# Algal Fuels and Massive Scales

Guest post by John Goetz

I keep an active watch of the news for progress being made in the areas of renewable and alternative energy sources. One area that has caught my eye is algal fuel (biofuel produced by algae). One company that has been in the news lately is Sapphire Energy, which claims to be able to produce ASTM compliant 91-octane biogasoline. Sapphire Energy says their technology “requires only sunlight, CO2 and non-potable water – and can be produced at massive scale on non-arable land”.

I am not trying to pick on any one solution or Sapphire Energy in particular. I simply wondered how massive a scale of CO2 and non-arable land is needed to make a noticeable dent in our gasoline demand.

First, how much CO2 do we need? The IPCC guidelines for calculating emissions require that an oxidation factor of 0.99 be applied to gasoline’s carbon content to account for a small portion of the fuel that is not oxidized into CO2. To calculate the CO2 emissions from a gallon of fuel, the carbon emissions are multiplied by the ratio of the molecular weight of CO2 to the molecular weight of carbon, or 44/12. Thus, the IPCC says the CO2 emissions from a gallon of gasoline = 2,421 grams x 0.99 x (44/12) = 8,788 grams = 8.8 kg/gallon = 19.4 pounds/gallon.

Now let’s assume Sapphire Energy simply reverses the process and consumes the CO2 to produce gasoline. In other words, we take 19.4 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere for every gallon of gasoline we produce. This seems like is a nice “carbon neutral” process.

What is the cubic volume of atmosphere required to make 1 gallon of gas? Let’s assume for the moment an efficiency factor of 100%, meaning our process will consume 100% of the atmospheric CO2 it is fed. This is unrealistic, but it is unrealistic on the “optimistic” side. According to the EPA, one cubic meter of CO2 gas weighs 0.2294 lbs. At an atmospheric concentration level of 385ppm, one cubic meter of atmosphere contains 0.000088319 lbs of CO2. Thus, 19.4 / .000088319 = 219658 cubic meters (yes, I am ignoring the atmospheric density gradient as one moves from the ground upward, but hang with me). This equates to roughly 4553 gallons of gasoline per cubic kilometer of air.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, US gasoline consumption is currently averaging (4-week rolling) 9.027 million barrels of gasoline per day, or about 379 million gallons (42 gallons per barrel). Thus, to completely replace US gasoline consumption, Sapphire Energy would need to “scrub”, at 100% efficiency, just over 83000 cubic kilometers of air per day. Certainly there is plenty of air available – this volume represents less than 0.02% of the volume of air in the first 1 km of atmosphere. Nevertheless, it is an enormous amount to process each day.

Of course, Sapphire Energy’s near-term goals are much more modest. As CEO Jason Pyle told Biomass Magazine, “the company is currently deploying a three-year pilot process with the goal of opening a 153 MMgy (10,000 barrel per day) production facility by 2011 at a site yet to be determined.” Using my fuzzy math above, that equates to a minimum of 92 cubic kilometers of air a day. Still seems like a lot.

So where will all of the CO2 come from?

Presumably the answer is coal-fired power plants. But let’s see if that makes sense. According to Science Daily, the top twelve CO2-emitting power plants in the US have total emissions of 236.8 million tons annually, or 1.3 billion pounds per day. Now, if that can be converted completely to gasoline, it would amount to 67 million gallons per day, or roughly 1/6 of the daily gasoline consumption.

(Science Daily refers to the twelve as the “dirty dozen,” which I found somewhat humorous given that CO2 is colorless and odorless, and is presumably needed to sustain some forms of life. But then again, so is dirt.)

Sounds great, except that a lot of land is needed to grow all that algae. According to Wikipedia, between 5,000 and 20,000 gallons of biodiesel can be produced per acre from algae per year. Assume for the moment that biogasoline can be produced at the same rate per acre. If we attempted to produce 67 million gallons of gasoline from our “dirty-dozen” every day, we would need between 1.2M and 4.9M acres of land to do this on. The low-end of the scale puts the area needed at more than that of Rhode Island. The high-end adds in Connecticut.

I kind of doubt there is that much land around each of the dirty dozen facilities. This means the gas would have to be sent by pipeline to a giant algae field. Given our ability to pipe oil and natural gas all over the place, sending CO2 across the country via pipeline is probably doable. There may also be plenty of unused or abandoned land (think abandoned oil fields) available to produce the gasoline. Nevertheless, the production scale and transportation logistics required to make this a viable alternative do indeed look massive.

So while the technology holds promise at the micro-scale, it remains to be seen what can actually be done at a scale that matters.

Talk among yourselves.

Article Rating
Inline Feedbacks
Luke
June 27, 2008 3:42 pm

I don’t know… Think of all the habitat you’d be destroying for these massive algae farms… We wouldn’t want to impact the desert tortoise or other native species. Perhaps after we force the country off of cow meat we can use the land for this noble purpose.

statePoet1775
June 27, 2008 3:54 pm

Sounds like a plan and since it is carbon neutral maybe God will cut us some slack to get the system operational since we are repenting of our grievous sin of carbon emission.

June 27, 2008 3:56 pm

There’s a whole bunch of foreclosed houses that have pools FULL of algae. We could use those. Hey, I’ve been trying to convince people that the bad economy has a silver lining!!!

retired engineer
June 27, 2008 4:08 pm

I suppose they could make extra CO2 by burning trees. That would be carbon neutral, sort of. What do they do with the CO2 at night or on cloudy days?

Bruce Cobb
June 27, 2008 4:14 pm

Hmmm…. Cost of production per gallon of the stuff currently running as much as \$20. Suddenly very sleepy. Wake me when it hits \$2 a gallon.

Bill Marsh
June 27, 2008 4:18 pm

19.4 pounds of CO2/gal? I don’t think a gallon of gas weighs 19.4 lbs so how could it produce 19.4 pounds of C02 — unless it assumes the oxygen used in the CO2 is not contained in the gasoline?
Reply: Yes, the assumption is that the oxygen molecule comes from the air.

Dan
June 27, 2008 4:19 pm

I use about a gallon of gasoline a day. If this technology would allow me to produce gas at that rate in my backyard, I’d be set. Selling or licensing technology to individuals to meet their own needs would be like the ‘solar panel’ business model, with people producing their own energy, and avoiding the need for massive, large scale production facilities.
Reply: I read somewhere, and now cannot find it, that a 2000 sq ft rooftop system could produce about 10 gallons (I believe of biodiesel) per week. The system might cost \$18000 though.

doug w
June 27, 2008 4:25 pm

But what about the emissions from buring the bio-gasoline? While possibly neutral, Isn’t that still an emission?
The loons who are flogging CO2=evil want nothing less than the destruction of the engine that runs our economy. They are willing to sacrifice all of humanity to achieve their ends. They will support alternative fuels only as long as it diverts attention from their goal.

statePoet1775
June 27, 2008 4:27 pm

guilty as charged
“We are guilty.
We have sinned.
So we know from James Hansen”
What did you do?
“It was diurnal
and nocturnal
emissions of CO2.”

