Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gasoline from Algae, Miles from Electricity

Bio-crude from algae can be refined to several different products, including gasoline. Yesterday, Sapphire Energy in San Diego announced their innovative "green crude", a gasoline equivalent from algae oil.
On Wednesday, the company took the covers off what it calls "green crude"--a liquid fuel chemically identical to gasoline but not dependent on either a food source or agricultural land. Even better, it promises to be "carbon neutral"; even though vehicles that burn the fuel will emit carbon, creating green crude involves pulling just as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as it will put back in.

Sapphire, based in San Diego, plans to make its fuel from algae microorganisms, salt water, carbon dioxide and the power of the sun. Chief Executive Jason Pyle was deliberately vague concerning how the technology works, but he says the company, which was formed in May 2007, has been able to produce 91 octane gasoline and has had it analyzed at a refinery.

"We created a process that relies on photosynthesis. It absorbs CO2 to produce a carbon molecule," Pyle said in an interview with Pyle has been involved in two other start-ups and has a background in biotechnology, engineering and physics. "We believe we're setting the benchmark for an entire new industry."

Other alternative fuel companies such as Solazyme of South San Francisco, Calif., are using algae to produce biodiesel. Like ethanol, biodiesel attracts water and thus cannot be shipped in existing pipelines. Both ethanol and biodiesel also have lower energy density than traditional gasoline and diesel fuels. Pyle says Sapphire's green crude has the same energy density as gasoline and can be shipped in existing pipelines and refined the same way gasoline and diesel are.

Amyris Biotechnologies of Emeryville, Calif., is also developing renewable fuels that are chemically identical to gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. Amyris announced in April that it will develop a diesel fuel in Brazil from sugarcane, with a production target date of 2010. (See: "Sweet New Fuel.")

But Pyle asserts that Sapphire's technology can scale to a much greater degree than Amyris can, because Sapphire is not dependent on a food source as its fuel. "Agricultural land is of limited supply. We have a huge amount of land that is completely non-agricultural that we can use, desert land," says Pyle. His aim is to produce 10,000 barrels a day in facilities that may be located on desert land across the southwestern and southern U.S. __Forbes__via__ Earth2Tech

On the electrical front, Brian Westenhaus at New Energy and Fuel takes a look at the A123 advanced battery, and announces that it is ready for prime time. According to the story, GE has reported that if half the US auto fleet was converted to electrical drive, the US could reduce its oil use by 6 million barrels a day. That is very significant.

If you do both--convert part of the fleet to electricity, and run the rest on algal biodiesel and bio-gasoline, you could reduce oil use by perhaps another 6 million barrels a day. At that point, North America becomes energy independent.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts