Skip to comments.Biofuels Smackdown: Algae vs. Soybeans
Posted on 12/28/2006 8:58:22 AM PST by Red Badger
While some see algae as the ideal source for biofuels, industry watchers at ThinkEquitys Greentech Summit in San Francisco on Thursday said the technology is likely to be years away.
Algae, as a biodiesel feedstock, is further out than cellulosic ethanol, said Martin Tobias, CEO of biodiesel company Imperium Renewables, referring to ethanol from materials like wood chips, switchgrass, and corn stover.
Algae simply arent available in large-enough quantities right now, he said.
Were opening a 100-million-gallon facility in June, and there wont be 100 million gallons of algae available next year, he said. Its not about whether algae can produce oil, but about whether it can meet a standard quantity needed for fuel. Its going to take longer than anyone wants to say at an investors conference. Whereas with farming, we can make a significant replacement of fuel now, with what we have.
Many consider algae an attractive alternative to current biofuel feedstockssuch as corn, soybeans, and palmbecause of its high lipid density, which means it could theoretically produce far more oil per acre and could potentially reduce the cost of biofuels.
Mr. Tobias said algae could theoretically produce 10,000 gallons of oil per acre. That compares with the current highest-oil-yielding crop, palm, which yields 680 gallons per acre, he said.
Because algae could be grown in a factory, instead of on farmland, it could also help counter the food vs. fuel argument about biofuels.
With current technology, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 20 percent of the land in Europe and the United States would have to be used to grow crops just for energy in order to replace 5 percent of gasoline and diesel with biofuels.
And manyincluding Luca Zullo, director of bioenergy at Cargill, who attended the panelworry that using farmland for fuel crops could jeopardize the food supply.
Its the 500-pound gorilla of the biofuel industry, he said, referring to the food vs. fuel problem. Its a serious moral question, a serious national security question. I think we fundamentally need to look for feedstocks that can help with this issue, feedstocks that use underutilized water and underutilized land.
Also, algae could be better for the environment because algae-growing takes about a third of the water as it takes to grow soybeans, said Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, CEO of LiveFuels, a company developing biocrude from algae that, like petroleum-based crude oil, could be turned into fuels.
In some ways, people think of algae as the Holy Grail of the feedstock issue, said Ira Ehrenpreis, a general partner at the cleantech venture capital firm Technology Partners. But there are shorter-term prospects than algae. Algae represents an opportunity that may occur over the longer horizon.
Fraught with Difficulty
The panel made it clear that the path leading algae to the mass biofuels market is fraught with difficulty.
Its very difficult to grow algae, said Cary Bullock, CEO of Greenfuel Technologies, a startup developing a technology to turn smokestack emissions into ethanol and biodiesel, at the Algae as a Biofuel Feedstock panel.
Greenfuel is growing algae in open ponds, which has lower capital cost than other methods but does have significant issues to overcome.
Mr. Bullock described the process: First, you need a distributed light source to get light past the top layer of algae and deeper into the ponds. One you solve that problem, you discover that the algae runs out of food. To increase the food supply, you have to make significant changes to the nursery system. And once youve done that, you have to manage heat.
Two of those problems would be difficult, but all four together are quite a problem, he said, adding that Greenfuel expects to solve the problems with solutions its developing.
Also, the whole thing must be done at $42 a gallon to allow biofuels to compete with gasoline and diesel fuel, Ms. Morgenthaler-Jones said. After that, youve got nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, she said.
Mr. Bullock said he wouldnt comment on Greenfuels current costs, but said the company is targeting costs of $100 to $200 per ton of algae over the longer term.
Aside from capital costs, reliability has been an issue, said Doug Cameros, the chief scientific officer for Khosla Ventures and the moderator of the Algae as a Biofuel Feedstock panel Thursday.
Also, while farm crops already have systems in place to distribute and sell them, and have additional value in byproducts other than oil, algae doesnt have a ready-made market, Mr. Tobias said.
The challenge for algae is going to be, what do you do with the parts that are not oil? he said. How do you expel it, what do you do with the leftover stuff, what is the value of the oil versus the value of the other stuff? You have to look at the total value you get out of the product, not just the oil.
Despite the problems, a number of startupsand their investorsthink the potential for algae is worth the risk.