Leon Brozyna
June 27, 2008 4:30 pm

It may be doable but the question that remains is if it is economically feasible. There would also be the inevitable environmental impact studies in locating such facilities on non-arable land. This is what venture capital managers would need to know before sinking funds in such a massive undertaking. On the cost side are such details as the material costs of structures, costs of water, costs of recycling water for reuse, costs of obtaining CO2 to increase productivity. Then such costs would have to be measured against projected yields. Would the resulting gasoline be economically competitive, ideally being cheaper than present wholesale gasoline prices. If they can prove competitiveness, responsible venture capitalists should have no problem in plugging in the start-up costs. However, if the costs are seen as prohibitive the venture should be allowed to mature further rather than see a rush to federal subsidies and another ethanol-style debacle.
The cynic in me doubts that this’ll see much progress as it’ll probably face furious resistance from environmentalists appalled at the prospect of easily obtained gasoline.

Robert Wood
June 27, 2008 4:48 pm

Thanks for doing the basic numbers for me; I normally have to do them for myself :^)
It appears that all microbial approaches have similar limits as alcohol. It is only possible to produce a good, strong hooch with distillation, concentration after the production. The same with hydrocarbons; it took millenia of forest and grass decay, over a large area, to produce the highly concentrated oil fields.
The problem with all “natural” or “sustainable” energy sources is that they are disbursed and therefore uneconomical.
I think that these biological processes could be improved upon by using a continuous flow, rather than batch, production method.

Tom Klein
June 27, 2008 5:12 pm

I can visualize these huge algae ponds – I saw an estimate of 95 million acres required – and environmentalist living near or downwind from these ponds. Will they look back to off-shore drilling rigs with nostalgia, or just sue regardless that it was their desire that created them in the first place.

Steven Hill
June 27, 2008 5:38 pm

I can hear it now…..too little CO2 causes man made ice age.

Bill Illis
June 27, 2008 5:40 pm

Gasoline and fossil fuels are just hydrocarbons (with a very small amount of other molecules thrown in which are primarily contaminants). All one needs to produce gasoline is Carbon and Hydrogen and the right chemical reactions to produce C8H18.
Lots of different processes will potentially produce C8H18 (gasoline) some of which are biological and others which are artificial.
Given that Carbon and Hydrogen are extremely abundant elements, I imagine some day, someone will perfect an economical method of producing gasoline and other fossil fuels through a simple chemistry/refining process.
We don’t need plant remains to be buried deep in the Earth for millions of years to produce oil and coal and gasoline. We just need a feedstock of Carbon and Hydrogen.
The biggest problem is the other abundant element Oxygen – given that Oxygen likes to bond very strongly with both of our desired elements. We need to keep Oxygen out of the process until it is needed to produce the energy that we want fossil fuels to produce – ie heat through burning and combustion which produces CO2 and H2O.
It can easily be a completely renewable process.

Ken Westerman
June 27, 2008 5:49 pm

Interesting.
Man if only electric cars/hydrogen fuel cell technology was cheaper to afford and the infrastructure was in place. I would totally buy either depending on <> in the future.
Algae though? Wonder if it could be collected from large blooms in the oceans? May be that’d be better than draining swamps and pools?
It’s good to see people’s ideas swirling about these topics though. I’m sure whomever creates something worthwhile in the automotive/energy business…will be the next billionaire for sure!

Steve Moore
June 27, 2008 5:50 pm

“…maybe God will cut us some slack…”
He’ll have to check with Al first.

RobJM
June 27, 2008 6:01 pm

The production of algal biodiesel does not require distillation, just hot pressing. I think you can get about 60% of the weight in fuel. the left overs which are carbohydrates and proteins can then be used for ethanol production or stock feed. I’m not sure if these guys are doing something different. The main challenge ahead is finding appropriate high yielding strains. It can be performed on roof tops, in deserts or oceans. you can use salt water or effluent! when you consider other biofuels would require more area than the whole of the USA to meet your fuel requirements then the area required is tiny! Obviously the US need to move to more efficient cars. The rest of the world is happy with less than 2L (I have a 1.3L)! Compressed air cars are probably the way to go, no batteries to replace after a few years!
As for CO2 sources you should be not be short of supplies, anything that flames of ferments will provide it. People could run their heater exhaust through their rooftop biodiesel generator.
CO2 may not be responsible for climate change but it doesn’t mean we should be wasteful with fossil fuels.

Jeff Alberts
June 27, 2008 6:17 pm

Sounds like a plan and since it is carbon neutral maybe God will cut us some slack to get the system operational since we are repenting of our grievous sin of carbon emission.

Why stop with god. Why not Thor, or Zeus?

isonomic
June 27, 2008 6:26 pm

best plan would be educate the mass to stop consume certain things. It’s not like we have only little choices. make it into laws.

sagi
June 27, 2008 6:27 pm

Anyone want to volunteer to be sitting near the high pressure compressed air tank when the car is rear-ended?

June 27, 2008 6:49 pm

Reply: I read somewhere, and now cannot find it, that a 2000 sq ft rooftop system could produce about 10 gallons (I believe of biodiesel) per week. The system might cost \$18000 though.
10 gal X \$4.00/gal = \$40/week = \$2,000/year; about an 11% return in a world of 3% CD rates.
Sign me up!!

statePoet1775
June 27, 2008 6:50 pm

“Why stop with god. Why not Thor, or Zeus?” Jeff Alberts
I kinda liked Thor. He was the only Marvel hero who could go toe-toe with the Hulk. He said once “Never have I been struck such a blow by a mere mortal!” I sure wish I had kept that issue, probably worth quite a lot.

Dan
June 27, 2008 6:52 pm

We need one of these where you add pond scum instead of sugar.
http://www.efuel100.com/t-technology.aspx

Evan Jones
Editor
June 27, 2008 6:52 pm

Why stop with god. Why not Thor, or Zeus?
I think we want Hephaestus in on this one. Maybe with an assist from Demeter and/or Dionysus.

