This week, let’s take a more in depth look at using greenhouses to tap oceans or briny aquifers to produce desalinised water and energy.

Several weeks back I posted about a British Company that used greenhouses for water desalination to produce high value fruits and vegetables. Another thing those green houses could produce is biocrude/biodiesal from algae. Why?

Consider this from Wikipedia.

Oil Yield

Gallons of Oil per Acre per Year
Corn . . . . . . . 18
Soybeans . . . .48
Safflower. . . . . 83
Sunflower . . . 102
Rapeseed. . . 127
Oil Palm . . . . 635
Micro Algae . .5000-15000
The yield from oil bearing algae per acre is many orders of magnitude higher than the yield of ethanol from corn. Say the algae produces 10,000 gallons of biodiesel@acre. If the producer can get $1@ gallon of biodiesel then there’s $10,000@acre. Work is underway to improve the oil yields of the algae. There is reason to believe that in the future yields can be increased to 50,000 gallons of biodiesel@acre (and $50,000 revenue@acre).

Current estimates of costs are sketchy. According to this April 2005 report:

These estimates showed that algal biodiesel cost would range from $1.40 to $4.40 per gallon based on current and long-term projections for the performance of the technology.
Researchers in Utah say their algae-biodiesel will be cost competitive by 2009.
Tasios Melis, a professor of enzymology at the University of California at Berkeley, has created genetically modified strains of algae that speed growth rates of naturally occurring algae and increase its hydrocarbon content, which could boost the biodiesel yield of bioreactors from 10,000 gallons per acre to 20,000 gallons or more. Melis originally developed the supercharged algae as a way of improving the harvest of hydrogen as a fuel source, and he believes its long-term benefits are greatest in developing clean-burning hydrogen as a ubiquitous energy source. But Melis says genetic information on hydrogen production could enable development of algae for specific types of fuel.”The potential is really superior to natural algae,” Melis says. “It is essentially a problem of biology, but we have a blueprint and I’m confident it can be done.”) End of update.

Consider a joint project of the DOE San Dia Labs and LiveFuels Inc. They aim to convert algae-to-oil. I mentioned they could also desalinize briny aquifers in greenhouses in West Texas or New Mexico while turning algae-to-oil. — There might be a market for salt and minerals as well. (I’ve been salting my eggs & oatmeal in the morning with smoked applewood flavored salt I bought from that Maine company I mentioned a couple weeks back. Its pretty good.)

Before I go further down the algae-to-oil path it should be noted that a couple years from now solar photovoltaic plastic will be available which could cost effectively be used in greenhouses. As well, sunlight could be used for water splitting.

Nanotech-based photoelectrochemical materials could lower the cost of hydrogen production “somewhere between a factor of 4 and 10,”

But that’s likely even further in the future. The most interesting currently available solar tech is this pairing of an efficient solar dish with a 200-year-old Stirling engine design. This solar plant is going up in the Mohave Deserts of Southern California. These plants will produce electricity at or below the costs of coal powered plants. A scaled down version of this might be used to pump water in the desert–but it might be more expensive.

The advantage of working with solar is that there is plenty of capital available that’s looking for tax advantaged opportunities. As well, a number of major counties in California have served notice to their coal fired electrical generating plants–they will not be renewing their contracts in…2027.While that date is far in the future, the push is on for lowering carbon emissions worldwide. One way to reduce carbon emissions would be to pump carbon dioxide into the British greenhouses — filled with algae — mentioned above that used desalinised water pulled from the underground aquifers of West Texas. FutureGen is currently working on a coal gassification project around Odessa that uses waste heat for desalination. The idea currently is to pump the carbon dioxide into the ground–so that at some point — the extra pressure will enable more oil extraction. Perhaps a better way to use the carbon dioxide would be to pump it into greenhouses filled with green algae. As well, underground brine water could be pumped into the greenhouses and where it would be desalinated to water the algae.

In fact, some tests in arizona currently are moving from large test tubes to a greenhouse environment:


The Arizona power plant project includes putting algae in tubes as part of the biodiesel production process.

For a year, researchers watched algae multiply in huge, bubbling test tubes beneath the hot Arizona sun so they could find just the right strand of the microscopic single-celled plant.

The experiment has been so successful that it’s about to expand into greenhouses on the plant grounds, and in time, be grown in such large quantities that it could be converted into fuel, cutting down on harmful greenhouse gases.

The new thing here to understand is not that the algae-to-oil angle. Algae-to-oil is being tested extensively already. The company doing the work above is an MIT associated company called GreenFuel .

GreenFuel has already garnered $11 million in venture capital funding and is conducting a field trial at a 1,000 megawatt power plant owned by a major southwestern power company. Next year, GreenFuel expects two to seven more such demo projects scaling up to a full pro- duction system by 2009.

