PostHeaderIcon Algae oil & water

A little housekeeping before I get started…anyone interested in the Kanzius effect should thumb down to comment #74–and after looking at the comment– just for the hey of it — ask a buddy in the labs with an RF machine to fire some radio waves at salt water at RF 26.451. (If the experiment is a success — his lab will blow up…just kidding…but some caution is required.)

Another item. I’ve shifted to a new url. If you have found this blog to useful/helpful/interesting I would appreciate it if you would ask your webmaster to provide a link to this website.

Ok, on to biz.

On January 8 President-elect Barack Obama called for doubling the nation’s renewable energy production over the next three years.

According to the latest “Monthly Energy Review” issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy accounted for more than 10 percent of the domestically-produced energy used in the United States in the first half of 2008.

So Obama is talking about doubling renewables as a percentage of the national energy output from 10% to 20%.

The growth of renewables as a percentage of national energy production has been 1.5 annually averaged over the last two years. (In 2006 renewables accounted for 7% of the US energy output.) So Obama’s proposal is to double the rate of growth of renewables. This doesn’t seem to be too big a challenge considering the amount of money they will be throwing at the problem and the immense momentum for change already built up.

Still a leap in renewables as a % of the US energy picture from 10% to 20% is an enormous jump.

From where will the growth come?

Currently, biofuels and hydo are the largest component of renewables — with each taking roughly an equal share. Its not likely hydo will get much growth from here. Solar and wind are experiencing 40% growth annually but they’re coming off such a small base that even if their growth rates soar to 100-200% annually– they’ll still only account for 2-3% of the total US energy output portfolio in three years.

That leaves biofuels.

I don’t think the incoming administration will push for more ethanol from corn or soybeans.

That means they’ll be converting corn stalks wood chips, lawn clippings agricultural waste city sewage, garbage darn near anything carbon based– to biofuel.

The Pentagon has already signed some major contracts here. Biomas production plants are springing up on military bases all over the country.

imho cellulose biofuels is where most of the growth in renewables will come in the next two years.

However,–at current rates– by year three –or maybe four — imho something else will happen.

The trouble with cellulose is that the new administration is going to sign the Kyoto accords. Much of biomass production does not actually advance the goal of carbon footprint reduction. So even this will not be quite the answer that the new administration is looking for.

What does that leave?

Well in biomass there is one solution that will enable the US to reduce its carbon footprint in line with Kyoto restrictions –while producing energy. That is, algae production sited next to installed coal plants. I’ve mentioned that here and here.

Rather than pipe carbon dioxide into underground formations–the idea would be to pipe carbon dioxide into greenhouses or green ponds. About +-300 acres of algae will support one coal plant’s carbon dioxide output.

The smart money at DARPA has been investing in algae production since 2006 In Dec 2008 they signed more contracts with SAIC and General Atomics to collapse the cost of algae oil.

During the first 18 months of the project, teams from General Atomics and SAIC will try to get costs of algae-based oil down to $2 a gallon. In the following 18 months, they will push to drop it to $1 a gallon and build a 30-to 50-acre demonstration facility.

One team, headed by General Atomics, says they’ve already cut the cost of algae-based oil from $30 a gallon to about $6 or $7 a gallon (in three years from 2006-2008). But the price needs to get closer to a dollar to make it competitive, said David Hazlebeck, the chemical engineer and biofuels program manager who is heading General Atomics’ efforts.

The general impression I’ve been getting from reading various representatives of the industry is that algae to oil costs respond very well to economies of scale. For example, an El Paso algae to oil company called Valcent is currently running algae to oil trials. What would the costs be to scale up the trial?

A Vertigro plant of the size needed to supply a large biofuel refinery would require about 200 to 300 acres and “probably cost about
$800,000 per acre” to build and operate. That means a full-scale plant would cost about $160 million to $240 million.
The Vertigro system is expected to be able to produce algae oil for about $1.70 a gallon versus about $2.63 a gallon for soybean oil. Those numbers are without government subsidies or tax credits.

There are about 100 small algae to oil companies and the number is growing. None of them are well funded–except for Microsoft funded Sapphire Energy

imho a federal investment of 5 billion into the algae to oil business to fund acres of algae to oil greenhouses/ponds would push down algae to oil costs quickly and create jobs quickly. Likely the best way to do the funding would be to spread it across many small companies.

Is there method to this uh–you name it? Yeah. OPEC is draining oil production currently from the system so that in xxxx months when the world economy turns–oil prices will instantly shoot up. This will suck out America’s growing capital base/tax base–and throttle any nascent expansion. The proper response for the US is to grow our oil production capacity fast so that when demand picks up — supply will be there to meet it–without prices jumping sky high. If we can’t drill here drill now–then we have to grow here grow now.There won’t be any great push to get more ethanol from corn, soybeans or any other food source on crop land. So for growing energy–algae is the answer.

Maybe a five billion dollar investment in algae to oil is too little.

What does this have to do with water and water desalination in particular? According to the article:

Of course, algae grow in water. But scientists say that’s not necessarily a problem since the organisms can be grown in brackish ‚Äì or salty ‚Äì water and would not compete for dwindling supplies of fresh water.

Some companies like Algenolbiofuels use seawater.

Last year PetroSun claimed they had completed the first commercial scale algae to oil production center in Rio Hondo Texas in a series of saltwater ponds spanning 1,100 acres.

Green Star Products, Inc. uses brackish water.

Green Star Products, Inc. today announced that EcoAlgae USA, LLC, has received a signed resolution from Saline County Missouri commissioners to construct a commercial Algae Production Facility in conjunction with an Integrated Biorefinery Complex.

Valcent Grows Algae Oil in El Paso with fresh water–and not much fresh water. Their CEO Glen Kertz has figured out a solution to two problems with his closed-loop algae-growing system, preventing water evaporation and stopping infiltration of foreign species of algae. Mark Townsend Cox, CEO of the New Energy Fund, an $11 million New York-based fund which invests in companies developing renewable energy products, and Global Green consultant, said Global Green and Valcent appear to have one of the better algae-growing systems among 15 to 20 companies working on projects to use algae for biofuel production. “They have a really smart design that I believe is scalable and (has) the ability to do it pretty rapidly,” Cox said. Kathyrn Dodson, director of the city Economic Development Department, who toured the Vertigro research facility Wednesday, said at least three other companies are working on biofuel projects in the El Paso area.

Here is the CEO of Vertigrow on video discussing algae production system.

The reason I find the El Paso algae story to be interesting is that El Paso is the site of the recently opened — and world’s largest — inland water desalination plant. Are the two related? I think so. In any case the presence of both brackish and fresh water gives algae companies more choices as to algae species to choose from.

For further study see:


Scientific American: Energy versus Water: Solving Both Crises Together

A Guide to Water Investing: Desalination

One Word: Plastics Algae

Oil from algae? Scientists seek green gold
Valcent Products Inc.

Altela uses low grade waste heat for desalination

Stonybrook purification uses a better membrane.

Algae: ‘The ultimate in renewable energy’

Greenfuel has done the initial testing of algae production with CO2

‘The 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy’: 2008-09 Rankings Published by Biofuels Digest

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