The good, the bad and the algae

From Eurekalert

Public Release: 7-Aug-2017

Sandia tests Salton Sea-grown algae as new fuel source and pollution solution

DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

IMAGE: Imperial Valley Conservation Research Center’s Jeanette Lucero is helping operate the Sandia National Laboratories Project floway. Algae grown in the system is visible in the foreground. view more Credit: Photo by Jules Bernstein

BRAWLEY, California — Sandia National Laboratories is testing whether one of California’s largest and most polluted lakes can transform into one of its most productive and profitable. Southern California’s 350-square-mile Salton Sea has well-documented problems related to elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff. Algae thrives on these elements — a fact that causes environmental problems but could also be a solution to those problems.

Sandia intends to harness algae’s penchant for prolific growth to clean up these pollutants and stop harmful algae blooms while creating a renewable, domestic source of fuel. Algae can be easily converted to fuels and chemicals using a Sandia Labs-patented fermentation process.

The Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO) estimates the U.S. can produce at least 1 billion tons of feedstocks for biofuels every year, and doing so would have positive social, economic and environmental impacts. That amount equates to about 30 percent of our nation’s need for fuels that would not have to be imported. Among these feedstocks, algae are unique in that they grow exponentially: in other words, under the right conditions, doubling every day.

BETO is funding Sandia’s Salton Sea Biomass Remediation, or SABRE, Project because it will help determine whether algae can be a viable part of the solution to our nation’s need for diverse energy sources.

After only a few months, Sandia biochemist Ryan Davis is enthusiastic about the prospects. “The early results we’re already getting from the Salton Sea appear to be superior to results from similar algae systems. It’s really promising.”

Testing the effectiveness of a newer algae-growing system

When state and local officials gathered by a tributary of the Salton Sea one bright, hot morning in late May, it was to mark the kickoff of the project’s second phase. During the first phase, Sandia partnered with Texas A&M AgriLife Research to test whether a newer method of farming algae could be as productive as an older, more established method.

Traditionally, companies grow single species of algae in raceways — structures vaguely resembling small race tracks or giant bathtubs. The raceways produce algae well suited for making high-value nutritional products like spirulina or beta carotene, as well as other nutraceuticals. Raceways also offer growers a lot of control. But there are a few drawbacks. They are generally high maintenance, requiring trained technicians, expensive fertilizers, carbon dioxide and high-quality water.

Additionally, an estimated 30 percent of production on algae farms can be lost each year due to pest-related pond crashes. Sandia is currently doing research to minimize crashes, including testing strains of algae for resistance to various predators and diseases, and learning to detect the signs of an imminent pond crash.

The newer farming method is called an “Algal Turf Scrubber” floway system, used for growing a collection of native algae species. To the untrained eye, the system looks like a free-standing rain gutter. It gurgles quietly as water is pulsed in waves across a sloped floway. The algae consume the nutrients, and clean water emerges from the lower end.

The system operates using solar-powered pumps, requiring almost zero maintenance, except for periodic algae harvesting which can be done using common farming equipment. Sandia designed the renewable power pump system that provides water to the floway. The technology and components of the floway were developed by a company called HydroMentia Technologies LLC.

Based on early results of the testing in Texas, turf scrubbers can produce a quantity of algae comparable to raceways. And they are a perfect fit for places with acres of inexpensive real estate, nutrient-rich water (no need for additional fertilizer) and tons of sun, like the Salton Sea.

The kind of turf system being tested for the SABRE Project has other benefits. It is growing algae that is native to the area, so it is naturally more resistant to attacks from local pathogens and predators. The algae’s thick texture also lends itself to easy harvesting.

One of the criticisms lobbed at algae as a biofuel source is that it uses too much water. Davis disagrees with this criticism. “There’s water and then there’s water,” he said. “We’ve shown that we can grow algae in turf scrubber systems using water full of nasty components. And it still thrives.” In other words, there isn’t much that can be done with this water until the pollutants are removed.

