluidic oscillator. A fluidic oscillator switches flows rapidly from one outlet to another, using feedback to do so with no moving parts. It is like an opening and closing mechanical valve that results in pulsing flow. Our bubbles are made under laminar flow and we use practically no more energy than is required to make the interface of the bubble.”

As a result of the low energy input, the bubbles rise very slowly, which is crucial as it means the algae particles can attach themselves to the bubbles more easily. Two chemicals added to the liquid in the process, a flocculant and a coagulant to help the algae bond to the rising microbubbles.

“The idea is to create a surface on the algae particles that is hydrophobic so the microbubbles are attracted to it,” said Zimmerman. When the bubbles and the particles reach the surface, the flocculant and the coaggulant keep the algae in a fixed layer. The blanket of algae can then be skimmed off the surface with something such as a belt skimmer. “In the lab, we use a knife.”

Zimmerman explained that the process is much cheaper than attempting to make microbubbles through an industrial process known as dissolved air flotation, which generates bubbles that are too turbulent to harvest algae.

Next up for the technology is to develop a pilot plant to test the system at an industrial scale. Professor Zimmerman is already working with Tata Steel at their site in Scunthorpe, where Tata Steel is recovering and using CO2 from their flue-gas stacks. Zimmerman and Tata plan to continue the partnership to test the new system.

The SU team’s technology may have other soon to be used attributes. Lakes that have a build-up of nutrients causing algal blooms to form called eutrophication, often attributed to agricultural fertilizers entering water bodies, need the algae harvested and removed instead of left to die and decompose.

The SU team is already in talks with Ken Shu, a scientific adviser to the Chinese government, to set up pilot-scale trials on remediating algal blooms in eutrophied lakes in China.

Zimmerman explains, “China has demographic drinking-water problems. They’re running out because the lakes that used to be used for drinking water are all eutrophied with algal blooms.”

It looks good in the lab. A lot of ideas have come and gone in trying to capture the algae cells in a low cost harvest. Algae, naturally, are pretty good at keeping themselves separate with each basking in the sunlight. It’s a significant attribute that makes the very high productivity possible as well as makes the harvest problematic.

Let’s hope the Brits have it nailed down now.

Original article available here.

Algae.Tec Announces S&P research upgrade

Perth, Western Australia/Atlanta, Georgia - 31 January 2012 - Algae.Tec Ltd (ASX:AEB, FWB:GZA:GR, ALGXY:US) ('Algae.Tec') is pleased to announce that Standard and Poors (S&P), the New York based financial services company known for their financial research and analysis have, in conjunction with Algae.Tec, upgraded the status of Algae.Tec's American Depository Receipt program (ADR), the USA share trading platform.

S&P has commenced Factual Stock Report coverage on Algae.Tec providing financial data and analysis to key USA brokers, dramatically upgrading and extending the reach and profile of the Company in the USA investor community.

This coincides with the Company's successful $5M capital raising with Patersons Securities Limited. This capital raising will be utilised to fund the fast-tracking of commercial projects recently announced.

S&P specialises in providing financial data and analysis for investors and wealth mangers through their S&P Capital IQ branch. This analysis is now being completed for Algae.Tec bringing with it financial intelligence and insight for investors.

Company's Executive Chairman, Roger Stroud said Algae.Tec is a fast-growing company with a global focus and projects underway in the EU, China, Sri Lanka and Australia, so it is important to keep the investor community informed about the Algae.Tec opportunity.

"The S&P coverage will extend our reach to a wide range of investor audiences in the USA and internationally providing weekly updates on pricing, trading volume, recent developments, a financial review, key operating information, industry and peer comparisons, and institutional holdings analysis," said Stroud.

Algae.Tec is an advanced algae to biofuels company with a high-yield enclosed algae growth and harvesting technology, the McConchie-Stroud system.

About Algae.Tec www.algaetec.com.au

Algae.Tec, founded in 2007, is a publicly listed advanced renewable oil from algae company that has developed a high-yield enclosed algae growth and harvesting system, the McConchie-Stroud System. The company has offices in Atlanta, Georgia and Perth, Western Australia.

The Algae.Tec enclosed modular engineered technology is designed to grow algae on an industrial scale and produce biofuels that replace predominantly imported fossil fuels.

The technology has demonstrated exceptional performance in productivity, product yield, carbon dioxide sequestration, and production unit footprint requirements versus agricultural crops and other competitive algae processes in the industry.

About S&P Capital IQ

S&P Capital IQ, a brand of the McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE:MHP), is a leading provider of multi-asset class data, research and analytics to institutional investors, investment advisors and wealth managers around the world.

