Biofuels from bacteria

Sandia Labs News Releases

August 21, 2017

From Sandia National Labs

Sandia helps HelioBioSys understand new clean energy source

LIVERMORE, Calif.—You might not cook with this sugar, but from a biofuels standpoint, it’s pretty sweet. A Bay Area company has patented a group of three single-celled, algae-like organisms that, when grown together, can produce high quantities of sugar just right for making biofuels. Sandia National Laboratories is helping HelioBioSys Inc. learn whether farming them on a large scale would be successful.

The demand for clean, domestically produced, renewable energy has resulted in a lot of research on algae. Algae is a desirable biofuel source because it doesn’t compete with food crops for land, water or other resources. The water used to grow algae is not usually suitable for agriculture. Typically, algae farms aim to produce large quantities of biomass, so they can then be harvested and converted into fuels, chemicals or other bio-based products.

By contrast, HelioBioSys is working with organisms called cyanobacteria. Until the early 1900s, they were mistaken for algae. Like algae, colonies of cyanobacteria grow in water and have incorrectly been referred to as “blue-green algae.” But unlike algae, these marine cyanobacteria excrete sugars directly into the water where they grow. A lot of it.

According to Sandia biochemist Ryan Davis, a typical algae operation might grow 1 gram of biomass per liter (0.04 ounces per quarter gallon). Small-scale testing on these cyanobacteria shows they can produce 4 to 7 grams of sugar per liter of biomass (up to 0.25 ounces per quarter gallon) — an improvement in concentration of up to 700 percent. Therefore, growing cyanobacteria for sugars is more efficient than growing biomass.

Sandia National Laboratories researchers Eric Monroe, James Jaryenneh and Tyler Eckles operate raceways growing a consortium of cyanobacteria. (Photo by Jules Bernstein)


Filtering sugar from water is a much simpler and therefore less expensive process than extracting lipids from large quantities of algae mass. Sugar is easy, compared to biomass, to convert into a wide variety of chemicals and fuels. Furthermore, cyanobacteria do not require additional fertilizer to make their sugars. These cost savings could make biofuels competitive with petroleum.

But first, this group of cyanobacteria’s phenomenal sugar production needs to be better understood so it can be maximized. “In other words,” Davis explains, “we’re trying to deconstruct the magic sauce in this cyanobacteria consortium and learn what conditions are optimal for large-scale growth.”

From the lab to large-scale farming in Sandia’s open raceway test beds

HelioBioSys founders Rocco Mancinelli and David Smernoff say they chose to grow a community of three cyanobacteria rather than focus on a single organism (which is common in algae cultivation) because communal systems more closely resemble nature. Mancinelli and Smernoff say cyanobacteria in communities are stronger and more likely to survive changes in the environment, contamination and predation. Sandia is helping them test this idea.

The cyanobacteria have already proved successful in closed, controlled, sterile laboratories. Sandia researchers are now growing the cyanobacteria in large raceway systems that resemble long bath tubs. Though the raceways are indoors they are open to the air, so predation could prove a much bigger challenge.

Davis explains, “Giant bowls of sugar water generally don’t last long in nature.” However, this is where Sandia’s expertise in algae cultivation could be helpful, he said. “We can understand where we can prevent bacterial overload, and stop the sugars from being consumed by things we don’t want to grow.”

Unlike true algae, cyanobacteria have the remarkable ability to “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere, which helps support their growth. This means cyanobacteria can literally pull their own fertilizer out of the air, eliminating the need for costly additional fertilizers.

Davis and his team are trying to understand whether each of the three cyanobacteria primarily performs a specific function for the consortium, such as fixing the nitrogen or producing most of the sugars. Even though the cyanobacteria require sunlight for growth, Davis thinks one of the cyanobacteria could be primarily responsible for acting like a sunscreen, protecting the group against light levels that get too high.

Sandia also is evaluating other attributes, such as micronutrient requirements or whether there are certain triggers for sugar production that could be controlled.