Growing algae to control wild, unchecked algae growth

Algae blooms can grow so large that they are visible from outer space, as is the case in Lake Okeechobee, Lake Erie, the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Blooms are not directly toxic to fish, but under certain conditions they can become harmful to marine and human life. When blooms die off, the decay process can leave waterways with “dead zones,” low-oxygen areas that cause fish to suffocate. If ingested, certain harmful algae species can also cause flu-like symptoms in people and death in pets, according to congressional testimony.

Algae blooms also occur in the Salton Sea. Davis explains that the sea is the accumulation point for all agricultural runoff water from one of the largest farming areas in the United States. Nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements from fertilizers are continuously deposited into the sea. The presence of these elements feed algae blooms, with negative consequences that can cascade throughout the ecosystem.

Thousands of asphyxiated, dead fish are visible on the shores of the Salton Sea each year. The smell has not done anything positive for businesses in the area, according to a study prepared by Tourism Economics for the Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. Additionally, studies suggest that the death of birds in the area may be related to strains of algae which produce toxins.

“Release of untreated chemicals into open waterways has broad ecological impacts,” Davis said.

Ironically, farming algae could eliminate the harmful effects of unchecked natural algae growth. Water from one of the three major tributaries of the Salton Sea flows into the 900-foot SABRE Project turf scrubber. Algae growing inside the scrubber system feed on and remove the chemicals in the water as it passes through. As the water passes from the system back into the tributary, Sandia’s team hopes the elements that kick-start algae blooms will have been removed in significant quantities.

Should the SABRE Project prove successful, it could provide a model of remediation for algae blooms nationwide. There are hopes that the Imperial Valley would benefit as well. By covering thousands of acres of dry, receding Salton Sea shorelines with algae crops, turf scrubber operations could reduce widespread air pollution from toxic dust. Algae refineries could also provide new economic opportunities.

Sandia partnered with the Imperial Irrigation District to help get the SABRE Project off the ground. “A proponent of renewable energy and an advocate for the Salton Sea, the district believes projects like this have the potential to make a meaningful difference,” said the district’s Officer of Media Communications Specialist, Marion Champion. “We are very hopeful that this project will yield good, clean renewable energy while providing a natural and safe process to remove chemicals, protecting area wildlife for generations to come.”


Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness, with main facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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August 9, 2017 4:05 pm

Green Meanies won’t be happy until all the peons subsist on bugs and pond scum, while getting energy from the latter as well.

Reply to  Gloateus
August 9, 2017 4:05 pm

Or should I say slime?

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Gloateus
August 9, 2017 5:11 pm

Soylent Green

Reply to  Gloateus
August 10, 2017 4:18 pm

Are you referring to the pond scum or the Green Meanies?

Nic Harvard
Reply to  Gloateus
August 9, 2017 6:34 pm

Actually an eco-focused project I can get behind.
Clear goals
Positive ROI/cost-benefit
Actually MAKES something

george e. smith
Reply to  Gloateus
August 9, 2017 7:53 pm

Those Algems are good at making energy; I think they eat junk and make ethanol.

August 9, 2017 4:14 pm

Interesting, but no (pick your own obscenity, blasphemy, or other rude emphasis) numbers! What does this puppy cost?

John Adams
Reply to  Tom Halla
August 9, 2017 4:25 pm

It’s free. Paid for by the gunmint!

August 9, 2017 4:20 pm

Not fcuking algae again.
Haven’t they flogged this to death yet?

Reply to  HotScot
August 10, 2017 7:04 am

It’s too heavily subsidized to die.

Reply to  MarkW
August 11, 2017 2:46 pm

It’s a subsidy zombie.

August 9, 2017 4:21 pm

Lordy, save us from these fools and their fake news. The Salton sea resulted from an irrigation canal accident bringing Colorado water to California. It is desiccating, as thembreach was fixed after a few frantic years. Algae are not mineral nutrient limited, especially not in the totally artificial Salton sea. They are CO2 limited. Essay Salvation by Swamp gives some round numbers. So, pipe half the stack gasses of all CONUS coal generators to the Salton sea and bubble them though, might work–NOT.

