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Biofuels Smackdown: Algae vs. Soybeans
www.redherring.com ^ | 12/07/2006 | Jennifer Kho

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 ThinkEquity’s 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 aren’t available in large-enough quantities right now, he said.

“We’re opening a 100-million-gallon facility in June, and there won’t be 100 million gallons of algae available next year,” he said. “It’s not about whether algae can produce oil, but about whether it can meet a standard quantity needed for fuel. It’s going to take longer than anyone wants to say at an investor’s 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 feedstocks—such as corn, soybeans, and palm—because 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.

Holy Grail

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 many—including Luca Zullo, director of bioenergy at Cargill, who attended the panel—worry that using farmland for fuel crops could jeopardize the food supply.

“It’s the 500-pound gorilla of the biofuel industry,” he said, referring to the food vs. fuel problem. “It’s 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.

“It’s 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 you’ve 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 it’s 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, you’ve got nowhere to run and nowhere to hide,” she said.

Mr. Bullock said he wouldn’t comment on Greenfuel’s 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 doesn’t 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.”

Worth Pursuing

Despite the problems, a number of startups—and their investors—think the potential for algae is worth the risk.

There’s 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. “I’d be happy to be a customer,” he said.

But while he expects investors will back the idea, Mr. Tobias said he wouldn’t invest in algae himself.

“It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, which I define as three years,” he said. “It’s not that I expect to die in three years, but that’s the farthest out I can see.”

Contact: jkho@redherring.com


TOPICS: Business/Economy; News/Current Events; Technical; US: California
KEYWORDS: algae; biodiesel; soybeans
I do not agree with this writer's conclusions that Algae is far down the road. It's right around the corner.........

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......

1 posted on 12/28/2006 8:58:24 AM PST by Red Badger
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To: sully777; Fierce Allegiance; vigl; Cagey; Abathar; A. Patriot; B Knotts; getsoutalive; ...

Knock!........


2 posted on 12/28/2006 8:59:24 AM PST by Red Badger (New! HeadOn Hemorrhoid Medication for Liberals!.........Apply directly to forehead.........)
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To: Red Badger
Bumper sticker in waiting...

THIS VEHCILE IS POWERED BY POND SCUM

3 posted on 12/28/2006 9:03:27 AM PST by gov_bean_ counter ( I am sitting under my cone of silence, inside a copper wire cage wearing a tin foil hat...)
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To: Red Badger
Algae Biofuel From Sewage
4 posted on 12/28/2006 9:05:25 AM PST by NotJustAnotherPrettyFace
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To: NotJustAnotherPrettyFace

??????......


5 posted on 12/28/2006 9:07:27 AM PST by Red Badger (New! HeadOn Hemorrhoid Medication for Liberals!.........Apply directly to forehead.........)
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To: Red Badger
"Two of those problems would be difficult, but all four together are quite a problem,”

Uh, microprocessor control. It's a factory afterall.

6 posted on 12/28/2006 9:08:10 AM PST by Paladin2 (Islam is the religion of violins, NOT peas.)
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To: Red Badger

"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.


7 posted on 12/28/2006 9:12:56 AM PST by Old Professer (The critic writes with rapier pen, dips it twice, and writes again.)
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To: Red Badger

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.


8 posted on 12/28/2006 9:44:14 AM PST by alloysteel (A battle cry of the Crusaders: "Denique caelum!" (Latin, "Heaven at last!))
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To: alloysteel

Thermal Depolymerization, I think I have posted on the concept. Garbage to fuel? right?........


9 posted on 12/28/2006 9:47:35 AM PST by Red Badger (New! HeadOn Hemorrhoid Medication for Liberals!.........Apply directly to forehead.........)
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To: Red Badger
"I do not agree with this writer's conclusions that Algae is far down the road. It's right around the corner........."

[psst] [whispering] kelp [runs away]

10 posted on 12/28/2006 9:55:05 AM PST by 100-Fold_Return (MONEY Cometh To Me NOW)
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To: 100-Fold_Return

Kelp is algae........


11 posted on 12/28/2006 9:58:36 AM PST by Red Badger (New! HeadOn Hemorrhoid Medication for Liberals!.........Apply directly to forehead.........)
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To: Red Badger

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.


12 posted on 12/28/2006 10:08:04 AM PST by alloysteel (A battle cry of the Crusaders: "Denique caelum!" (Latin, "Heaven at last!))
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To: Red Badger
With all the talk about seeking suitable sources of raw materials to produce biofuels, I wonder why no one mentions Kudzu.

Kudzu grows like a...well like a weed. It doesn't need to be cultivated, nurtured, or finessed to produce prodigiously. It's self-propagating, so you basically ignore it once you've harvested it, come back a month or two later and harvest it again ;'}

Best of all, it isn't a competing food source like corn or soy.
13 posted on 12/28/2006 10:37:41 AM PST by rockrr (Never argue with a man who buys ammo in bulk...)
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To: Red Badger

The free market makes these kinds of evaluations better than any other mechanism invented by mankind.