Theres no doubt a better feedstock is needed, and algae is worth pursuing, Mr. Tobias said. Eighty percent of the cost of making biodiesel is the cost of the oil going in, he said. We need that to go down.
He said he has an order waiting for the first algae supplier who can sell him enough quantity to feed the 100-million-gallon plant Imperium is building. Id be happy to be a customer, he said.
But while he expects investors will back the idea, Mr. Tobias said he wouldnt invest in algae himself.
Its not going to happen in my lifetime, which I define as three years, he said. Its not that I expect to die in three years, but thats the farthest out I can see.
Rest In Peace, old friend, your work is finished.......
If you want on or off the DIESEL "KNOCK" LIST just FReepmail me........
This is a fairly HIGH VOLUME ping list on some days......
THIS VEHCILE IS POWERED BY POND SCUM
Uh, microprocessor control. It's a factory afterall.
"Also, the whole thing must be done at $42 a gallon to allow biofuels to compete with gasoline and diesel fuel..."
Well, I'd rather see the price come down a bit first.
What is this insistence on making ethanol? For a FAST conversion of organic materials to a practical feedstock for fuel, consider the application of Thermal Depolymerization, which may be used with a wide range of organic materials, and with the right combinations of pressure, water, heat and organic material, can produce a good grade of kerogen, the mixture from which both gasoline and Diesel fuel are refined, somewhat saline water, and solid minerals of industrial importance.
Now, if we NEED ethanol, it would be cheaper and much, much quicker to import it from Brazil. Just eliminate the tariff that has been imposed on Brazilian ethanol.
Thermal Depolymerization, I think I have posted on the concept. Garbage to fuel? right?........
[psst] [whispering] kelp [runs away]
Kelp is algae........
Thermal Depolymerization works on a wide variety of organic materials - old matresses, newsprint, pig feces, sewage solids, turkey offal, even finely granulated coal. The secret lay in the fact that the solids never have to be dried down first. The moisture already in the organic waste is used as part of the reaction mixture. Heating up the slurry to temperatures ranging from 500 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and at pressures ranging from two to six atmospheres (easy to do when the moisture is converted into superheated steam), and the process proceeds pretty rapidly, a couple of hours. By juggling the temperature, pressure, and percentage of water in the slurry, almost any organic material can undergo near-complete conversion. The resulting kerogen has characteristics based on the input organic material, and the temperature/pressure at which the mixture is cooked.
Again, microprocessors and optimized conditions for synthesizing any of a number of end products would be the means of controlling the output. The very hot product would be ready to be sent directly up a fractionating column immediately, resulting in refining right on the spot.
I could see a large farming operation synthesizing its own fuel supplies right on the premises. Solar heat collection units could be used to provide the energy needed to drive the system.
The free market makes these kinds of evaluations better than any other mechanism invented by mankind.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Global Warming and Hydrogen Fueled Cars - Both Huge Cons
The left in America has created straw man issues out of whole cloth. Global warming is pure poppycock. The Hydrogen fuel car is a similar fiction. Below I sent out a e-mail asking everyone to review a YouTube video on a new hydrogen fueled car. It was most impressive.
Knowing full well that there are serious problems with such systems I asked two experts about the video. This is what I got.
I watched the BBC clip and read the comments.
First of all, Mr. Kraft is essentially correct. However the BBC clip conveniently ignores some facts. Fuel cells require platinum to operate. Guess what happens when you buy larger and larger pounds of platinum; the price goes up and up. Second, the fuel cell requires about seven times the volume of air (at sea level) as hydrogen to function; I saw no place in the clip for a blower in the car to push air through the cell. With the present art of video graphics, anything can be made to look real.
This whole fuel anomaly presently is a scam whereby enterprising scientists and promoters have found a way to relieve the politicians of more pork.
Richard A McDonald wrote:
Dan your thoughts on these two pieces?
Neat looking little car, but since I have no audio here at work, I don't know what they were saying..........
Here's some technical info on the Hy-wire.......
yep, and growing out in the ocean
But we cannot disturb the habitat of the cute little sea otters now can we?...........
"Now, if we NEED ethanol, it would be cheaper and much, much quicker to import it from Brazil. Just eliminate the tariff that has been imposed on Brazilian ethanol."
That will never happen unless Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are prepared to give up huge chunks of farming subsidies they get from soybean farming. They are also investing in biodiesel (in Iowa, I think?) and would probably pull the plug.
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