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 5:13 pm

I’d be more worried about undesirable species. The fact that they’re using “native” species may help with that a bit, but it’s doubtful that these algae have desirable properties like lipid content or easily digested carbohydrates. Bioremediation: maybe. Energy: almost certainly not.

Reply to  Tsk Tsk
August 9, 2017 11:32 pm

Algae do photosynthesis, like all plants. That is a means of capturing solar energy and turning it into chemical energy.
If you want to say that will not produce any extractable energy, try to come up with something more informed and intelligent than just assertion.

Reply to  Tsk Tsk
August 10, 2017 8:39 am

I have evaluated dozens of algae projects. If it is being used to make biofuel, algae runs up against the economics of natural gas, even with subsidies. If it is being used to make what are called “high value products,” then you do run up against the problem of retaining the optimal algae for those products. The wild algae are not as productive as specific strains and need more processing for less yield at greater expense. And ristvan is entirely correct, they are CO2 limited, which is why the producers strive mightily to get associated with a fossil fueled power station.

August 9, 2017 4:54 pm

I don’t understand why this site has to be so knee-jerk negative to anything involving renewables. Sad.

Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 5:11 pm

Because the next thing labeled “renewable” that both works and is economic will be the first. It is experience.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 5:13 pm

Because the only real renewable is bovine dejecta.

Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 10, 2017 4:20 pm


Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 5:21 pm

Knee-jerk negative is not equivalent to rational and skeptic. After billions of wasted funds, underwritten by taxpayers, and continual claims of ‘it’s always worse than we thought’: less crops, more floods, more drought, less insects, more insects, less snow, wrong snow etc…. we have very little left for intensive green wacky-ness.
Example from the article: using solar powered pumps …zero maintenance… Sandia designed.
A critical look at that statement alone brings the article close to propaganda. We have made pumps for centuries. We know how to create electricity from the sun. And we know maintenance is almost always required.

Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 5:28 pm

Trebla, because some of us did the math. Do try to keep up on simple arithmetic.

Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 5:40 pm

Those of us that understand the math know full well that fossil fuels are a finite resource. Those of us that know about advanced math, know what the word “finite” means when it comes to numbers.

Retired Kit P
Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 5:48 pm

So ristvan, you learned math at Harvard law?
What do lawyers do best? Lie to win an argument. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 5:49 pm

Fossil fuels are effectively unlimited. That means that the world has enough coal, oil and gas to last for centuries, under whatever economic scenario might reasonably be proposed.
The Industrial Revolution, reliant on fossil fuels is less than 250 years old. Long before 400 years from now, our descendants will have energy sources at least as superior to fossil fuels as they were to burning wood and relying on wind, water and animal power.
So-called “renewables” will never be economical. As now, they will always rely upon subsidies. Fusion or novel energy sources will power the 25th century.

Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 6:11 pm

No Gloateus, oil wells go dry, fracking wouldn’t be necessary if gas was plentiful, and coal mines are abandoned when they no longer produce.

Fossil fuels are finite, period.

Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 6:13 pm

PS Gloateus, “renewables are economic”……ask anyone that heats their home with firewood.

Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 6:17 pm

Retired Kit P, Harvard law graduates are incapable of balancing a check book.

Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 6:39 pm

Mr. Johnson:
“Fossil fuels are finite, period.”
So is the universe. Just saying something is “finite” does not convey useful information.

Louis Hooffstetter
Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 7:53 pm

A substantial portion of “fossil” fuels may actually form in the mantle:
This would make them renewable. We just don’t know how fast they are forming.

george e. smith
Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 8:00 pm

Well you need at least 4-H Club level arithmetic to understand the intricacies of Climate Science; I mean it’s only statistics after all !
G & g

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 8:08 pm

“No Gloateus, oil wells go dry, fracking wouldn’t be necessary if gas was plentiful, and coal mines are abandoned when they no longer produce.”
Can I play? If trees were plentiful we wouldn’t have to plant new ones…

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 8:12 pm

“PS Gloateus, “renewables are economic”……ask anyone that heats their home with firewood.”
Just ask Haiti.