If the work at Sandia is successful, the next step is to test the cyanobacteria outdoors in larger ponds. After proving the technology outdoors, HelioBioSys hopes to license or sell the technology.

Special Department of Energy program makes collaboration possible

Mancinelli and Smernoff are both microbiologists with unusual backgrounds. They were colleagues at NASA, where they worked on systems that could support human life extraterrestrially. With HelioBioSys, they’re now working on clean energy systems that could have positive environmental impacts that support human life here on Earth.

Despite their impressive history and mission, they say that without the Department of Energy’s Small Business Vouchers program, getting cyanobacteria-based sugars to market would be unlikely. “Raising the funds for us to do the research that Sandia can do, with their equipment and facilities and expertise, would otherwise be impossible,” Smernoff said. “So to have this program and let a small company like ours access those resources is invaluable.”

As a result of the program, HelioBioSys has also partnered with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The laboratory has agreed to deploy their tangential flow filtration unit in Sandia’s test beds. The unit is essentially a box with a porous membrane that only allows molecules of a certain size to pass through it. This will allow Sandia to quickly separate and extract sugars from the marine water.

Additionally, the Berkeley laboratory is studying the viability of these sugars for conversion to biofuels. In addition to biofuels, sugars produced by marine cyanobacteria have the potential to be used as the source material for a long list of products that are currently derived from petroleum. These include plastics, pharmaceuticals, fabrics, nylon, adhesives, shoe polish, asphalt, roof shingles and more.

As this project draws to a close by year’s end, the country could be closer to a sweet future powered by the oldest of microorganisms.

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.

Sandia news media contact: Jules Bernstein, (925) 294-2612

HT/Roger Sowell

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Peter Morris
August 24, 2017 10:25 am

Marty! It runs on sugar!

george e. smith
Reply to  Peter Morris
August 24, 2017 10:55 am

What do you have to feed this little buggers to get them to make petrol ??
Might take more energy to grow what they eat.

Bryan A
Reply to  george e. smith
August 24, 2017 12:36 pm

Perhaps toast with butter and Petrolium Jelly

Bryan A
Reply to  george e. smith
August 24, 2017 12:39 pm

I believe that they behave much like plants using CO2 and sunlight for photosynthesis and drawing the Nitrogen directly from atmosphere

george e. smith
Reply to  george e. smith
August 24, 2017 1:56 pm

So you get 1 gram of biomass (maybe) per liter of water, and you get 4grams of sugar per liter of biomass.
This sounds like once you get them started they will flood all of the available space with sugar.
Now we ust have to find enough waste water to use for this.
Maybe I could start a company just to make waste water for this free sugar farming.

Bryan A
Reply to  george e. smith
August 25, 2017 12:15 pm

The current crop of Climage Scientists seem to be producing what could be a sufficient quantity of Effluence

Reply to  george e. smith
August 26, 2017 9:00 am

It runs on CO2, water and sunlight to produce sugar like every green plant do. Its sort of solar, you can grow crop or rapeseed plant instead to get oil.

August 24, 2017 10:31 am

Cyanobacteria are as old as they come.
So creating bacteria farms won’t require land usage? Or water usage? Fantastic accounting methods! [sarc]
Scalability seems a big issue.
However large quantities of sugar water might be just what yeast needs to produce ethanol. What form of sugar is being generated?

george e. smith
Reply to  rocketscientist
August 24, 2017 10:56 am

Gatorade !

August 24, 2017 10:37 am

And if they work real fast , they may get this clean combustible fuel in production just in time to see the obsolescence of gas powered vehicles.

george e. smith
Reply to  arthur4563
August 24, 2017 10:58 am

That’s obsoletion. ! they are already obsolescent.

Bryan A
Reply to  george e. smith
August 25, 2017 12:17 pm

And Obsolution is what the All Powerful Goracle is offering up

August 24, 2017 10:45 am

This could have some real merit.
A sideabarvquestion is why should tax payers find but not own a part of the ultimate value?