14 posted on 12/28/2006 11:11:42 AM PST by 3niner (War is one game where the home team always loses.)
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To: Red Badger

Monday, December 25, 2006
http://www.inblogs.net/dickmcdonald/


Global Warming and Hydrogen Fueled Cars - Both Huge Cons

Dick McDonald

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.
http://www.youtube.com/v/ry6w3mRm-FM

Knowing full well that there are serious problems with such systems I asked two experts about the video. This is what I got.

Dick:

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.

Dan


Richard A McDonald wrote:
Dan –your thoughts on these two pieces?





From: rskraft [mailto:rskraft@vfr.net]
Sent: Saturday, December 23, 2006 1:48 PM
To: Richard A McDonald
Cc: JoanSharon@aol.com; Ray Kraft
Subject: Re: Arab oil... soon to be irrelevant! Questions - EIR?

Great pics!

Two big technical hurdles ahead -

1. Bringing the cost of making a fuel cell down by 90%-95% - the current cost of manufacturing an H fuel cell is in the range of 10 to 20 times that of a gasoline engine -

2. Producing all that H and developing the infrastructure to deliver it - I don't see how we can do it without getting behind nuclear power in a BIG BIG WAY - since we have to replace something like 1 billion gallons of oil per day - (20 mil barrels now, plus growth, at 42 gals per bbl) - which means we have to produce the energy equivalent of 1 billion bbls of hydrogen per day! - yes, it can be extracted from sea water, but it takes more energy to do the hydrolisis than can be regained from burning H in a combustion engnie or fuel cel - plus energy to compress it, and transport it all over the country - so we probably have to produce something like TWICE as much energy to produce 40,000 btu of hydrogen (equal to one gallon of gasoline) as we get out of it - 80,000 btu of energy to put 40,000 btu in your tank -

3. It could be done with solar / steam matrix power stations (not photovoltaic) but DOE estimates it would take a solar grid equal to about 1/4 the size of NEVADA to produce that much electricity! - it'll take awhile to build . . .

4. I haven't seen ANYBODY even mention an "Environmental Impact Report" for H - we would be pumping 1 billion gallons (more or less) of new moisture into the atmosphere, 8 billion pounds, every day . . . . 4 billion gallons, 32 billion pounds, if the whole world went to H -

Multiply by 365 days a year - and water vapor is the single most important greenhouse gas! - so, will H cars cause accelerated global warming?

Or will all that moisture freeze out in northern and southern latitudes, and trigger the next great Ice Age?

I haven't seen ANYBODY tackle this - and all that moisture could very quickly change the climate dramatically esp. in downwind plumes from large cities, more thunderstorms, more rainfall, more snow . . . more ice . . .

Ray Kraft


15 posted on 12/28/2006 11:18:37 AM PST by Matchett-PI (To have no voice in the Party that always sides with America's enemies is a badge of honor.)
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To: Matchett-PI

Neat looking little car, but since I have no audio here at work, I don't know what they were saying..........


16 posted on 12/28/2006 11:32:04 AM PST by Red Badger (New! HeadOn Hemorrhoid Medication for Liberals!.........Apply directly to forehead.........)
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To: Matchett-PI

Here's some technical info on the Hy-wire.......

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.autointell.com/nao_companies/general_motors/concepts-2003/gm_hy_wire/gm-hy-wire-front-300-230.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.autointell.com/nao_companies/general_motors/concepts-2003/gm_hy_wire/gm-hy-wire-02.htm&h=229&w=300&sz=62&tbnid=lM9arSSM2LkxVM:&tbnh=89&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dhy-wire&start=2&sa=X&oi=images&ct=image&cd=2


17 posted on 12/28/2006 11:33:27 AM PST by Red Badger (New! HeadOn Hemorrhoid Medication for Liberals!.........Apply directly to forehead.........)
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To: Red Badger

yep, and growing out in the ocean


18 posted on 12/28/2006 11:54:19 AM PST by 100-Fold_Return (MONEY Cometh To Me NOW)
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To: 100-Fold_Return

But we cannot disturb the habitat of the cute little sea otters now can we?...........


19 posted on 12/28/2006 11:56:58 AM PST by Red Badger (New! HeadOn Hemorrhoid Medication for Liberals!.........Apply directly to forehead.........)
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To: alloysteel

"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.


20 posted on 12/29/2006 4:29:48 AM PST by Diggadave
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To: Red Badger

not if you want the oceans to produce oxygen and abosrb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Increase the carbon dioxide content of seawater and it turns acidic, bye bye fishing industry. Probably a hit with kids who only eat McDonalds filet o' fish but for those of us who love sushi and other fish food it would be a disaster!

What would Maine do for a state symbol without the lobster!?!


21 posted on 12/29/2006 4:37:59 AM PST by Diggadave
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To: Old Professer

Maybe it was supposed to be 42 bucks per barrel.


22 posted on 12/29/2006 6:11:56 AM PST by ecomcon
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To: ecomcon

That's what I was wondering.


23 posted on 12/29/2006 7:23:17 AM PST by Old Professer (The critic writes with rapier pen, dips it twice, and writes again.)
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