Reply to  ristvan
August 9, 2017 8:17 pm

Tsk tsk, if you live in Haiti, you don’t need “heat”

Reply to  ristvan
August 10, 2017 7:07 am

The solution to the problem of energy becoming scarce and expensive sometime in the distant future, is to make energy scarce and expensive today.

Ben of Houston
Reply to  ristvan
August 10, 2017 7:08 am

Mark, firewood is only economical because so few people use it. In the early industrial revolution, before coal became ubiquitous, both Eastern America and Britain were nearly stripped bare of trees to feed the growing need for fuel. The oceans were also nearly stripped of whales to provide oil.
The costs of wood-burning on an industrial scale are quite high compared to equivalent fossil fuels. This is especially so if you have to import the fuel.

Reply to  ristvan
August 10, 2017 10:22 am

“Mark, firewood is only economical because so few people use it.”
An important point, and one that is generally lost on people who claim things like “wind and solar are now as cost effective as FF”. The question is scalability. Once you start to have wind and solar providing significantly more than the pittance they currently provide, the costs will escalate dramatically.

george e. smith
Reply to  ristvan
August 11, 2017 7:29 am

Ask the people of Rapanui (Easter Island) about the efficacy of relying on renewables; like fire wood for example.
If fossil fuels are really fossil (I dunno) , then by definition they are renewable ! Some people think I have already turned into a fossil. Otherwise; how’d they get there ??

Retired Kit P
Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 5:43 pm

I suspect it is because many here have no experience producing anything. R&D is the foundation for even existing technologies.
Such negativity is the other side of the coin which is unfounded optimism.

Reply to  Retired Kit P
August 9, 2017 6:40 pm

You suspect wrong. But, go ahead and make whatever assumptions make you feel good about yourself.

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  Retired Kit P
August 9, 2017 8:04 pm

Or some of us might not be retired and still have a lot of experience with bringing economically justified projects to market with no government subsidies.

Reply to  Retired Kit P
August 10, 2017 7:15 am

For all intents and purposes, this is a sewage system. I’ve worked with them for years. It will work at cleaning the water. I have my doubts about it creating sufficient amounts of algae to make a meaningful volume of fuel. The idea of 30% of American fuel? That’s just stupid. We harvest goodness-knows-how-many acres of hay and corn, and the math has been done repeatedly and publicly on replacing just gasoline with ethanol. The results just aren’t good. Unless they have some form of ethanol-from-algae conversion that’s beyond anything we’ve ever heard about, they aren’t even going to have customers for the product from this facility.
And I’ve found that on R&D, the most cynical grouch in the corner is typically the closest to the truth. The fact that they invited politicians and media to their pilot plant opening is the biggest red flag.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Retired Kit P
August 17, 2017 6:54 am

Even if it works well as sewage treatment, it’s only a local solution. You can’t scale this up to a national program because the circumstances are unique. It’s better considered as a remediation plan with a side order of possible energy production. Like landfills; no one sets them up to produce methane, that’s just a side effect.

Kaiser Derden
Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 6:23 pm

as opposed to your “knee jerk” support of ANYTHING labeled renewable even after 10’s of billions of wasted dollars on prior “renewable” scams … maybe you need to learn to be skeptical from prior experience like normal people are …

Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 8:00 pm

Trebla, 95% of the comments here could be programmatic responses of a skeptobot.
Its been that way for a long time.