Gary
June 27, 2008 7:30 pm

A critical limiting factor is the available sunlight. The algal ponds have to be in lower latitudes because winter sun angles are too steep in the north. Sunlight in the photosynthetic wavelengths doesn’t penetrate too far into water that’s dense with algal cells either, so the surface area of the ponds will have to be maximized.
There’s been some success with small-scale operations on farms using algae (Spirulina spp.) to clean nutrients out of animal waste, but for making fuel this seems to have the numbers running against it in so many ways.

nanny_govt_sucks
June 27, 2008 7:42 pm

How about a bug that eats trash and excretes petrol? Would that hold more promise than algal fuel?
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article4133668.ece

Editor
June 27, 2008 7:48 pm

Bill Illis (17:40:31) wrote:
“Given that Carbon and Hydrogen are extremely abundant elements, I imagine some day, someone will perfect an economical method of producing gasoline and other fossil fuels through a simple chemistry/refining process.”
You’re forgetting the whole point of the process – making gasoline or other hydrocarbons takes a lot of energy. While coal has a lot of carbon as carbon, there is very little hydrogen that isn’t bound to something else, usually oxygen.
That’s the whole point of photosynthesis – it uses sunlight to split water, discarding the oxygen and combining the hydrogen with CO2 to make glucose. Research is ongoing into not biologic equivalents to photosynthesis, but the result will still need sunlight as the energy source, it won’t be “simple chemistry” in a test tube.

Stan Needham
June 27, 2008 7:50 pm

Reply: I read somewhere, and now cannot find it, that a 2000 sq ft rooftop system could produce about 10 gallons (I believe of biodiesel) per week. The system might cost \$18000 though.
Come on, Anthony; what’s a couple bucks compared to saving the planet. Besides, as Smokey notes, the ROI beats current CD rates.

J.Hansford.
June 27, 2008 7:51 pm

So….. The 19 pounds of CO2 is calculated by taking Oxygen from the atmosphere…. Fair enough….. All sounds complicated.
The only thing I give a stuff about, is the price. Make a fuel that burns in my conventional car, cheaper than what anybody else produces…. and which doesn’t send the price of food through the roof….. I’ll buy it. Otherwise it’s just a waste of time.
CO2 has no significant effect on climate…. So all I’m interested in is cheaper fuel…. How about liquefying our coal and shale deposits…. much more scope there ‘eh?…. America, India, Australia and South Africa. Just those four democratic nations control over 50% of the worlds coal deposits… and that’s not counting shale oil deposits…. Time we thought about it.

statePoet1775
June 27, 2008 7:59 pm

fusion power + Water = Hydrogen
Hydrogen + CO2 = gasoline
gasoline + car = go
go + environmental wacko = environmental wacko go mad

J.Hansford.
June 27, 2008 8:03 pm

Just a note on yer pond scum petrol….. The land area needed could be reduced dramatically if you used vertical density…. Put the little green buggers in hi rise columns of water….. But that sounds like an engineering nightmare…. Liquefying coal and shale sounds much easier…. cheaper… : )

Geoff Dawson
June 27, 2008 8:09 pm

These projects have been around before in other high cost fuel era’s.
However if they can crack it good for them. Also you don’t have to scrub the
air for the CO2, power stations do it for you, any carbon fueled combustion
process will produce predominately nitrogen( a fertilizer) and C02.
Both algal and bacteria love the stuff.
Connect them to the back end of coal fired power stations with plenty of land
to compensate for the solar efficiency dramas then you don’t need carbon
geological dumping programs.

Jon Jewett
June 27, 2008 8:10 pm

Well,
An Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle coal fired electrical generating plant produces an effluent of nearly 100% CO2 (if they use pure O2 in the process). The idea is that it is easier to sequester pure CO2 than if the effluent is diluted with some 70% N2. The only down side is that the process consumes a significant fraction of the power produced (on the order of 1/3 to 1/2).
An IGCC plant costs more to build (perhaps 50% more) and more to operate (a very complicated process, especially with the O2 liquefaction train, and LOX (liquid O2) really is nasty stuff). And since it consumes so much power internally, it will require on the order of 30% to 50% more fuel per MWhr.
There are plants that actually do this. But, it seems to me that the only way they make economic sense is if either: 1. It is the only way to produce power by law. 2. The byproducts are worth something.
You could use the CO2 effluent for a feed stock to make Algal Gasoline. (I vote we call it “Alligator Gas”)
There is one operating plant that I have heard of making money. It was built by the government during the Carter energy debacle and closed down as uneconomical. A company bought the closed plant, spent a zillion dollars on modifying it, and now operate the plant and sell the CO2 for oil field enhanced production.
By the way: the government is going to build another one in Illinois. But Senator Harry Reid has said that he will never allow a commercial plant to be built. So, when the whole idea fizzles out, some enterprising young fellow can make a bundle-again.
I would enjoy this a whole lot more if I had studied abnormal psychology instead of marine engineering.
Regards,
Steamboat Jack

antioxexpress
June 27, 2008 8:18 pm

Why is it [really?] important to be “carbon neutral” when in elementary school everyone was taught that CO2 was a necessary gaseous exchange in the human inhalation-exhalation cycle? Is there such a thing as being “carbon neutral” when some enterprising individuals created a “bank” where you can buy (give me a break!) carbon credits? Why am I skeptical or am I using critical thinking skills? Hmmm… Personally, I like the thought of the proposed wave energy technology for creating electricity (some posts are on my blog). That sounds like sound science to me.
“Mac”
http://antioxexpress.wordpress.com

leebert
June 27, 2008 8:22 pm

Put them on old retrofit oil tankers.

Paul Linsay
June 27, 2008 8:59 pm

MIT bioreactor in operation

Andrew Upson
June 27, 2008 9:02 pm

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,372542,00.html

mr.artday
June 27, 2008 9:09 pm

Somewhere, I saw some film about a biomass rig that had the algae in vertical transparent tubes to reduce the acreage/ output ratio. However, given that the CO2 curve and the global temp. curves show zero correlation, we really need to give up on all this alternative fuels bushwa and burn gasoline in good health.

KuhnKat
June 27, 2008 9:15 pm

J. Hansford,
another company DOES use vertical racks of bladders!!
http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/04/01/algae.oil/
Of course, this guy sounds pretty good too!!

KuhnKat
June 27, 2008 9:21 pm

This guy is working on the VERTICAL algae “ponds”:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/04/01/algae.oil/
This guy has genetically modified bacteria for more efficiency!!

David Segesta
June 27, 2008 9:22 pm

I’m a firm believer in capitalism. If someone can produce gasoline or diesel oil at a competitive price this way then they will. And they’ll be richly rewarded for their efforts.

