Thursday, January 13, 2011

Diesel-from-Algae at $1.25 a Gallon, 10,000 Gallons an Acre?

Cost of the firm’s algal based diesel fuel is said to be $1.25/gal which permits retail pricing at or below petroleum diesel without subsidies.

Photon8 has demonstrated photobioreactor production rate equal to 1.5 gal/square meter/yr and is on its way to an expected rate of 22,000 gal per 2.5 acre/yr then to best economic units of 5 acres. It believes further development may bring it close to 10,000 gal/acre/yr as a basis for planning large production systems, according to Brad Bartilson, President & CEO, Photon, Inc, Brownsville, TX. _Ai-Online_via_BiofuelsDigest

Photon8 is a new Texas algal fuels startup, based on technology developed at UT Brownsville. The company utilises "genetically enhanced" algae, and intends to produce a "drop-in" diesel fuel which requires no blending with petro-diesel. Photon 8 claims a number of unique technologies with patents pending.

Brad Bartilson is the president and CEO of Photon8 and seems to at least talk a very good game.
Brad Bartilson, Photon8’s president and CEO, says the Traveling Wave Tube technology boosts algae growth by 500 percent, representing a major advance in the profitable conversion of algae to biofuel — "profitable" being the key word...

...He invented his own patent-pending "photo-bio reactor" in order to slash production costs. Now, Traveling Wave Tube promises to cut costs further by dispensing with limits normally imposed on algae-to-biofuel production during "degassing" and the addition of carbon to the algae. In a nutshell, algae "broth" is exposed to sunlight in order to produce oily "lipids" — the more the better. The lipids are harvested for biodiesel production.

...Photon8 has discovered how to coax more lipids out of individual algae cells through genetic manipulation...Photon8’s team has figured out a short cut, Bartilson says.

"If you’re in production what you care about is how much oil (the cells) produce a day." he says. "Now we have confirmation that these cells are producing lipids at twice the rate of a wild cell."

Despite the breakthroughs, Bartilson finds himself struggling against a perception in the algae-biofuel industry that some problems are insurmountable — including the ones Photon8 claims to have surmounted.

"It’s so frustrating for me," he says. "I feel like were fighting town hall to some extent. Those that came out first are now being looked at as the ‘forefathers.’ The mantra from these folks is nobody has solved the confounding issues — (they say) we don’t have algae that can produce at the rate we need, and second there is no growth system that can have profitability. We have those, so we have to make believers." _BrownsvilleHerald

One of the UTB professors who has been involved in the underlying academic research is Tamara Pease. Dr. Pease appears to have an eye on some critical issues involved in the production of photosynthetic organisms to fuels -- both on an immediate time scale and on a geologic time scale.

Something tells me that Dr. Pease would be reluctant to make the same claims about Photon8's "mutant algae" that Mr. Bartilson is making. It is much easier to talk about breakthroughs and "10,000 gallons an acre production" than it is to actually produce an algal based diesel-equivalent that is cost-competitive with petro-diesel.

All the same, if Photon8 can bring their fuel to market within the next 10 years, Al Fin energy analysts will be quite impressed.

More algal energy news: OriginOil is focusing more narrowly on its algae extraction process -- moving toward a continuous separation process called "Live Extraction" which preserves the viability of the algae cells after "milking", for further lipids production.
OriginOil is a a better established company than Photon8, but in a wide-open field such as algal fuels -- still in its infancy -- it is far too early to predict ultimate winners and losers.

OriginOil Extracts Oil from Algae Timelapse from OriginOil on Vimeo.



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