Rather, the new thing that I’m suggesting here is that LiveFuels/GreenFuel — technology be wedded to the British Greenhouses to produce oil and desalinised water.

Update: Additional profits could be garnered by way of carbon credits that are gaining traction worldwide. ie when coal plants take carbon dioxide out of their waste–these credits can be resold. Here is how Wall Street is doing this now.
That said, the problem I could see with the greenhouses might be that it would be expensive to clean out their salt accumulations.

One way to reduce the problem of salt cleanup in the greenhouses would be to jury rig a cheap low tech solution for desalination using the efficient solar dish with a 200-year-old Stirling engine mentioned above and Aquasonics technology.

At the heart of the Aquasonics technology is a special nozzle that breaks water into a very fine mist. This mist is then hit with hot air. The steam rises where its cooled and collected and the salt falls to the floor where its collected and easily moved. Aquasonics has been using waste heat from power plants as a heat source. But it would be relatively simple and cheap to aim the solar dishes mentioned above at two black boxes. One black box heats brine or salt water to pressurize it for expulsion through the nozzle — and one black box heats the air used to blast the nozzle spray from the water box.

Anyhow here is a full list of algae-to-oil companies.

According to Michael Briggs, University of New Hampshire, Physics Department — a 250 acre algae farm producing 10,000 gallons@acre could produce oil for $18.56@barrel. And with a net profit of .10 the farm could yield $250,000 per year net earnings.

So the idea is to add pure clean water to the output of the already profitable mix.

Additional algae links:

Fatty acids & Hydrocarbons (oil) and liquid fuels

More algae candidates for high lipid yields

Reef Algae Web Site or

The Phycological Society of America (most of the following links came from this page)

Guide to Pressing Seaweeds

Desmid website (

AlgaeBase website – information on taxonomy of all algae (
Portuguese Seaweeds Website – Portal das Macroalgas Portuguesas (
PISCO Marine Algae Database: an online collection of images (
Desmid Information, including beautiful photos (
Algae associated with sea turtles in Hawaii (
The Phytoplankton Image Library ( by Michael R. Martin
The Latz Research Laboratory with information on dinoflagellates and bioluminescence (
The International Research Group on Charophytes with information on living and fossil charophytes (
A Checklist of Fijian marine algae (
Jeremy Pickett-Heaps’ web site for Cytographics with information on algal videos, preparation of live cells, etc (
multimedia course entitled “A phylogenetic survey of photosynthetic
organisms” focusing mainly on algae by Derek Keats (
Algal Images (especially diatoms) from Rex Lowe’s lab (Bowling Green University) (
Great Lakes Diatom Home Page (
Algal images for teaching and ecological data from southeastern Ohio from Morgan Vis’ lab (Ohio University) (
Institution Algae Web page with information on algae in general, recent
publications, how to preserve algae and herbarium collections (
The University of California Museum of Paleontology with general information: Green Algae (, Chromista (, Red Algae (, and Dinoflagellates (
Mike Guiry’s seaweed page (
CYANOSITE with information on Cyanobacterial research (
The Harmful Algae Page with photographs, news stories and information (
ECOHAB: Florida – Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (

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  1. […] In the first approach you find a gene that does desalination in bacteria and you insert it into some bacteria or a blue green algae that doubles in number every few hours and somehow harvest the fresh water from the bodies of the bugs. Something similar to this is currently being done to produce biodiesel. […]

    Pingback by Craig Ventor At Large/Computer Modeling Gets Small « Desalination Research And Development — August 10, 2007 @ 3:19 am

  2. ass parade
    1 Vencuri

    Comment by chuvisyahooey — December 22, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

  3. […] imho Senator Salazar will be interested in accelerated funding for all forms of desalination R&D from Proifera plus a dozen other cutting edge membrane companies to left handed ideas like low temperature cooking water out of gypsum. As well, I would think for experimental reasons both men would be interested in siting at least one solar/desal plant near a coal plant so as to pump the coal plant’s waste CO2 into algae geenhouses. I’ve mentioned this in posts here & here. […]

    Pingback by Sen. Ken Salazar DOI Steven Chu DOE « Desalination Research And Development — December 18, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  4. […] as I mentioned in Greenhouses For Desalinised Water and Oil — Aquasonics technology is currently using waste heat to power a special nozzle that breaks […]

    Pingback by Distillation Desalination Using Low Pressure. | Water Power R&D — April 8, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  5. […] In the first approach you find a gene that does desalination in bacteria and you insert it into some bacteria or a blue green algae that doubles in number every few hours and somehow harvest the fresh water from the bodies of the bugs. Something similar to this is currently being done to produce biodiesel. […]

    Pingback by Craig Ventor At Large/Computer Modeling Gets Small | Water Power R&D — April 8, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

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