Original post available here.

Algae Show Potential for Green Future

Cornell scientists believe marine algae may bring the next green revolution, in more ways than one. Prof. Xingen Lei, animal sciences, and his lab are currently investigating the potential environmental and economic benefits of using algae in biofuels and animal feed.

Algae could be used as an energy source in the form of biofuels to produce a protein-rich by-product for commercial animal feed, according to Lei.

“These algae are very rich in high-quality protein. They are also a good source of minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids. Some types of algae can have up to 60- to 70-percent protein, compared with about seven to eight percent in corn,” Lei said.

He added that the algae could produce financial and environmental benefits as well.

“Algae are a great source for biofuel, but the cost is very high. By using the by-product as animal feed, we can help relieve the problem,” Lei said. “Using the residual biomass caused by production can make algal biofuels much more economically viable.”

Algae are also a green alternative to corn according to Prof. Charles Greene, earth and atmospheric sciences, one of the leaders of the team studying the algae.

“If you’re growing corn to produce ethanol for energy and to produce animal feeds, then both of these things are competing with food production,” Greene said. “If we can use the protein by-product from algal biofuel production as a supplement to animal feed, then we can reduce the amount of corn we grow for ethanol production.”

Algae use may also mitigate the many adverse environmental side effects to growing corn, according to Greene.

Growing corn requires a large amount of fertilizer and fresh water. The water carries the fertilizer as runoff into larger waterways which eventually lead to the ocean.

According to Greene, the fertilizer triggers an algal bloom. The end result is a large span of ocean that lacks oxygen and, thus, life. There is a large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of runoff from the Mississippi River. Because microalgae do not require heavy fertilizer or fresh water to grow, growing the algae does not result in these harmful effects.

Greene said algae may also prove to have positive effects on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

“Algae require elevated levels of carbon dioxide in order to grow rapidly for algal biofuel production,” Greene said. “We are trying to come up with ways to help the algae take up carbon dioxide more efficiently from the atmosphere so we don’t have to provide it from highly concentrated sources, like the emissions from power plants.”

Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been shown to cause a more pronounced greenhouse effect, which can lead to global warming. Greene said that if scientists can devise a way for algae to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more efficiently, then it may help mitigate global warming’s effects.

“We are still doing research to learn how to keep the costs of producing algal biofuels down while still producing high net energy and maintaining a small carbon footprint,” Greene said. “It takes energy to make energy, so we want to make sure that we produce more energy than we use while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

Although research has shown algae’s nutritional, environmental and economic potential, Greene said there are still obstacles preventing full commercial production. All current algal biofuel facilities are small — usually only a few acres. Greene said that creating a commercial-scale facility would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“There aren’t many people you can approach to get that kind of money. You have to prove it on the smaller scales and make a compelling case that it will still work when you scale it up,” Greene said. “There are no commercial-scale algal biofuel facilities yet; however, it’s just a matter of time before somebody takes the first step.”

Original article available here.

Microbubbles set to make algae harvesting easier

A new technology has been developed at the University of Sheffield in the UK which uses microbubbles to harvest and remove water from algae for biofuel production.

Algae produces oils which can be used to create biodiesel but water needs to be removed from the algae first in order to do so.

Using the microbubble system is an inexpensive way to do this. The process works by floating algae particles to the surface of the water and therefore enables the producer to easily harvest the algae.

The scientists were part of a team led by Professor Will Zimmerman in the department of chemical and process engineering at the university and this technology should allow for producers to now grow their crops more ‘rapidly and densely’, he says.

‘We thought we had solved the major barrier to biofuel companies processing algae to use as fuel when we used microbubbles to grow the algae more densely,’ explains Zimmerman. ‘It turned out, however, that algae biofuels still couldn’t be produced economically, because of the difficulty in harvesting and dewatering the algae. We had to develop a solution to this problem and once again, microbubbles provided a solution.’
The microbubble system is expected to save about 1,000 times the amount of energy when compared to existing floating systems, and is also much cheaper to install.

Now a pilot plant will be built to test the system on an industrial level, with the team working with Tata Steel at their site in Scunthorpe using CO₂ from their flue-gas stacks. This partnership is expected to continue.

Bruce Adderley, manager of Climate Change Breakthrough Technology, says: ‘Professor Zimmerman’s microbubble-based technologies are exactly the kind of step-change innovations that we are seeking as a means to address our emissions in the longer term, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to extend our relationship with Will and his team in the next phase of this pioneering research.'

Original post available here.