Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Algal Cropping for Drylands Such as New Mexico and Israel

In the context of NMSU's multifaceted algal research agenda, the photobioreactor has a dual purpose, according to Lammers. Not only will it help answer major research questions about how best to raise algae in the southern New Mexico climate, it will assume an expanding role as a production facility.

The standardized algal biomass it generates will be used for research on algal oil extraction and fuel conversion technologies, as well as the development of algal co-products such as high-protein animal or fish meal and fish-oil replacements. "The economics of algae-derived fuel will be very difficult without generating revenue from every portion of the algae biomass," Lammers said.
New Mexico State University is taking delivery of a new algal photobioreactor from Solix -- a Lumian AGS-4000. The university will use the new photobioreactor (PBR) to help achieve critical new research on dryland algal cropping for algal fuels. As noted above, some key breakthroughs will be needed on several fronts, in order to optimise the economics of algal fuels, co-products, and power.
Funds to purchase the system came from a recent $2.3 million U.S. Air Force grant; long-range operational costs will be covered by a $49 million Department of Energy grant that established the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts consortium.

The Solix BioSystems Lumian AGS4000 is an algae cultivation system with a 4,000-liter production capacity that allows faster and denser production of algae than open "raceway" systems. In the new photobioreactor, algae culture will grow in enclosed panels suspended in an open 61- by 11-foot water-filled basin. Control of various factors, such as temperature, carbon dioxide content and nutrient supply, is very precise and the panels are designed to optimize solar exposure. The result is a system that can accelerate the rate of CO2 absorption, and therefore the rate of algae growth, up to 10 times the rate of raceways and can produce up to three times the density of algae per liter of water.


There is a need for critical advances in algal growth, algal harvesting, energy extraction, and co-product / power production -- in continuous, closely integrated fashion. Drylands algal growth can utilise salt water, brine, or wastewater, and can take place year round.

PBR's will become more important as more specialised strains of algae are used, which must be kept separate from wild strains in the atmosphere which could easily interfere with growth, in an open raceway or pond.

Israel is another drylands area where algal research is on the fast track. In fact, any arid nation in relatively close proximity to bodies of salt water, should be ideal for algal cropping -- since algae can grow so well in salt water.
Most companies pursuing algae as a source of biofuels are pumping nutrient-laden water through plastic tubes (called "bioreactors) that are exposed to sunlight (and so called photobioreactor or PBR). Running a PBR is more difficult than an open pond, and more costly.

Algae can also grow on marginal lands, such as in desert areas where the groundwater is saline, rather than utilize fresh water.

Because algae strains with lower lipid content may grow as much as 30 times faster than those with high lipid content, the difficulties in efficient biodiesel production from algae lie in finding an algal strain with a combination of high lipid content and fast growth rate, that isn't too difficult to harvest; and a cost-effective cultivation system (i.e., type of photobioreactor) that is best suited to that strain. There is also a need to provide concentrated CO2 to increase the rate of production _PeaceCorpsConnect
As noted above, it is more efficient at this time to grow algae for biomass, rather than for oil. As a biomass crop, algae is unsurpassed, and can be grown over roughly 90% of the Earth's surface (land and sea). The facts that algae can clean wastewater, gobble CO2 from power plants, ethanol plants, and cement plants -- and provide fish and animal feed are additional advantages.

A recent study by the Pacific Northwest National Labs suggested that 17% of US oil imports could be replaced by algal fuels, using roughly 5.5% of the lower 48 states' land area. This is an admirably cautious report from PNNL, which has almost nothing to do with what the state of the art will be in 5 years, and ignores th potential for genetic engineering of algae to increase sunlight-to-biomass or sunlight-to-lipids efficiencies.

Using small modular nuclear reactor heat and power, large quantities of algal biomass and fuels could be grown virtually anywhere on the planet or off the planet -- including polar stations, undersea stations, mid-ocean seasteads, orbital space stations, or lunar colonies etc. Algae modified to provide high quality food and recycled water and air for humans, would be ideal components of semi-hermetically sealed environments and outposts.,

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