David Segesta
June 27, 2008 9:33 pm

Here is a video on a similar process.
http://www.valcent.net/i/misc/Vertigro/index.html
As usual I remain a skeptic. If it really works why don’t they just stop talking and start producing the stuff and getting rich?

Evan Jones
Editor
June 27, 2008 10:23 pm

Liquefying coal and shale sounds much easier…. cheaper… : )
I thought they were working on a superheated steam method to just boil the stuff out. There is a staggering amount of shale oil in the US. Some Ellis Wyatt type (or team) is bound to go get it.

SezaGeoff
June 27, 2008 11:53 pm

The problem with most biofuels is the land area required, and thus the direct affect on the environment through land clearing and the like. I would much prefer to use forests from 50 million years ago for my fuel, through the use of fossil fuels, till the professor brings me back a Mr. Fusion.

Manfred
June 28, 2008 12:14 am

this calculation can be compared with the area required for a solarthermal power plant:
solarthermal:
———-
here we have 134 mill kWh from 400 acres in 1year = 335000 kWh/acre in 1year.
This is 335000 kJ/s*3600s = 1.21E6 MJ per acre in 1 year.
algae:
—–
5000-20000 gallons / acre in 1 year
a gallon is 3.78 liters, and 1 litre of biodiesel has 34 MJ/liter
so we have an energy between
5000*3.78*34MJ = 0.64E6 MJ per acre and year
20000*3.78*34MJ = 2.57E6 MJ per acre and year
So the numbers are quite similar, though the solarthermal plant produces electricity what would be interesting with the use of highly efficient electric cars in the future, while algae produce biofuel, what is required now.
finally, it woud be interesting to compare the costs of solarthermal power generation with the CHEAPEST type of bioenergie (andnobody is talking about): burning wood in a power plant.

DaveK
June 28, 2008 12:23 am

The devil is always in the details in schemes like this. Lets presume that you could actually build the hypothetical rooftop system for around \$18k. I’ll bet that doesn’t include any costs of upkeep. It doesn’t include the costs of actually operating the system, either : cost of feedstocks, cost of gathering those feedstocks, cost of refining the crude biodiesel product to make it usable, cost of collecting and disposing of the waste products, and we can’t forget that our benevolent government wanting their tithe… the road taxes they normally collect at the pump! And, of course, how many people are going to want to live next door to somebody who is running a small fuel refinery on their roof and in their garage?
The only practical way to make something like this cost-effective is to do it on a massive scale, and biological processes don’t scale nicely.
Just my \$.02
DaveK

Frederick Davies
June 28, 2008 12:58 am

Why do they need pipes between the power stations and the “algae stations”? Why not let the atmosphere do the transporting? The algae does not need to “carbon-trap” the very same CO2 molecules the power stations emit, just some poor random CO2 molecules from the atmosphere in a quantity similar to those emitted; or are the enviro-nuts so out-of-it now that they can distinguish between good natural CO2 molecules and bad man-made ones? Besides, apart from the land-use feasibility issue, can these algae work on atmospheric concentrations of CO2 or do they need greater concentration for efficiency? If the latter, how do they plan to concentrate the CO2? Have they invented a carbon-neutral pump system? Those engines that are attached to the pumps are going to need fuel too, you know.

Demesure
June 28, 2008 1:37 am

Algal fuel is an established and efficient process to extract money from investors and taxpayers.

Pierre Gosselin
June 28, 2008 3:00 am

Looks incompetence by the US Federal Reserve and global energy policy officials is coming home to roost big time.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2008/06/16/bcnecb116.xml

Pierre Gosselin
June 28, 2008 3:01 am
June 28, 2008 4:40 am

Best line of nonsense in the MIT Algal Emission Scrubber Video:
“…once the CO2 is turning into organic carbon there is nothing bad in it…”

LOL

Caleb
June 28, 2008 4:50 am

Frederick Davies,
At some point (2005?) Realclimate actually had a post where they claimed to be able to use isotopes of Carbon 12 and Carbon 13 to tell the difference between “new” Carbon and “old” Carbon. (Let us hope we are not required to only use the “new” Carbon.)
Personally I like the idea of small systems. In the 1970’s some headway was made at solar systems that heated hot water, up on roof-tops. Then the “oil glut” put a lot of those businesses under. However you would be amazed how much energy is used each year simply heating water in America. I read we use as much energy heating water as we do driving. Not sure it’s true, but it raised my eyebrows.
I like small systems because it gets us back to the social strength that the small family farm allowed us. Yes, there are problems involving upkeep, but it is more wholesome to potter about your own yard, with your kid tagging along asking questions, than it is to commute to some cubicle and work nine to five as your kid moulders at some daycare center.
Jefferson expressed a concern at some point about how Democracy would handle a shift away from farming to urban life. That is one factor we are facing, as we deal with these energy issues. It is actually social, as much as it is economic.
Americans seem to like big projects like Hoover Dam, more than some little paddle-wheel in a back yard brook, however the problem with a Bigger-is-better attitude is it tends to lock us in to socialism and Five-year-plans, and all the inherant problems.
That’s why I always perk my ears up at ideas that are small, that you can pop up on your roof.
The trick would be to make it sell. If you could mow your lawn, pop the clippings into some inexpencive compactor, and have pellets for a pellet stove, it might be worth the bother, if it freed you from a huge heating bill involving oil or gas heat.
Therefore what is needed is an entrepreneur to produce an Algal-omatic.
Speaking of which, I heard a coal stove heating system advertized on Boston radio. First time I ever remember, since my boyhood, hearing coal heat advertized. The ad stressed that the coal was washed, came in bags weighing “only” 40 pounds, and you “only” had to load the stove every three days. The very fact such an ad can exist shows you how freaked-out people this far north are, about paying for heat next winter.

statePoet1775
June 28, 2008 5:18 am

antioxexpress : “Why is it [really?] important to be “carbon neutral” when in elementary school everyone was taught that CO2 was a necessary gaseous exchange in the human inhalation-exhalation cycle?”
I don’t think it is necessary, or it seems, even desirable to be carbon-neutral. There is a deeper agenda behind AGW devotees, IMO. Even if we were a carbon neutral society they would seek to derail human progress in other ways.

MarkW
June 28, 2008 5:25 am

Does the \$18K for a roof top system include the cost of reinforcing your roof, walls and foundation to support all of that weight? Water is heavy!!!

Tom Bruno
June 28, 2008 6:10 am

And when the majority of the world is using this or any other biofuel, and when all the engines, equipment and delivery technology are adjusted to make it the exclusive fuel, speculators will drive the price up just like any other commodity that is valued by the masses. A little off topic but, has anyone considered requiring all rooftops to be made of a material that reemits sunlight in a wavelength that CO2 cannot absorb? Is that even possible?

