Skip to comments.Algae Biofuel Thrives in the Heart of Oil Country
Posted on 04/09/2012 12:42:03 PM PDT by An American!
As the U.S. transitions out of a petroleum economy, oil-rich Texas is emerging as something of a surprise leader in biofuel research. If the countrys quintessential oil state sees promise in biofuels, that stands as a powerful indicator that the national market is ready, too, even in the case of algae biofuel, which has been greeted with derision in some circles.
One main driver of Texass vanguard position in the biofuel field has been Texas A&M University, the premier public education and research institution. The schools AgriLife department has firmly established itself in the forefront of algae biofuel development despite the nay saying of at least one of the states own representatives in Congress, who took jabs at the Navys algae biofuel program at a hearing in Congress just last month.
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Interesting...I think algae may have a strong future
It sickens me that these biofuel, windmill and algae fatcats are lining their pockets when they know darn well the energy of the future is unicorn dander. END BIG ALGAE!
I am sure that farmers in Pecos love the idea of water being diverted to a pondscum research facility.
“Interesting...I think algae may have a strong future”
I take the opposite view. Interesting technology, yes. But moving from the laboratory to practical economical production is another matter. Think of the required infrastructure. Culturing algae in transparent tanks could be more expensive than solar farms. Culturing algae in open ponds in the Southwest would be impossible due to scare water and high evaporation rates. Anything that harvests solar energy, be it silicon or algae, would require too much real estate and is therefore too diffuse to be economically feasible.
We are awash in hydrocarbons that can be converted into to usable liquid fuels. We use crude oil because it presently is the most cost-effective feedstock of molecules for this purpose. If someone develops an algae that can compete with no more subsidies, then more power to them. Bring it on!
Both the title and article are kind of misleading to me. Its a university doing the study. Perhaps with a big, fat, juicy grant from the feds or some other “green group”. And what do you know, the stuff may work...ha ha ha
Of course they’re going to say it works, if they don’t then they don’t get that funding anymore.
If a REAL energy company were doing the research, with real scientists and not a bunch of TA’s and grad students, then it might be something to pay attention to somewhere down the road. Until then, OIL and GAS are KING.
One thing everyone forgets in the illusionary race to replace petroleum with "green" alternatives is that we use oil for far more than just fueling our vehicles. Even if we stopped using gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil, etc. tomorrow, we would still need vast amounts of petroleum to manufacture plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, etc., etc., etc. The list of non-fuel uses for petroleum are endless, and there are precisely zero green alternatives for those uses.
150 years ago horsepower was actually generated by horses. Cheap energy is fine; if there are othe ways to get it, that is a good thing. Let the free market develop it though, don’t make it a government trough. Just think - if oil was supplanted even in part, just how significant would the Middleastern OPEC nations be? It is hard to run a war machine off of the sale of sugared dates.
You prepared to invest your own money in the technology?
The interesting thing about the tube growing algae was:
- the capture and reuse of water (no evap...just condensation)
- vertical growth reduced acreage requirements
With that being said, the devil is in the details. It is not cheap to extract oil and you need phosphorus / phosphates to grow it. With the looming phosphate shortage...well maybe bio fuels is not a very good option unless we can recycle the phosphate...essentially feed the algae back to itself after extracting the oil?
Growing algae under controlled conditions is very hard. I did some research while in skool, which involved trying to grow Microcystis to yield some toxic metabolic by-products that can kill fish. Massive fail because we didn’t include some micronutrients in the medium.
I can’t imagine the enormous scale required to make sufficient gasoline, er ethanol? from algae. Just what kind of yield of fuel per ton of algae are they expecting? How much energy and labor will it take?
If I had any money then I would not mind investing in some of the more promising bio fuel areas. But I would also invest in other equally intriguing areas like solar collectors, optimal heat energy storage, steam, hydrogen etc etc.
For example UAE is investing in tried and true solar trough technology - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shams_solar_power_station
And here are some enterprising souls in Utah using wastewater ponds full of phosphates etc http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/logan-utah-wastewater-lagoons-to-be-transformed-into-algae-biofuel-and-fertilizer-producing-facility.html
Solar still has probably most potential http://knol.google.com/k/-/-/1g0rrsoesmjko/dk53jz/sunniest-places-in-the-world2.jpg
Great progress was being made until we went to oil. For example Frank Shuman built the first solar thermal power station in Egypt in 1913. His plant used parabolic troughs to power a 60 horsepower engine that pumped thousands of gallons of irrigation water per minute from the Nile to near by fields.
In fact people have been working on the problem for 100 years and no one has found anything more economical than fossil fuels. Good thing we have decades and decades of it left to use.
No doubt such a system could demo the technology, but it sounds cost prohibitive to construct such a large facility. I wonder also about the maintenance of such equipment. I had not even considered yet the issue of nutrients such as phosphates. Harvesting the oil is taking something out of a closed system, and therefore it seems that nutrients would have to be replenished from an external source to some extent.