Michelle Montgomery
Reply to  hunter
August 24, 2017 11:26 am

because supposedly we will benefit.

August 24, 2017 10:46 am

Earth had about 500 million years to turn algae and cyanobacteria into a few trillion barrels of petroleum. Algae and cyanobacteria are definitely the correct building blocks with which to start the process… But scalability is likely to remain a huge obstacle.

According to Sandia biochemist Ryan Davis, a typical algae operation might grow 1 gram of biomass per liter (0.04 ounces per quarter gallon). Small-scale testing on these cyanobacteria shows they can produce 4 to 7 grams of sugar per liter of biomass (up to 0.25 ounces per quarter gallon) — an improvement in concentration of up to 700 percent. Therefore, growing cyanobacteria for sugars is more efficient than growing biomass.

Let’s just accept that cyanobacteria will be 7 times as productive as algae.

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
Cyanobacteria         35,000         70,000
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
Cyanobacteria        70,000
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?

Then there’s the cost… Which is rarely mentioned: $300-400/bbl.comment image image

Reply to  David Middleton
August 24, 2017 10:54 am

Biggest problem with algae cultures…is keeping them from getting contaminated

Reply to  Latitude
August 24, 2017 11:06 am

Exposing the troughs to open air will only create really nasty tasting beer, and copious quantities of ….CO2!
From sunshine to CO2!
Ummm….isn’t this the issue they were trying to avoid?

Reply to  Latitude
August 24, 2017 1:13 pm

I like this kind of research, and it should be encouraged, not dismissed out of hand. There are no “models” involved here, just good old fashioned trial and error.

Reply to  Latitude
August 24, 2017 1:38 pm

Cyano has been cultured forever…there’s plenty of “models”….culturing cyano for dummies
…they think it might have sunscreens….if they bothered to look…they would know it does
Next step, move it outside….can’t be done
This is all BS……

Leonard Lane
Reply to  Latitude
August 24, 2017 10:28 pm

No, biggest problem in algae for fuel is water. The best places to grow algae is in the areas where virtually all water is already used.

Reply to  David Middleton
August 24, 2017 11:12 am

Yes, it may be ‘pie in the sky’ but, also, it may be the best the future has to offer for powering civilization. You expect that something will be developed to fully replace the energy of the fossil fuels that were produced by solar energy and sequestered away over hundreds of millions of years. Fuhgedaboutit. Ain’t gonna happen. The best that we can find will be the best that we will have available for use.

A C Osborn
Reply to  ThomasJK
August 24, 2017 11:27 am


Paul Penrose
Reply to  ThomasJK
August 24, 2017 12:20 pm

Nuclear. I guarantee it.

leopoldo Perdomo
Reply to  ThomasJK
August 26, 2017 6:39 am

That is correct. If there is not more oil or gas, we need a source of energy, or we will turn to cannibalism.
We are too many people and we are eating oil. Not oil left what are we going to eat?

Bob boder
Reply to  David Middleton
August 24, 2017 1:42 pm


Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  David Middleton
August 25, 2017 7:48 am

The internal combustion engine is far from dead because it can generate a lot of mechanical energy from a compact fuel supply. In a few centuries when the oil gets expensive, culturing butanol will be big business. Light, water and bugs in, butanol out. What’s not to like? Current engines don’t need to be modified to burn it, it is that close to gasoline.
Obviously at the moment they are farming grants. If the funding dries up they will farm investors who will demand actual viable processes. That’s OK. I have confidence this will lead to many interesting ‘chemicals’. Perhaps it will turn out that capping an undersea vent is the right path to getting some products, using sulphur eating critters. Too soon to tell.
Let’s be optimistic about this. It beats the heck out of wind/solar boondoggles that were multiplied years before the technologies were viable. I would far rather see a green desert than a green grant.

Reply to  David Middleton
August 25, 2017 8:40 am

I hope they can get the cost down a bit. At that price, wouldn’t it be cheaper to just buy the sugar at the local supermarket?

