Monday, April 20, 2009

Oz Algae Could Supply All Its Diesel Needs

Dr Beer said theoretically all of Australia's diesel supplies could be produced from ponds covering just 10,000 hectares. The study found the establishment of a 500-hectare algal biodiesel plant in a rural area might create up to 45 jobs and provide opportunities to diversify in the agricultural sector. WeeklyTimes
Less densely populated advanced countries such as Australia, New Zealand, or Canada could quickly and easily supply all of their own diesel needs using algal oils -- once the processes are scaled up. More densely populated areas such as the US and Europe could begin chipping away at their foreign oil requirements fairly quickly. Advances in the growth, harvesting, separation, and refinement of algae to fuels, suggests that Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada could free themselves from the need for petrol diesel in as little as ten years.
The advantage of algae is its superior efficiency in turning CO2 and sunlight into oil. It's up to 100 times more efficient in terms of the land required than crops. Yields of up to 120,000 litres of biodiesel a hectare a year are possible compared to 1000 litres from canola.

......the technology [is] relatively simple, [although] more research was needed, Dr Beer said....The next step was to build a pilot plant to see if the concept was commercial and viable and at what prices.

Like any crop, more work was also needed to identify the best species of algae to use and the conditions required for maximum yield. One challenge was to work out how to prevent other less productive algae taking over a pond, Dr Beer said.

Melbourne biofuel company BioMax is...well advanced in developing an algal biodiesel plant.

BioMax managing director Mile Soda told the 2007 Victorian parliamentary inquiry into biofuels that their process showed great promise and could be used by coal fired power stations as a way to reduce their carbon emissions....Algae plants could be set up next to power stations and injected with large volumes of CO2 and nitrogen, extracted from the flues, he said. _WeeklyTimes
Despite the worldwide economic slowdown, academic and industrial research into the important aspects of algal fuels production is holding its own, if not accelerating. In academia, often research is merely an excuse for obtaining funding. Research into biofuels has gone far beyond the typical academic "running in place" tactic.

Update: Midwest Research Institute is a good example of the ambitious algal research programs that are pushing the envelope. By intensively studying both open and closed loop bio-reactor approaches, MRI is positioning itself to be among the first to break through into the economical high yield production of algal fuels.



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