JLawson
June 28, 2008 6:35 am

Demesure –
Kind of like government-sponsored fusion projects?

June 28, 2008 6:46 am

The typical gallon of gasoline can, at most, theoretically produce
18.2 lbs of CO2 per gallon. The true figure is lower and in
California it approaches 16 lbs per gallon.
Here’s how you get 18.2 lbs: I made several assumptions of the
extremely conservative variety to simplify things. For instance,
rather than use current oxygentated gasoline or normal water content
gasoline or special formulations that decrease density or increase non
carbon content, I assumed the densest, most pure C8H18 possible
chemical make up. I used several online references and my old MIT
Press softcover Taylor and my
TransAmerica Manual and my Obert. For the uninitiated, Taylor was
Charles Fayette Taylor, Director of the Sloan Labs Aircraft and Auto
Engines at MIT. The TransAmerica DeLaval Manual is a basic properties
reference book for the industry. Obert is Edward F. Obert, UWis
author of “Internal Combustion Engines and Air Pollution.” These are
all books within reach of my chair. I also dug out an old Marks
Handbook for background and double checking.
Water 8.33 lbs per gallon (pounds mass as slugs would lose everyone)
C8H18 density 0.707 relative to water.
C8H18 molecular mass, (12×8)+(1×18)=114
Carbon share of octane (that’s the -8- in C8), 96.
96/114ths of 8.33×0.707 is 4.96 pounds of carbon per gallon of “gas.”
Now, the further assumptions, perfect combustion to C02, etc.
4.96 pounds of C(12) plus 2xO(16) resultant CO2 molecular mass 44.
With all these assumptions there are only enough Carbon atoms in a
gallon of perfect gasoline to assemble 18.19 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Note that to my ability the assumptions are all weighted
conservatively. There may be a few chemical level nitpicks such as
aromatics and relative carbon ratio versus density but these are all
masked by the extremely conservative assumptions above.

June 28, 2008 7:00 am

Sounds like a plan and since it is carbon neutral maybe God will cut us some slack to get the system operational since we are repenting of our grievous sin of carbon emission.
Why stop with god. Why not Thor, or Zeus?
Keep the good work and i wish you a nice weekend

Rick Lambert
June 28, 2008 7:27 am

PetroSun recently opened the first commercial scale (1100 acres) algae-to-biofuels farm in Rio Hondo, TX. Relative to other algae producers the process these guys use sounds fairly low tech. Then again, it must work or they wouldn’t have gone to commercial scale. No other company has done that yet. As far as I know, everyone else is still saying “another 2-3 years”. Don’t you wish you had a nickel for every time you heard that.
And they appear to have very ambitious plans to expand — they claim plans to establish algae farms and algal oil extraction plants in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mexico, Brazil and Australia during 2008. Good luck to PetroSun.

June 28, 2008 7:32 am

Let’s see, what part of the world is there where there are vast expanses of otherwise unusable land that gets a very high number of solar hours per day?
Hey, I know! The Middle East! We can buy all of our algal fuels from Middle Eastern countries!

John M
June 28, 2008 7:36 am

Anthony,
At the risk of being the dweeb of the day, I have a point that is both significant and insignificant. It is insignificant because the numbers are so huge it doesn’t really detract from your message, but significant in that it changes your calculation by about 33%.
The atmospheric content of CO2 is 385 ppmv (volume basis), so it needs a molecular weight correction. Assuming ideal gas behavior (not a bad assumption), the weight of CO2 you calculated needs to be multiplied by 44/29 (MW CO2/avg MW air), or by ~1.52. So the volume of air needed is only ~2/3 of what you calculated.
As I said, the answer is still OBGN (one big-gas number). 🙂
REPLY: John Goetz wrote this post, see name at top.

BRIAN FLYNN
June 28, 2008 7:36 am

See the prospect of vertical farming of algae and, “Produc[ing] about 100,000 gallons of algae oil a year per acre, compared to about 30 gallons per acre from corn; 50 gallons from soybeans.” at:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/04/01/algae.oil/
Several “algae acres” on a rooftop, with continuing prospect to grow food. Very intriguing.

David Jay
June 28, 2008 7:49 am

John:
Like you, I follow all the hopeful possibilities for energy production. We need electricity (long term) and liquid fuel for transportation (for the forseeable future.
My viewpoint: We should drill oil, dig coal, convert shale, build fission, build solar and build windpower NOW. We should research algae, biomass, fusion and everything else.
There is some interesting experiments going on right now with Polywell fusion:
http://www.emc2fusion.org/

leebert
June 28, 2008 8:12 am

The most-reliable and largest untapped renewable power engine lies in the great ocean currents of the seas. The problem is energy transport, thus far requiring near-shore installations on megawatt scale (yes, megawatt).
To exploit them will require a different kind of power delivery method, I suspect with large flotillas of ships capturing sea current energy using deep turbines. To store that energy as a high-density power source would require gigawatt-scale energy storage, perhaps involving FT synthesis, etc.
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/06/12_megawatts_wo.php
http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/19584/
And FWIW the quality of turbine design is still developing:
http://www.greenoptimistic.com/2008/03/31/jet-engine-like-wind-turbine-4-times-more-efficient/
FWIW the biggest power draws in a typical household are the compressors in air conditioning & refrigerator units. Perhaps ammonia-based systems will make a comeback, or high-ratio pulley-based solar-activated cooling systems.

John F. Pittman
June 28, 2008 8:15 am

Wood vs diesel
Wood waste runs about \$3.50 to \$5.00 per decatherm in most applications, about \$6.00 to \$7.00 for “useful” wood. The cost of diesel/natural gas is about \$16.00 per decatherm. Coal has been rising but is usually 30% to 100% more than wood. Yet since it is cheaper why aren’t there more wood generators?
They require a lot of handling equipement, and the boilers are much much more expensive to make. They do not burn in control as well as diesel. coal or natural gas. The particulate matter, PM, is regulated in most parts of the world. The supply can vary such that dependability is an issue. The ash requires handling equipment and is often regulated. They are generally cheaper than even coal. Wood boilers are generally only economical near a good wood supply region.
Thus the real reason there are few wood boilers appears to be dependability of supply and control. Coal, petroleum, natural gas are better. The other reason is the capital costs with the investment.