Reply to  David Middleton
August 25, 2017 8:41 am

I have seen pictures of algal growing experiments where they are cultured in columns, both vertical & spiral configurations. If that is scalable up then acreage/sq.meter footprint required for the facility would be different.
Issues of light exposure (& circulation) obviously arise. And whether vertical array culturing of cyanobacteria is possible I can not say.
“Costs” for vertical arrayed cultures probably is currently even higher than horizontal tactics. For now at least, it seems like pie in the sky baked in solar reflector ovens is a more profitable venture.

August 24, 2017 11:18 am

This is not new, and is not economic. Joule Unlimited promised volume diesel and ethanol from genetically engineered cyanobacteria via ‘Heliosynthesis’ for years. They have completely collapsed into failure after blowing about $80 million in venture capital.

Curious George
Reply to  ristvan
August 24, 2017 11:50 am

New people now need another $80 M. And what’s a photosynthetic efficiency of cyanobacteria?

Reply to  Curious George
August 24, 2017 12:07 pm

CG, Joule Unlimited claimed 7%, but never published numbers from their pilot plant in New Mexico. Whatever it was, obviously wasn’t good enough.

chris y
August 24, 2017 11:28 am

With the claim of “up to” 10,000 gallons of oil per year per acre, and around 40 kWhr of energy per gallon, that gives 400,000 kWhr of energy per acre per year. That energy is supplied by the sun.
One acre is 4046 square meters. For a typical sunny location that receives 6 kWhr/m^2/day, or 2190 kWhr/m^2 per year, that comes to 8,860,740 kWhr of incident solar energy per acre per year.
The efficiency of the optimized algae system, if it works outdoors, is 400/8860 = 4.5% maximum. I think this is really wishful thinking. It is much higher than what is typically found for crops grown outdoors, and close to the maximum 8% efficiency for photosynthesis (see Hoffert et al. Science 298, 1 November 2002, pp 981 – 987).
On the other hand, by covering that same one acre with 15% efficient solar PV panels, you can generate around 4 times more energy.

I Came I Saw I Left
Reply to  chris y
August 24, 2017 12:30 pm

4 times more energy non-dispatchable energy. That’s the rub.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  I Came I Saw I Left
August 25, 2017 7:53 am

Sugars and their downstream products are dispatchable, i.e. burnable on command.

August 24, 2017 11:31 am

Let’s hope any GMO algae they come up with doesn’t get released in the ocean and cause all kinds of issues.

Reply to  rbabcock
August 24, 2017 1:40 pm

Sssshhhh….. Quiet! You’re exposing the plot of my new scifi novel!

Pop Piasa
Reply to  rbabcock
August 24, 2017 7:31 pm

Yeah… What happens if the oceans turn sweet?

Michael S. Kelly
August 24, 2017 11:40 am

“According to Sandia biochemist Ryan Davis, a typical algae operation might grow 1 gram of biomass per liter (0.04 ounces per quarter gallon). Small-scale testing on these cyanobacteria shows they can produce 4 to 7 grams of sugar per liter of biomass (up to 0.25 ounces per quarter gallon) — an improvement in concentration of up to 700 percent.”
Over what time frame? An hour? A year? It makes quite a difference.

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 24, 2017 1:05 pm

Not to mention that they are mixing their terms. 1 gram of biomass per liter (liter of what?), 4-7 grams of sugar per liter of biomass (how many liters of (water?) does it take to get this liter of biomass?). Just because the term ‘liter’ is used does not make these statements directly comparable. This obvious intentional confusion makes me highly suspicious of the entire article.

August 24, 2017 11:56 am

This is but one of many research efforts to prepare against the day when petroleum becomes very expensive.
The market is primarily for petrochemicals, lubricants, jet fuel, diesel, and ship fuel. We already know that automobiles will not use gasoline but will run on batteries.
The market for all of those sectors is presently approximately 45-50 percent of world petroleum demand. Last time I checked, petroleum was about 90 million barrels per day.
That’s an awful lot of energy. Sorry, but Nuclear power plants are just too expensive to install on all the Navy and merchant ships.
This is an example of long-term thinking, and wisdom to realize that free sunshine on millions of acres of unused land just might be a way to provide that energy many years from now.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 24, 2017 12:23 pm

Batteries are not an energy source. That’s like saying ICE vehicles run on gas tanks.

Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 24, 2017 1:14 pm

Yes there are two separate issues, harvesting and converting into a usable energy dense enough to cart around. The first is likely to be easier if we allow nature to do more of the concentrating, whether in real time (wind and rain) or through slower geological processes (nuclear, geothermal).

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 24, 2017 3:58 pm

“We already know that automobiles will not use gasoline but will run on batteries.”
What you mean we, White Man?

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 25, 2017 8:03 am

SASOL uses the F-T process to make all manner of chemicals out of coal. Because it makes economic sense not to make cheap petrol and diesel at certain times, they make far more profitable things like polypropylene. They have a large polypropylene plant.
They also make sulphur-free kerosene for Europeans to mix with their higher sulphur products to bring the S content into line with EU standards.
It may well be that using cyanobacteria to produce ‘chemicals’ starting with sugars will not be directed towards the production of cheap products, but particular high profit niches where the early scores will inevitably be found.
And why not? The point above that solar panels produce four times the energy per acre in the form of electricity is moot. Electricity is hard to store and very difficult to turn into polypropylene. I will fund research into creating a bacterium which produces a teflon spray that I can sell to politicians so that nothing sticks. I will be rich!

Tom Halla
August 24, 2017 11:58 am

A minor little problem is that the cyanobacteria are probably edible by other microrganisms, or other filter feeding beasties that will consume the crop unless the “farm” is protected, at the sort of cost D. Middleton gives above for algae.

August 24, 2017 12:02 pm

Perhaps Sandia is signalling Trump that they do really, really important work, and shouldn’t be cut.

M Courtney
August 24, 2017 12:02 pm

Just another argument to debunk Malthusianism.

August 24, 2017 12:24 pm

All the ‘synthetic’ biofuel schemessuffer from 3 very large hurdles, making cost effective scalability beyond merely dubious. All three apply to both genetically algal and cyanobacteria approaches.
1. They require input of concentrated CO2 to acheive decent yields. CO2 is the rate limiting nutrient. There is no economic way to provide sufficient gas for photosynthesis on a large scale. CCS is a unicorn.
2. They require enclosed systems both to prevent biological contamination and to conserve water in high insolation arid regions. Those are expensive.
3. The enclosures have to be small diameter transparent pipes or thin transparent ‘sheets’ (Joule was the latter), as the microorganisms blocks all sunlight at a depth of 10-20cm depending on organism density. Making them still more expensive.
Given the new abundance of fracked natural gas, the likely future for,liquid transportation fuels is synthetic gasoline, diesel, and jet kerosene produced by the two step catalysis (OCM then ETL) being developed by Siluria Technologies, which has promising results from pilot facilities and heavyweight corporate backing.

August 24, 2017 1:27 pm

As usual, Ristvan is way off base.
Carbon capture and sequestration already operates at commercial scale in Texas. See Skyonic plant in San Antonio.
Second, gas-to-liquids is a mature industry with natural gas producing synthetic diesel fuel. Plants have operated for many years. See Shell’s PEARL plant in Qatar., where production began in 2011. Shell’s first GTL plant was in Malaysia in 1993. Research efforts at Shell began in 1970.
Different catalysts can make different liquid fuels.

Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 24, 2017 1:45 pm

Skyonic is a joke. Wrote about it as a specific nutty example in Arts of Truth. Look it up, or work out the full chemistry cycle. Where do you think Skyonic sodium hydroxide comes from? Answer, the electrochemical chloralkali process. You take it from there, or just buy the book and read the example cause I already did all the work.
As for natural gas to liquids, I am well aware of Fischer Tropsch over iron catalysts. The largst plant in the world is Shell’s Pearl in Qatar. $22 billion, 61% efficient, and only practical because Qatar gas is stranded so provided ‘free’. Qatar gas is only sold LNG or diesel, and in both cases is a ‘free’ feedstock. At European gas market rates, the Pearl diesel would break even with crude oil at $180/bbl. Wrote Pearl up in Gaia’s Limits.
You might read essays Salvation by Swamp and Bugs, Roots, and Biofuels before assuming I am as usual off base.
You might also look up Siluria Technologies, its two catalytic processes, its very high conversion efficiencies, and its backers, as you are into hopeful future inventions.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  ristvan
August 24, 2017 4:02 pm

“You might read essays Salvation by Swamp and Bugs, Roots, and Biofuels”

Reply to  ristvan
August 24, 2017 5:51 pm

Both essays are in inexpensive iBook/Kindle/Nook ebook Blowing Smoke, foreword from Judith Curry.

Reply to  ristvan
August 24, 2017 5:57 pm

” inexpensive ”

tell us Rud, what % is your take? You incessantly promote your junk, and ask people to pay for it?

Reply to  ristvan
August 24, 2017 5:59 pm

Why isn’t your bovine feces free? Why isn’t it peer reviewed?

Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 24, 2017 2:06 pm

Ristvan is such a comedian.
When I want to read fantasy or science fiction, I reach for the works by Niven.

Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 24, 2017 3:41 pm

“Ristvan is such a comedian.”
I’m sure we’ll all happily take your word for that.
As you are arguably far and away the biggest comedian on WUWT, comedy is something you are very clearly an expert on.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  Roger Sowell
August 25, 2017 8:09 am

Do guffaws count as laughs? If so, when it comes to comedians, i’ve got a little list….

Bob boder
August 24, 2017 1:38 pm

Sounds great, but have been hearing it almost as long as been hearing fusion power is right around the corner. Not holding my breath

August 24, 2017 1:39 pm

… incorrectly been referred to as “blue-green algae.”
Let an old phycologist say that the classification was “incorrect” only in retrospect. Prior to recent decades when technology improved enough to work out genetic relationships, “algae” was a catch-all designation for the plants that were not easily classified otherwise. And “plant” meant organisms that produced some kind of photosynthesizing pigment. Taxonomy has made great advances, but it’s unfair to imply that earlier taxonomists were incompetent, as this statement does. They actually were quite good given the limited tools they had available.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  Gary
August 25, 2017 8:11 am

Right on. And even more to their credit, when the tools showed there was a difference, they readily accepted the new information instead of agitating for years against ‘the deniers of the consensus’.
What a breath of fresh air.

Dr. Bob
August 24, 2017 1:41 pm

There is competition between open trough and photobioreactors in the algae technology arena. Troughs are much lower cost by are wasteful of water (evaporation of 10 vertical feed of water per year in desert environments). Photobioreactors are extremely expensive and are also subject to contamination but to a lessor extent than open troughs. But they still lose water at a significant rate as they have to be vented and water vapor escapes along with gas products. So they still consume significant amounts of water.
The real question for algae technology is where does the water come from. The only real easy solution is from the ocean limiting algae fields to coastal environments or building very long pipelines to deserts.
All this leads to extreme costs and low return on investment. If biofuels were good investments, you wouldn’t need subsidies to make them work. And any smart investor will never rely on government subsidies to make a profit. Just think of Elon Musk and Tesla running out of their $1.5B in subsidies to build EV’s. When the subsidy runs out, the business goes broke.

August 24, 2017 1:46 pm

What good are bio-fuels ? … they are carbon based.

August 24, 2017 2:01 pm

If they haven’t even figured out the roles of each of the three species, then this is very very preliminary. This news item tells us more about the company’s financial situation – new VC infusion urgently needed – than about its scientific advances.

