Monday, October 26, 2009

$1.50 a Gallon Algal Oil Using Electromagnetism

Organic Fuels Algae Technology has developed an "electromagnetic" treatment for harvesting oil from algae. Some research suggests that the new treatment is so energy efficient that it should allow for the production of algal biofuels at costs of about $1.50 a gallon.
Electromechanical forces will do the trick, said Peter Loggenberg, CEO of the joint venture of Houston-based biodiesel producer Organic Fuels and the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Electromechanics.

"The concept is around using electromagnetic forces to disrupt the [algae] cell walls," Loggenberg explained last week at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin, Texas. "When you're dealing with this micro-world, you can't use hammers and chisels."

To be more precise, using heat to dry out the algae or centrifuges to separate it from the water it grows in use up a lot of energy. Crushers that work for oil seeds don't work on microscopic algae, and using solvents to break open the cells is costly and hard to scale up.

OFAT's alternative solution involves zapping algae with electricity to disrupt the cell walls. It's a similar concept to that being proposed by Origin Oil, which has proposed using microwaves and ultrasound to break open algae cells (see Green Light post).

How cheap is OFAT's method? Loggenberg wouldn't get into specifics, but this paper from UT describing the technology claims it can produce algae oil for about $1.50 a gallon. That algae oil would then need to be turned into biodiesel, of course, but that would still be quite a breakthrough in costs (see Coming Soon: $2 a Gallon Diesel From Algae?). _GTM
It will take more time to get the algal concentrations high enough for optimal efficiency for the process, and to scale the process up to pilot -- then commercial -- scales.

Nevertheless, every incremental step toward making ever-prolific algal organisms more efficient producers of fuel, will speed the coming of genuine "peak oil." Peak oil due to lack of demand.



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