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 10, 2017 6:32 am

Whereas 97% of Mosher’s ramblings are knee jerk nothings.
97% vs 95% means, you win, I’m sure.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 10, 2017 7:18 am

Steve, isn’t there a law saying that 90% of everything is junk?
That law holds on everything from fantasy novels to political arguments

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 10, 2017 2:54 pm

Steven Mosher,
How can someone such as yourself, with only undergraduate degrees in English Literature and Philosophy pass, himself off as a scientist and climate expert? I’ll take the skeptobots, thanks.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 10, 2017 3:14 pm

brians356. I have seen often on these pages comments that say anyone is allowed to comment and credentials such as degrees etc. are not the isssue. The content of the post should be what is judged, not the credentials of the poster. We do not know the credentials of most of the posters here, yet we do not dismiss them because of that. I personally dismiss most of them because the content is rubbish. However, it seems to me to be very much in the ethos of this site to allow and accept postings from everyone without fear of being dismissed as a “non-expert”, and therefore one’s post being of no value.
That said, it is completely wrong to say Mosh has “only” a degree in English Lit. He has that plus extensive experience. It would be a sad day if we were all to be forever limited to the subjects of our first degrees.

george e. smith
Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 11, 2017 7:32 am

Including “your” postherebot !

Reply to  Trebla
August 9, 2017 9:18 pm

So what happens when the nitrogen and phosphorus are depleted?

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  lee
August 17, 2017 6:57 am

Since the primary source for those components is agricultural runoff, it won’t be a problem until they stop growing stuff in the region.

Reply to  Trebla
August 10, 2017 2:51 am


Keith J
Reply to  Trebla
August 10, 2017 12:35 pm

Reality is a harsh mistress. The reality of subsidies to make inferior goods is insanity.
There are certain bio fuels which have become necessary like fatty acid methyl esters which restore lubricity lost when #2 fuel oil is desulfurized to meet the 15 ppm requirements for road diesel. The FAME used for road diesel is corn or soy oils, primarily. With some Canola (rapeseed) as a third source. FAME derived from algae doesn’t register as it is too expensive.
Alternatives to petroleum had merit when crude spiked near $100. Just so happened replacement goods from unconventional petroleum trumped inferior goods from bio. How so? Shelf life.
Ethanol in gasoline reduces its shelf life to under 90 days from blending. This is why blending happens at delivery via tanker truck. Neat gasoline is shipped via pipeline to regional tank farms, all in uncoated carbon steel. Ethanol in carbon steel causes corrosion . Retail storage is now in composite, double walled underground storage tanks.
Same with diesel. FAME is corrosive to uncoated carbon steel and esters promote suspension of water in diesel. Since diesel has nil vapor pressure, humidity from air accumulates in tanks, eventually spoiling the fuel.

don rady
Reply to  Trebla
August 21, 2017 11:20 am

I do some angel investing. an algae company pitched us and said they blew through 1/2 billion dollar grant $, wasted, gone. Now their valuation is $13 million. no one invested even at that low valuation. What a huge waste of taxpayers dollars for the green dream.
Our reactions aren’t knee jerk, most of the time, it is based on experience.

August 9, 2017 5:28 pm

It’s cool. But the small amount of stock and lack of economies of scale would limit the effectiveness I would think. Still, as long as it can pay for itself it’s very cool.

August 9, 2017 5:43 pm

Interesting. But won’t these raceways promote a lot of of evaporation which will then inject mass quantities of the most potent greenhouse gas we know of (i.e. water vapor) into the atmosphere? And as this is in Southern California which is a fairly arid region would not these emissions (i.e. humidity) create a significant greenhouse warming affect?
Just wondering…

Reply to  MDN
August 10, 2017 7:20 am

In reality, no. You might do some odd effects to the local ecosystem, but less so than a water park or traditional sewer system. Don’t forget. It’s a sewage system that’s been modified into a farm. Base all expectations on that.
Besides, water vapor is always in equilibrium. If you evaporate more here, you evaporate less elsewhere. It more or less balances out.