Brendan
June 28, 2008 9:00 am

I’ve looked into this technology – its potential is large, but the biggest issues are that algae is a tricky little bugger. Sometimes it grows well, sometimes not. The land area required (theoretically) for these systems are dramatically less than what would be required for ethanol production. Somewhere I have a paper on the cost for production. I can send it on to Anthony for linkage if he wishes…
Other items – algae actually doesn’t like direct sunlight – its best growing potential is with about 10% light, so it would grow well in most areas of the country as long as there was a temperature source to keep it going. That’s why you can use verticle growth systems… But the techniques for those are still in development.
Since one of the plans out there is to capture CO2 for injection into the earth (a plan that is untennable for all sorts of reasons) a pipeline network could be used to pull CO2 from power plants and transported to nearby open lands…
I usually like to say its all economics, and I’d need to do a lot of work to get into the economics of this. But the bioscience is still in development. NREL assessed multitudes of algae looking for the proper type. A lot were promising, but they did their work on more traditional racetrack systems (where outside strains can often have a major negative impact). That’s why they’re looking at systems like what are seen in the MIT video.
Overall, its a promising technology, where commercial interests (including Arizona Power) are putting money into research. Needless to say, any breakthroughs will come from the public sector… And it needs some breakthroughs.

Brendan
June 28, 2008 9:06 am

By the way – two extra points- the group that says it can be turned directly into gasoline level fuel. That is a breakthrough, if true. Algea is actually better suited for biodiesel.
Point two – there’s some belief that algae may be the original source of our current oil reserves… Who knows?

Rigel
June 28, 2008 9:21 am

Ah, folks, gasoline is not C8H18. If it was, good luck ever starting your car, especially in the winter. Also, C8H18 would fail most gasoline specifications.
Gasoline is composed of hundreds of different hydrocarbons. Butane is the lightest hydrocarbon in gasoline (I guess it is possible to have small amounts of lighter compounds). It adds volatility to the fuel to help it quickly vaporize so your car starts easy. The rest of the various hydrocarbons are heavier and the heaviest has a boiling point of about 380F – about C12s. Heavier than 380F starts cutting into kerosene and jet fuel, but when one is maximizing gasoline vs kerosene one can include compounds up to about 400F or so. There are many, many different specifications that gasoline must meet, which forces one into a wide mixture of hydrocarbons.

ared
June 28, 2008 9:27 am

There was an item in a Dutch newspaper last week about algae farms. It said most calculations ignore the staggering amount of energy to keep the algae cool in their shallow pools under the burning sun. Taken that into account, or so the article said, the nett yield of energy per acre comes very close to zero.

Stan Needham
June 28, 2008 9:28 am

Andrew Upton,
I suspect the reason that no one has commented on your link to the Fox News story is that reporting a prediction by ONE climate scientist that something MIGHT happen is not really news, as much as the media would like to think that it is. Pay close attention and you’ll begin to notice that much of what is report ON the news is really nothing more than speculation, prediction, guestimation, what if?, etc. Even if this particular scientist’s prediction comes true — so what. The people who are taking Artic tours won’t get stuck in the ice anymore. Now, if it results in the folks in Manhatten having to use a row boat to get to their 3rd floor apartment, then, yeah, that could be somewhat problematic.

For the first time in recorded history, the North Pole may be free of ice this summer, according to a published report Friday.
The unique prospect of sailing in open waters at the North Pole during the minimum ice cover in August and September has about a 50-50 chance of becoming reality, says [if?] one climate scientist’s prediction holds true. (emphasis added)

Tony Edwards
June 28, 2008 9:43 am

Caleb, admittedly, living in the tropics helps, but for the past 17 years we have had on the roof of our house a solar heater which consists of a 55 gallon drum fastened above an 8ft x 4ft solar panel all on a frame. This has provided hot water for the hoes for all but about four days. Those were prolonged periods of cloudy weather, during which time, I powered up the enclosed immersion heater.
There is, however a downside.
On one occasion, during a hot spell, I shifted from the toilet to the bidet. (For the ignorant, look it up!) When the tap was opened, nothing happened. A few seconds went by before I realised that the mixer valve was turned to fill rather than jet. Unfortunately, when I corrected this, I discovered that the cold water in the pipes had already cleared and the hot(!) had arrived. A solar heater such as ours can almost reach boiling point in hot weather. I leave the rest to your fertile imaginations.

statePoet1775
June 28, 2008 10:01 am

How about exploiting the temperature gradient between warm surface water and cooler water below? Oh, never mind, this would cause “thermal pollution” the next great environment scare.
From one fear to another
they’ll never be happy

J. Peden
June 28, 2008 10:15 am

There is a deeper agenda behind AGW devotees, IMO. Even if we were a carbon neutral society they would seek to derail human progress in other ways.
Agreed: the general working rule behind Progressivism seems to be to oppose all progress and anything good.
In turn, my current working rule in approaching what “Progressives” want and suggest has become essentially that Progressives almost always get it wrong – if not immediately, then eventually, by ruining everything they get their hands on if given enough time. And no matter what “it” is: Classical Liberalism, Environmentalism, Education, National Defense, the Safety Net, The Scientific Method, Healthcare Systems, The Family, whole Nations and Societies, etc…and even now “The Woman’s Right to Choose”!, by pursuing it to absurd extremes – and often even by getting whatever “it” is exactly 180 degrees wrong.
So far, this rule-schema works very well for me both as a heads-up and a predictor, but I check it nearly every time, even as boring and depressing as it is becoming.
Ideologically, and in terms of world-view and mental processes, and in practice, any such people* are therefore actually “Regressives”, at best, but often also fit [my] criteria for being judged as essentially having naked “control-as-self” or as even being effective “deathworshippers”: for example, as in the case of their self-glorifying brand of pacifisism – which also explains the tolerance of many Progressives for Islamofascists, who are really only their soul-bros., and who also judge the ultimate worth of their acts and “values” only according to the death of someone, or many, or at least by their enslavement.
Conversely, actual progress is taboo – maybe now even a “crime against nature”?
And I believe many current “Progressives” are striving mightily to regress even beyond the “achievements” of Communism. That would be ultra “progressive”, after all, right?
-*Disclaimer: no one needs to take this personally if the ‘shoe doesn’t fit’. Check your friendly mirror.

Trent
June 28, 2008 10:22 am

John,
Your initial CO2 density is wrong. The density of CO2 at 1 atmosphere and 15 C is roughly 1.8 kg/m3 or 4 pounds/m3. So, a pound of CO2 occupies 0.2294 m3. You wrote that a m3 of CO2 weighs 0.2294 pounds — the inverse. Therefore you are off by a factor of about 20. I didn’t check anything further than that.
In the end, your conclusion is probably correct for another reason. The algae are essentially solar power generators. Photosynthesis is not very efficient (~5%). Current photovoltaics can get up to 20% efficiency. Once you have power and the raw materials you can make liquid fuels. It’s probably better to use photovoltaics to produce the power and then do the chemistry ourselves.

