Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Promise of Algae vs. Peak Oil Doom

Algae doesn't think in terms of limits. A single-celled algae, gazing out across the Pacific Ocean, has only one thought: "That looks like a good place to spread out and grow!" In fact, algae thinks exactly the same thing about a wastewater pond, a brackish estuary, or a large freshwater lake. Algae was meant to grow fast, needing only sunlight, CO2, and a few nutrients from water--wastewater will do. Algae has never believed in peak anything.
• Algae can thrive in fresh, brackish, or seawater — and very little of that is required.

• There is no need for any soil, much less good soil, as algae grow hydroponically.

• With more than 20,000 known varieties of algae, species can be chosen for high lipid content (e.g., for diesel fuel) or high sugar content for distillation purposes.

• In desert climes it can be harvested on a day-by-day basis because it grows so quickly.

All it takes is sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to provide the energy for arguably the most complex process we see in nature: photosynthesis. _Source
What about cellulosic biofuels? Is there a conflict between cellulosic fuels and algae biofuels?
.....the market for transportation fuels is big enough for cellulose and algae; they compete with petroleum, not with each other......extraction of fuel from algae depended on flat land, abundant water, sun and injections of CO2. _EcoWorld
At this time, algae biodiesel costs between $15 and $20 a gallon to produce. Dozens of research efforts are aimed at bringing the cost of production for algal biodiesel into the competitive range. The University of Virginia, University of Arkansas, Cal Poly, and other research institutions are rushing to make breakthroughs in the economic production of algal fuels. One particularly innovative approach to algal fuels is the use of algae as part of a three-pronged bio-energy-food eco-industry, combining a fish farm, algae production, and feed production.
Instead of having a waste stream [from the fish farm] that contaminates the environment or needs costly disposal, combining the Aqua-Sphere with algae production creates a second income stream by producing feedstock for biodiesel. Papadoyianis also sees benefits to the biodiesel industry as aquaculturists move into algae production. “The way I see it, buying a piece of land and constructing an algae facility and having a whole staff just to produce the algae will make your cost of production go way up,” he says. “We are looking at this as a secondary crop that doesn’t take a huge secondary investment. For a medium-sized operation you can basically use the same staff as you have for the fish operation.

The process could be diversified even further as the company develops a third product, an insect-based fish food it calls Ento-Protein. The product would replace food currently made from fish meal, which has more than doubled in price since 2006, and is made from insects grown on agricultural waste and industrial coproducts, including distillers dried grains from ethanol plants. Papadoyianis foresees using the algae cake remaining after the oil is extracted as another feedstock for the Ento-Protein operation. _Biodiesel
A two day conference dealing with algae as "the new oil" is coming up October 23-24 at the Woodlands, in Texas. More from the National Algae Association

Previously published at Al Fin

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