August 9, 2017 5:45 pm

By covering thousands of acres….
…not in your lifetime

Claude Harvey
August 9, 2017 8:24 pm

On occasion over the years, I’ve done work in the vicinity of some of Sandia Lab’s “energy experiments”. In every case, the projects proceeded until all the money ran out well shy of project completion. Then the locals involved went back to doing productive work somewhere else (armed with hilarious tales about the egg-heads), the academics who’d been running the show went back to wherever they’d come from to write research papers on what they’d failed to complete and great piles of equipment went to rust awaiting some agency to take responsibility for cleaning up the carnage.

H. D. Hoese
August 9, 2017 8:26 pm

There was a paper written in 1972 on the salt tolerance of the fishes there. It had moved up, but within limits that showed their very likely extirpation. When I was there some years ago the beaches were made of hard to walk on barnacle shells. I wonder if they know about the 7 species of amoebae? There is a lot known about hypersalinties and algae and this just doesn’t sound right, certainly not relevant– “(Algae blooms can grow so large that they are visible from outer space, as is the case in Lake Okeechobee, Lake Erie, the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.)”. I would like to know the details in their prospectus.

John V. Wright
August 9, 2017 10:47 pm

Gotta love that headline tho’ – nice one ~ctm!

August 9, 2017 11:44 pm

I am getting confused here with Algae and seaweed.
Among others, Tim Flannery in one of his recent books has been plugging seaweed for atmospheric carbon capture through extensive seaweed farming worldwide.
That is one of the projected geo-engineering solutions to carbon emissions.
In fact on checking at Amazon,he is pursuing the idea in a new book : ” Sunlight and Seaweed: An argument on how to feed,power and clean up the world.”
It seems that there may be a convergence of two ideas here: the SABRE project as a source of biomass and Seaweed for worldwide carbon capture.
Or am I just confused?

Reply to  Herbert
August 10, 2017 5:33 am

Seaweed are macroalgae. The ones in this article are microalgae. Both can grow very fast and do not necessarily use up agricultural land.

Reply to  seaice1
August 10, 2017 3:39 pm

Thanks seaice1.
Now I understand.
I’m left wondering how feasible it is to plant 7% extra seaweed in all the world’s oceans as a geo-engineering solution.
Probably as practical as sprinkling vast amounts of sulphur in the stratosphere.

August 9, 2017 11:52 pm

In the 2nd half of 1970s I had an ocean algal culturing project off leeward Montserrat. It was floats made of bamboo with fine mesh suspended.
The local fishermen cheered when a storm destroyed everything & made it clear to me that it not be replaced if I thought of trying it again. I would be pleased if this Salton Sea project design works & provides tangible benefit.

Peta from Cumbria, now Newark
August 10, 2017 1:43 am

Brilliant. Good. I love it.
Just don’t, please don’t, burn the stuff. Why oh why does *everything* have to be burned?
Let it grow, harvest it, concentrate it into a slurry (or maybe dry it out) and take it (back up uphill) to the farms those nutriments came from.
While you’re at it, maybe suck some of the (horrid) gelatinous mud you get at the bottom of lakes/seas/oceans and mix that with it.
If you ever wanna turn a desert into a garden, (effectively change the local climate) that’s the stuff to to it.
Rud, for example, and many others will be begging for the stuff after just 10 or 20 years of growing biofuel corn. Assuming ‘a penny drops’ instead of Government $$$ rolling in.
Simple, lo-tech and adds genuine long-term value to the nation’s dirt.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Peta from Cumbria, now Newark
August 10, 2017 3:19 am

Sounds good to me. Using it for biofuels is just dumb. It would be both hugely expensive amd for what? Sounds like another government boondoggle.

Reply to  Peta from Cumbria, now Newark
August 10, 2017 7:09 am

The problem is that along with the good stuff, there’s some bad stuff mixed in that has to be processed out first.

August 10, 2017 4:08 am

“The Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO) estimates the U.S. can produce at least 1 billion tons of feedstocks for biofuels every year, and doing so would have positive social, economic and environmental impacts. That amount equates to about 30 percent of our nation’s need for fuels that would not have to be imported.”
This year the net crude and products imported from countries not named Canada is less than 1MMbl/day. That is less than the amount available if fracking was scaled up. Imports are a non-issue.

August 10, 2017 5:12 am

Eureka!!!! More “free energy” ala wind/solar, all of which require expensive energy extraction mechanisms.
The history of biomass is the history of abject failure after abject failure. So, naturally, the govt
agency wants to pour money into another attempt. Well, get your funding from private sources, folks, just like the advanced nuclear reactor folks are doing. Convince money-wise investors that your scheme makes sense.
As for reducing carbon : build a nuclear plant and ACTUALLY reduce the CO2 emissions, rather than simply re-cycling them. What idiots!

Retired Kit P
August 10, 2017 5:48 am

“You suspect wrong. But, go ahead and make whatever assumptions make you feel good about yourself.”
So Bart help me out with my assumption. What do you produce?
I worked in the power industry producing electricity.
I am hardly ever wrong. It is easy to spot school teachers and lawyers. I am not saying that they do not provide a ‘service’ that we need. Producers like farmers and miners have to get it right to stay business and stay alive.

August 10, 2017 6:04 am

An interesting scheme. Algae are usually grown as a monoculture in raceways or ponds. Energy focus has historically been on high oil species whch can be more than 50% oil. However, the systems are sucseptible to crashes due to invasive species or infection and lots of energy is needed to move the water around and harvest the algae by centrifugation or similar.
This system was developed in the 1980’s to remove pollutants. The algae are grown on a substrate and the water is passed over the top. Harvesting is by remving the mesh substrate. The algae are polyculture so less prone to crashes. Advantages are ease of harvesting and robustness. Disadvantages are low oil producing species used, so energy needs to be obtained by fermentation of the carbohydrate or thermal processing. The ash content is also high.
Economics are dodgy if based only on fuel. Optmistic peojections are $4-7 / gallon of fuel. However, co-products of protien rich extracts and clean up fees if using naturally polluted water could provide sufficient income streams.
Presentation here:

Retired Kit P
August 10, 2017 6:08 am

“Or some of us might not be retired and still have a lot of experience with bringing economically justified projects to market with no government subsidies.”
So Tsk Tsk would you like to list the energy projects that you have experience with?
My first commercial project was Susquehanna Steam Electric Station Unit 1. I suspect that there are few here that can claim being part of such great project.
When I hear childish comments about ‘subsidies’ I am thinking the comment is clueless.

August 10, 2017 6:12 am

$300-400/bbl, $0.60-0.90/kWh…comment image

From 2005 to 2012, dozens of companies managed to extract hundreds of millions in cash from VCs in hopes of ultimately extracting fuel oil from algae.
CEOs, entrepreneurs and investors were making huge claims about the promise of algae-based biofuels; the U.S. Department of Energy was also making big bets through its bioenergy technologies office; industry advocates claimed that commercial algae fuels were within near-term reach.
Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest authored what was possibly history’s least accurate market forecast, projecting that algal biofuel capacity would reach 1 billion gallons by 2014. In 2009, Solazyme promised competitively priced fuel from algae by 2012. Algenol planned to make 100 million gallons of ethanol annually in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert by the end of 2009 and 1 billion gallons by the end of 2012 at a production rate of 10,000 gallons per acre. PetroSun looked to develop an algae farm network of 1,100 acres of saltwater ponds that could produce 4.4 million gallons of algal oil and 110 million pounds of biomass per year.
Nothing close to 1 billion (or even 1 million) gallons has yet been achieved — nor has competitive pricing.
The promise of algae is tantalizing. Some algal species contain up to 40 percent lipids by weight, a figure that could be boosted further through selective breeding and genetic modification. That basic lipid can be converted into diesel, synthetic petroleum, butanol or industrial chemicals.
According to some sources, an acre of algae could yield 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of oil a year, making algae far more productive than soy (50 gallons per acre), rapeseed (110 to 145 gallons), jatropha (175 gallons), palm (650 gallons), or cellulosic ethanol from poplars (2,700 gallons).
Green Tech Media