J. Peden
June 28, 2008 10:25 am

“hot water for the hoes”
Now that should sell a lot of solar! Excellent.

June 28, 2008 10:55 am

If it really works why don’t they just stop talking and start producing the stuff and getting rich?
Because it takes money to get started, and PR helps attract money.
You know, I think a useful summary of this discussion is that it sounds more feasible than at first glance: the back of envelope numbers are moving in the right direction, and the technical details seem to be coming together.
One thing, though, is to observe the whole land area issue is not a difficult one. Sure, it’s the size of Rhode Island, and while I might personally like to see the state of Rhode Island covered in slimy greasy green algae, it’s probably not the best weather for cost-effective production. But we’ve got a lot of land out here in the west, most of it sunny and a whole lot of it either not arable, or not really economical for farming. And 1.9 million acres is only 36 times the size of the cattle ranch on which I grew up — or about 1.2 times the size of the King Ranch.

June 28, 2008 5:01 pm

What is the biofuel yield from algae growing in ponds that are frozen 6 to 8 months per year?

Philip_B
June 28, 2008 7:54 pm

People who want energy independence should grow a few pollarded or coppiced trees. This was a widespread practice in the UK until well into the 20th century. The local woods were full of them when I was a kid in the 1960s. These practices produce a regular supply of wood that can easily be cut using a handsaw into convenient lengths for fire wood, unlike regular trees.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollarding

KuhnKat
June 28, 2008 8:17 pm

Shell has a process that they claim will produce light sweet from oil shale for about \$50 per barrel. Why haven’t they started producing with oil prices over \$100??
Well, why hasn’t anyone started drilling on the outer continental shelf or in ANWR!!! In spite of the rhetoric currently emanating from the Hot Air Capital of the US, Congress has them BLOCKED!!!!!
http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/06/news/economy/birger_shale.fortune/?postversion=2008060617
Basically the Democratic party wants to shut down use of non-renewable, Carbon based energy.
http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/04/01/algae.oil/
Vertical stands are most efficient and allow the best control of the growing environment and extraction of the algae for processing. It is also the most efficient use of the solar and land resources compared to horizontal.

Frederick Davies
June 29, 2008 2:18 am

Caleb,
“At some point (2005?) Realclimate actually had a post where they claimed to be able to use isotopes of Carbon 12 and Carbon 13 to tell the difference between “new” Carbon and “old” Carbon. (Let us hope we are not required to only use the “new” Carbon.)”
Carbon 12 and Carbon 13 are both stable isotopes (unlike Carbon 14), as a result they cannot be used as time markers (radiocarbon dating is based on the change of the ratio of C14 over time due to its rate of decay being precisely know; C13 is not radioactive, so its concentration in a sample does not change with time in any predictable way). The C12/C13 ratio could be used as a plant-origin marker since plants find it easier to absorb C12 over C13 in photosynthesis (someone has used that as an ocean temperature marker by detecting the C12/C13 ratio in ocean sediments, I believe), but since Oil (“old” Carbon?) and wood (“new” Carbon?) are both of plant origin (according to most theories) the C12/C13 ratio cannot be used to distinguish between CO2 from burning Oil and CO2 from a forest fire. The C12/C13 ratio could be used to distiguish volcanic from plant origin, though.
Still, are the radiative properties of (C12)O2 and (C13)O2 different enough for it to matter?
As for your primitivist impulses towards mon-and-pop energy production, you are welcomed to them; just make sure you do not dare make me pay for them (subsidies) or interfere (regulation) with my economies-of-scale more efficient energy generation; otherwise we will have a problem…

June 29, 2008 3:29 am

[…] Algal Fuels and Massive Scales « Watts Up With That? #biofuels #energy […]

beng
June 29, 2008 7:10 am

Caleb, I discovered that reducing my electric water-heater usage was the single-most effective step in reducing the electric bill. This is done w/a simple water-heater timer. I set it to go “on” just a half-hour a day, and it prb’ly shaved 150 kwhrs a month off my usage.
Yes, I’m alone & a family prb’ly couldn’t cut usage that much. But I’ve found I can do without hot water almost completely, other than showers.
PS. I tried turning it off completely (just turning on an hour or two before showering every couple days), but iron bacteria in the well-water grew like gangbusters in the heater, so I have to warm it once a day to keep the well-water “sterilized”.
Ben Flurie

Rick Lambert
June 29, 2008 7:31 am

KuhnKat: Shell has a process that they claim will produce light sweet from oil shale for about \$50 per barrel. Why haven’t they started producing with oil prices over \$100??
The fundamental reason is that their process is still experimental. There’s no guarantee it will work on a commercial scale. And they’re reluctant to give it a shot if there is doubt they’ll have access to large amounts of shale in the event that it works. But if it works it brings up other serious concerns — namely, it could be destructive to the environment and stress water reserves in areas that don’t have a lot of water reserves. And that’s the fundamental reason for the impasse.
To my mind there is reason to be concerned. As this article explains, Shell’s process involves sinking a series of pipes into the ground and installing heaters to heat the shale to about 700 degrees for a period of about 3 years. Then they can pump the oil from an extraction well in the center. Apparently that process requires shooting hot water into the field to stimulate flow. To prevent contamination of the surrounding area they further intend to sink another series of pipes around the perimeter and creating freeze wall. Obviously, the process is rather energy intensive. And to obtain that energy Shell proposes to build a series of very large coal-fired power plants.
Now that you know what the process entails, can you understand why some people might be a little concerned? Personally, I’m all for going after our domestic resources, but not in ways that could create havoc.

George Ellis
June 30, 2008 5:04 am

While the state of Rhode Island or Conneticutt might be required in area, compare this to the current scheme for bio-fuels using food stocks. I suspect that the area required for new corn, sugar beets, or cane equal or exceed the same. Since someone decided to use a food stock as a fuel source, new growing area will have to used to meet demand. The algae can probably better use the resources such as waters with less infrastructure changes. Since it seems to be ‘stackable’ to an extent, the ‘crop’ density is probably higher too. Sounds like a better plan than corn to ethanol, by a good measure.

paminator
June 30, 2008 8:45 am

Trent- Good points. I believe 8% is the maximum theoretically achievable efficiency of photosynthesis in a laboratory cell, and 1-2% is more typical for plants that love sunlight (Hoffert et al, Scientific American Compass article, 2002 has more numbers on all sources of energy). If Algae needs to be shielded from direct sunlight, then the vertical growth arrangements are the only way you could capture most of the available solar insolation. For comparison, commercial solar PV farms are about 12% efficient at making electricity, and solar thermal can be as high as 15-20%. Of course, multi-stack quaternary semiconductor solar cells can achieve as high as 40% efficiency. But they are pricey!
My guess is that commercial-scale Algae farms will have efficiencies far below 1% when a complete energy budget is properly carried out on a commercial scale design. At 5 kWhr/m^2/day average insolation in sunny Florida (from NREL website), which from personal experience is an excellent location for growing all types of Algae, a 1% efficient algae farm would produce 50 Whr/m^2/day of energy in the form of fuel. That is 0.18 MJ/m^2/day. At 34 MJ/liter for biofuel (from an earlier post), that is 5.3 ml (about 100 drops!) of fuel per m^2 per day. An acre is 4047 m^2. So we get 21.5 Liters of fuel per acre per day, or 7830 Liters per acre per year, or 2066 Gallons per acre per year. Even at an impossibly high 8% efficiency, its 16,500 Gallons per acre per year, nowhere near 100,000 Gallons per acre per year claimed in the CNN report.
For a backyard system covering 1,000 square feet, you could produce (at 1% efficiency) about 1 Gallon per week.
Still, at \$4/gallon, thats an incoming revenue stream of \$8K (or more) per acre per year. The next question is how that compares with total production costs.

DDMSFSD
June 30, 2008 12:49 pm

Saw a report on the History Channel that covered some of this.
Found this from a MIT guy at http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fsb/0806/gallery.plot_save_planet.fsb/4.html
For his part, Berzin calculates that just one 1,000 megawatt power plant using his system could produce more than 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. That would require a 2,000-acre “farm” of algae-filled tubes near the power plant. There are nearly 1,000 power plants nationwide with enough space nearby for a few hundred to a few thousand acres to grow algae and make a good profit, he says.
Still would require 10+ coal fired plants. Doesn’t say what the cost/power requirements the coal plants would loose to get the flue gas ready for the plants

June 30, 2008 4:50 pm

[…] Novel Energy Production Method + Abundant Source of Fuel for NEPM = Energy Crisis… Solved! […]

July 1, 2008 2:38 am

do it. eat the carbon now. in the mean time: Drill here. Drill now. Pay less.

July 1, 2008 2:45 am

[…] Algae Power […]

July 11, 2008 3:45 am

This will certainly help the world to go GREEN !!!

July 24, 2008 9:08 am

Let’s not use the vast amounts of land for algae. Instead, let’s use the technological breakthrough from Origin Oil.
With their new cascading process, the use of massive amounts of land is no longer needed. Plus, it can be produced right next to the refineries, so we won’t need nor incur all the costs of oil transportation to refineries.
We don’t need to drill our oceans nor Alaska.
This can now be produced on a massive basis and we won’t be reliant on foreign countries for our oil once it gets ramped up around the country.

Prof.Hans-Jürgen Franke & Prof. Pengcheng Fu
September 25, 2008 10:47 am

ETHANOL-PRODUCTION WITH BLUE-GREEN-ALGAE
A SOLUTION AFTER PEAK-OIL AND OIL-CRASH
University of Hawai’i Professor Pengchen “Patrick” Fu developed an innovative technology, to produce high amounts of ethanol with modified cyanobacterias, as a new feedstock for ethanol, without entering in conflict with the food and feed-production .
Fu has developed strains of cyanobacteria — one of the components of pond scum — that feed on atmospheric carbon dioxide, and produce ethanol as a waste product.
He has done it both in his laboratory under fluorescent light and with sunlight on the roof of his building. Sunlight works better, he said.
It has a lot of appeal and potential. Turning waste into something useful is a good thing. And the blue-green-algae needs only sun and wast- recycled from the sugar-cane-industry, to grow and to produce directly more and more ethanol. With this solution, the sugarcane-based ethanol-industry in Brazil and other tropical regions will get a second way, to produce more biocombustible for the worldmarket.
The technique may need adjusting to increase how much ethanol it yields, but it may be a new technology-challenge in the near future.
The process was patented by Fu and UH in January, but there’s still plenty of work to do to bring it to a commercial level. The team of Fu foundet just the start-up LA WAHIE BIOTECH INC. with headquarter in Hawaii and branch-office in Brazil.
PLAN FOR AN EXPERIMENTAL ETHANOL PLANT
Fu figures his team is two to three years from being able to build a full-scale
ethanol plant, and they are looking for investors or industry-partners (jointventure).
He is fine-tuning his research to find different strains of blue-green algae that will produce even more ethanol, and that are more tolerant of high levels of ethanol. The system permits, to “harvest” continuously ethanol – using a membrane-system- and to pump than the blue-green-algae-solution in the Photo-Bio-Reactor again.
Fu started out in chemical engineering, and then began the study of biology. He has studied in China, Australia, Japan and the United States, and came to UH in 2002 after a stint as scientist for a private company in California.
He is working also with NASA on the potential of cyanobacteria in future lunar and Mars colonization, and is also proceeding to take his ethanol technology into the marketplace. A business plan using his system, under the name La Wahie Biotech, won third place — and a \$5,000 award — in the Business Plan Competition at UH’s Shidler College of Business.
Daniel Dean and Donavan Kealoha, both UH law and business students, are Fu’s partners. So they are in the process of turning the business plan into an operating business.
The production of ethanol for fuel is one of the nation’s and the world’s major initiatives, partly because its production takes as much carbon out of the atmosphere as it dumps into the atmosphere. That’s different from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which take stored carbon out of the ground and release it into the atmosphere, for a net increase in greenhouse gas.
Most current and planned ethanol production methods depend on farming, and in the case of corn and sugar, take food crops and divert them into energy.
Fu said crop-based ethanol production is slow and resource-costly. He decided to work with cyanobacteria, some of which convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into their own food and release oxygen as a waste product.
Other scientists also are researching using cyanobacteria to make ethanol, using different strains, but Fu’s technique is unique, he said. He inserted genetic material into one type of freshwater cyanobacterium, causing it to produce ethanol as its waste product. It works, and is an amazingly efficient system.
The technology is fairly simple. It involves a photobioreactor, which is a
fancy term for a clear glass or plastic container full of something alive, in which light promotes a biological reaction. Carbon dioxide gas is bubbled through the green mixture of water and cyanobacteria. The liquid is then passed through a specialized membrane that removes the