Ed Zuiderwijk
August 24, 2017 2:25 pm

In the final analysis the energy ending up in the fuel, after the metabolising of sugars by bacteria and fermentation, comes from the Sun. So, in order to be competative the whole process should be more efficient than for instance using solar panels to generate electricity to electrolyse water into free hydrogen and oxygen. Per square cm solar panels may be way more efficient than solutions with bacteria, which implies that a correspondingly larger area should be set aside for an operation of this kind. My guess is that that will be the deciding factor against it.

michael hart
August 24, 2017 3:39 pm

“Filtering sugar from water is a much simpler and therefore less expensive process than extracting lipids from large quantities of algae mass.”

Ho, ho. The words of someone who hasn’t spent much time in an organic chemistry lab.

Reply to  michael hart
August 24, 2017 6:13 pm

The writer of press release?

Brian R
August 24, 2017 3:58 pm

So last night I was watching a re-run of Laugh-in. They mentioned that scientist has figured out a way to make crude oil from sewage. It involved a pressure cooker and injecting CO2. Research finds US patent 3,733,255 issued in 1973 for just this process.
So 44 years later there are no oil from sewage plants in operation that I’m aware of. Just because something works in a computer model or in the lab doesn’t mean it can scale to a cost effective and useful process.
History is filled with claims that will revolutionize the world. Not many actually do.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Brian R
August 24, 2017 4:03 pm

I do remember the oil from turkey guts plant in Missouri a few years back. IIRC, all it ever produced was foul (or should it be fowl) odors.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
Reply to  Brian R
August 25, 2017 8:14 am

Something must be working because 44 years later there are a lot more slippery people in the energy business.

August 24, 2017 6:01 pm

Our group in Golden, CO has run a series of trials using bacteria to extract gas from coals. Both short term and long term tests were run. This type of result suggests that a coal to conversion could take place without the need for large industrial enterprises such as the one proposed in this article. The unpublished summary of the work over nearly six years is as follows:
1. Release of gas that is sorbed or bound to organic matter in the coal, specifically the coal macerals,
2. Release of gas entrained within the micropore structure of the coal,
3. Formation of new fractures for gas delivery, specifically in myolinised coals where the original cleat system was altered or destroyed by tectonic action after the coalbed was formed.
4. Production of biogenic gas by acetogenic and carbonate reduction pathways beginning with hydrogen and carbon dioxide production, followed by conversion to methane.
5. Biogenic gas was released from coal in bioreactors with three of the four tested proprietary nutrient formulations used to isolate and grow native microorganisms from coal and groundwater samples in the Henan and Shanxi coal and groundwater samples;
6. The headspace gases were produced rapidly suggesting that combined gas release and gas generation reactions are occurring in the coal bioreactors. Significant hydrogen and methane were produced through the various experiments
7. The successful microbe isolation and gas production from tight coals implies that further test work can improve both the working native cultures and the gas generation capacity in these coals.
Although the Bulli (South of Sydney, NSW) coal is sub bituminous, unlike the anthracite coals in Henan and Shanxi sedimentary basin in China, it is also a myolinised coal with cleats that were tectonically destroyed, limiting CBM production. A five year period of continuous pressure on samples from this coal is an encouraging sign that coalbed methane can be continuously produced in tight coals using the appropriate bacteria/nutrient gas mix.

John Smith
August 24, 2017 6:53 pm

The only problem with cyanobacteria is they turn people purple.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  John Smith
August 24, 2017 7:49 pm

No problem, just call in the Purple People Eater and help UN Agenda 21 become reality!

August 24, 2017 10:34 pm

What they need is a pilot plant that uses only biofuel for the energy it requires. They need to demonstrate that the plant will produce more biofuel then is required to run the plant. It is still a matter converting solar energy into biofuel. How much surface are we talking about here?

August 24, 2017 10:44 pm

“. A Bay Area company has patented a group of three single-celled, algae-like organisms that, when grown together, can produce high quantities of sugar just right for making biofuels.’
I am thinking of sugar beets and sugar cane. Seems like it is already being done in the plant world.
But hey, what the Hell do I know.