I think basic research should continue, but I can’t see anything practical happening for a long time.
This pond is big enough. It has free water, free farm fields, and free sunshine. It also has free fertilizer waste feeding into it. Algae blooms aren't a problem because of too much algae, but because of not harvesting it.
Interesting...I think algae may have a strong future
Algae has ZERO future. This is a welfare program for scientists. (hey they gots to eat too on your taxpayer dime) It is total bullshit. Just for starters how are you going to dry out that messy algae goop to further process it into oil? How many BTUs will be spent doing it? You gonna dry it out in the Texas sun? I am very familiar with algae and how it is grown and dry processed to make spirulina, a health food store item. It is expensive! $30/lb for human consumption. Lets say they can produce it for $5 for conversion into petro- byproducts. Still too expensive
Fossil fuels are effectively hidden by being below the surface of the Earth. To grow algae, you’d have to have huge topside growing platforms.
Has anyone ever seen a calculation of just how much surface area of algae you’d need to produce on 55 gal. drum of oil?
I think the very best selling point of algae biodiesel is that research is being backed, strongly if quietly, by the oil companies. It has huge potential for profitability, low overhead, and scalability.
1) As soon as it is operational, it *consumes* the waste gases CO2 and Nitrous Oxides (NOx) that are otherwise expensive to dispose of. This means it is profitable from the very start. Companies will pay them to take these gases off their hands.
2) It uses cheap and reusable “gray water”, that only needs minimal filtering. Probably the most expensive part of the deal is keeping the water cool enough so that it is the optimal temperature range for algae.
3) Once the algae is harvested, it is squeezed to get out the about 50% of its weight that is vegetable oil. The leftover algae can be sold as animal fodder. The oil is then mixed with ethanol and lye, a catalyst which is also reusable. Then the biodiesel is filtered, and 1% petroleum diesel is added to it as a preservative.
4) Diesel engines are everywhere, and are scalable from motorcycle, to car, to truck, to train, and even to ship size. The engines just need minor modification to run on biodiesel instead of diesel. Gas stations all over the US that pump diesel already exist, so don’t have to be built or modified. Huge cost savings there.
No other form of fuel than gasoline comes close to diesel for low cost, high performance, and familiarity. The diesel engine is close to perfected.
Why the arid southwest? Is there a practical reason, or is this academic sales boilerplate to justify funding?
I’d think a less arid, semitropical climate with an excess of usable water and proximity to natural phosphate deposits would be more conducive.
The NC coastal plain would be one such location. Evaporative loss would be minimized. Plenty of water. Mild winters. Away from the coastline, land is cheap, most inland coastal plain counties are fairly sparse in population.
Ditto. The potential is there. The costs still need to come down.
Re:17. On the yield potential, the back of the envelope figure that floated around a few years ago was that algae pencilled out at a potential of about 10,000 gallons an acre, compared to about 300 gallons an acre for corn ethanol. Those are old numbers; corn yields and the efficiency of ethanol conversion have increased, and I’d bet that the energy potential of the algae is increasing as well. Biotech means that nothing is static. I offer the admittedly dated figure just to suggest the order of magnitude and to indicate why so many in the research community are excited.
Algae has high potential and is scaleable. You don’t need prime farmland. And you can use a lot of water that is unfit for other purposes. If we’re serious about breaking OPEC and defunding the jihad, algae is certainly something we should be interested in. It’s not ready for prime time yet, but it’s probably closer than advanced batteries for electrics (high enough energy density for full electrics with adequate range), and much closer than fuel cells.
Fracking and expanded drilling are fine too, but they will still leave us heavily import dependent for oil (not natural gas).
What a load of crap.
Just another lib feeding at the public trough.
Tina Casey??? Really?
Tina is a career public information specialist and former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She writes frequently on sustainable tech issues for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, and she is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Follow Tina on twitter, @TinaMCasey https://twitter.com/#!/TinaMCasey.
You are an instigator! I know that because you dare post such a statement without a "/sarcasm."
Algae may, indeed, be a source of energy, but the 10 or 12 gallons won't make much of a difference. If it weren't for that, I'd be huge (hugh?) supporter.
I had some thoughts about how it could be done on the cheap.
To start with, shallow, accordioned canals with gas bubbling pipe under the water, covered by “self-cleaning” glass, also a new technology. Mechanical harvesters track the canals, scooping up algae and putting it in sluices between canals, so it can be concentrated.
The constant flow of water through the accordion continues until it reaches the end, where it is filtered, then sent to small evaporative cooling towers.
Not only is algae already growing in the ocean but all the energy in petroleum originally came from just that. Also more than half the oxygen in the atmosphere was produced by ocean algae. Farming on open water is no harder on the environment than farming on open land.
Doesn't sound too promising, especially if it gets taxed like current gasoline.
They certainly wouldn't but fortunately there are very few of them 200 miles offshore.