“VC” refers to venture capitalists.  I had to look it up because I didn’t think the Viet Cong were still in business.
The problem with algal biofuel is this:

According to some sources, an acre of algae could yield 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of oil a year, making algae far more productive than… 

10,000 gallons is 238 barrels per acre.  A typical oil well in the Gulf of Mexico yields 300-500 barrels per acre*foot and a typical reservoir is 50-100′ thick.  This works out to 15,000 to 50,000 barrels per acre over the life of the well.  Assuming the well produced for 10 years, this works out to 1,500 to 5,000 barrels per acre per year.

Gallons of Oil per Acre per Year Min Max
Algae          5,000          10,000
Typical GOM Oil Field       63,000       210,000

Granted, there are a lot of differences between crude oil and algal oil… And, hypothetically, the acre of algae is “renewable”… However, 1 acre of algae generally, but not always, requires 1 acre of land.  An oil well only requires the acreage that its production facility covers.  Oil reservoirs can cover 100’s or 1,000’s of acres, can be well over 100′ thick and often occur in stacked sequences.
Shell’s Mars oil field (Mississippi Canyon 807) has produced about 1.3 billion barrels of oil and 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas since 1996.  This works out to about 1.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE).  The “footprint” of the field (platform + outline of directional wells) covers about 11,000 acres.  The field has averaged over 6,700 BOE (over 280,000 gallons) per acre per year from 1996-2016.

Gallons of Oil per Acre per Year Max
Algae       10,000
Mars Oil Field     281,400

After 20 full years of production Mars is still going strong.  In 2016, it produced over 6,000 BOE per acre.
It’s refreshing to see that some of the green energy herd is capable of learning lessons…

So is there some lesson here other than that disrupting the global fossil fuel market is not for the fainthearted and entrepreneurs are irrationally optimistic?

Reply to  David Middleton
August 10, 2017 1:31 pm

” However, 1 acre of algae generally, but not always, requires 1 acre of land. ”
This is where algae can potentially provide useful amounts of fuel whereas land based crops cannot. Algae can be grown in salt water ponds in the sea and thus not use any land at all.

Reply to  seaice1
August 10, 2017 2:24 pm

Yep. Land-based crop biofuels suck even more than algae-based biofuels… Which makes sense because petroleum is millions of years worth of concentrated algae-based biofuel.

Coach Springer
August 10, 2017 8:02 am

An experiment with a specific, limited practical application? If you want to use it as a clean up project for your lake, go for it. With your own money. If kit turns out to be workable on a larger scale for profit go for it. It’s your money.

Ernest Bush
August 10, 2017 1:37 pm

No water or soil should ever be removed from the Salton Sea area, not to mention biofuels. It is a massive toxic waste site. The water and adjacent soils contain pesticide residues and toxic waste from Japanese electronic plants in Mexicali now closed down. Then there’s the fertilizer residues. The soil and water stink. The kinds of odors tell you you don’t want to stay there long. I have seen strange mists rising off water that appears to be boiling in the dead of winter.
No farmer in the nearby grape, citrus, fig, and date industries would ever want that stuff to be near their crops.

August 11, 2017 3:59 am

The best solution is to cover the lake with 350 square miles of floating solar cells . Let the farmers pump nitrogen and fosfor in to the lake for another 50 years , then you can harvest the sediment deposited in the lake after hundred years and use it as fertiliser .

August 11, 2017 2:33 pm

A report this week says calls algal biofuel ‘a damp squib’:
‘to approach the 10% of EU transport fuels expected to be supplied by biofuels, ponds three times the area of Belgium would be needed. And for the algae in these ponds to produce biofuel, it would require fertiliser equivalent to 50% of the current total annual EU crop plant needs.’

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