Gerry, England
August 25, 2017 5:14 am

“The demand for clean, domestically produced, renewable energy has resulted in a lot of research on algae.”
Or in reality, the taxpayer cash paid out to renewable energy scams has also been tapped to pay for research on algae. Doesn’t matter if it works, somebody is getting paid.

Randy in Ridgecrest
August 25, 2017 6:53 am

A couple of ex-NASA guys playing with other peoples money. Pretty small scale, so I bet this press release will be the last thing heard about the effort.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek
August 25, 2017 7:27 am

Biomass has about 20 kJ per gram. Most sugar (sucrose) has about 16.2. The yield of cyanobacteria is about three to five and a half times the energy of algae.
That is very cool. I really like the idea of growing a ‘guild’ of species together to have them assist each other. No doubt this will take many years to optimise. Perhaps they can double the output.
A very cheap source of ‘monomers’ would be great for many industries. This looks like real progress. Thanks.

August 25, 2017 7:29 am

This is exactly why the government should not be promoting wind, solar, ethanol or anything else. The government does not know what tech could prove to be the winner. All the money and energy going into government supported energy could be a huge waste. There’s nothing wrong with funding research, but when it becomes large scale the government can cause huge inefficiencies and damage. The free market works.

don rady
Reply to  fred
September 2, 2017 8:31 pm

I 100% agree. The government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. I am part of an angel investing group. A bio-fuels company came and pitched us. They squanders $1/2 billion dollars. wasted, down the drain, done. Now they were trying to raise private sector investor money, saying their company was worth only $13 million. No one invested, as far as I know. What a waste of tax payer funds.

don rady
Reply to  don rady
September 2, 2017 8:32 pm

squandered $ .5 billion tax payer dollars.

August 25, 2017 11:10 am

Cyanobacteria, aka blue-green algae, can release toxins into the air & water. What was that about “clean” energy again?

Ike Kiefer
August 30, 2017 9:55 pm

This is typical VC snakeoil literature designed to separate marks from their money. Some important omissions and misrepresentations to correct.
1. microalgae require nitrogen and phosphorous inputs. Nitrogen generally provided as urea made from natural gas, and phosphorous as phosphate, a finite, imported mineral. Cyanobacteria have a very versatile metabolism and can be fed other things (e.g., acetate, agar), but these are also sourced and processed with fossil fuels.
2. Algae must be constantly circulated in ponds or bioreactors. The energy circulate them has been calculated at 7 times greater than the energy in biodiesel derived from the lipid algae process. Then there is drying and disposing of the supertanker’s worth of dead algae biomass that must be periodically purged. is sugar process would have to be 7 times more efficient in producing liquid fuel to just break even at the farm gate. When the lifecycle thermodynamics are investigated, every microalgae scheme has been found to have a huge negative energy balance.
3. Algae ponds and bioreactors are huge competitors for land and water resources. The theoretical best case algae fuel density based on the utter limits of photosynthetic biomass accumulation efficiency works out to be 6,500 gal/acre-yr, with an energy production density equivalent to a solar farm. But whereas a solar farm requires very little water, microalgae require 3,000-10,000 gallons of water per gallon of fuel. Even if the algae is halophilic and the initial batch of water is saline, the make-up water must be fresh or else the salinity would increase like the Dead Sea and kill everything. Also this water has to be absolutely sterile, so as not to introduce and competitive or predatory species, and water purification at this scale is a huge expense. In contrast, fossil fuels from fracking to refining require only 6-10 gallons of water per gallon of fuel.
4. There is no hope of maintaining a mono-culture colony of any bacteria in open ponds, especially a species that has been genetically modified to maximize sugar production at the expense of other functions that would make it more competitive in the wild such as growth, defenses, and repair. And as it excretes sugar, a food source for virtually every form of life on the planet, it creates a nutrient soup to nourish and multiply any opportunistic visitor to its pond. The cost of building enclosed transparent bioreactors has been estimated many times in the literature and the answer is always that it is hideously and prohibitively expensive.
I could go on. Or you could read

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