The Dernogalizer

July 26, 2010

Algae as a Biofuel

Filed under: energy — Matt Dernoga @ 10:25 pm
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Algae strikes me as having incredible potential to displace oil and an environmentally friendly way, but first we need to bring our science and technology up to speed enough to produce a fuel from algae at an affordable price.  Check out this article in the NY Times Business section about research efforts to harvest algae for our fuel use.  Below is an excerpt from the article

“The goal is nothing less than to create superalgae, highly efficient at converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into lipids and oils that can be sent to a refinery and made into diesel or jet fuel.

“We’ve probably engineered over 4,000 strains,” said Mike Mendez, a co-founder and vice president for technology at Sapphire Energy, the owner of the laboratory. “My whole goal here at Sapphire is to domesticate algae, to make it a crop.”

Dozens of companies, as well as many academic laboratories, are pursuing the same goal — to produce algae as a source of, literally, green energy. And many of them are using genetic engineering or other biological techniques, like chemically induced mutations, to improve how algae functions.

“There are probably well over 100 academic efforts to use genetic engineering to optimize biofuel production from algae,” said Matthew C. Posewitz, an assistant professor of chemistry at the Colorado School of Mines, who has written a review of the field. “There’s just intense interest globally.”

Algae are attracting attention because the strains can potentially produce 10 or more times more fuel per acre than the corn used to make ethanol or the soybeans used to make biodiesel. Moreover, algae might be grown on arid land and brackish water, so that fuel production would not compete with food production. And algae are voracious consumers of carbon dioxide, potentially helping to keep some of this greenhouse gas from contributing to global warming.”

March 27, 2009

Algae to Biofuels for a Healthier Bay

Filed under: energy — Matt Dernoga @ 9:36 pm
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There’s a very in depth and interesting article in Chesapeake Quarterly about a way of using algae to help clean the Chesapeake while at the same time being used to make biofuels.  Definitely worth the read!

Some excerpts are below:

“Walter Adey sees this pollution chokepoint at the Susquehanna River in a unique light. For him, the neck of the funnel represents a golden opportunity to set things right for the Chesapeake. This veteran ecologist from the Smithsonian Institution has a bold idea, one more than 30 years in the making. His concept could rid Susquehanna River water of excess phosphorus and nitrogen before it enters the Bay and inject oxygen into bottom waters at the same time. He’s calculated that his approach would cost a lot less than current estimates for cleaning up nutrients in the watershed”

“the goal of their project is ambitious: Harness the power of fast-growing, photosynthesizing algae to take up nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from polluted water. In turn, let the algae pump the water full of oxygen. Then vacuum up the algae and feed it to a reactor for making a biofuel — in this case, butanol. Clean the Bay, tap into an emerging market for alternative energy, and create a revenue stream to drive the clean-up effort — all in one fell swoop.”

“They also remove or sequester carbon from the atmosphere and release oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Algae grow fast and are 5 to 10 times more efficient at photosynthesis than their more complex plant cousins. To keep photosynthetic rates high, the algae must be harvested every 6 to 12 days, which maintains their peak growth rate. These frequent harvests also mean that plenty of algae become available as raw material for producing a biofuel.”

“A Maryland-based company, Living Ecosystems, founded by Adey’s former graduate student Tim Goertemiller, has built its business constructing and selling Algal Turf Scrubber systems. Now they’re expanding the enterprise to become a “lawn service” for algae harvesting, beginning with the project on the Susquehanna River and another pilot project on the Eastern Shore. They don’t have many algae customers yet, but they’re hoping for business to grow.

“The notion of job creation is real. We’re trying to build an economy, not just an academic experiment,” says Kangas. Adey and Kangas hope that producing a biofuel will be the key driver that sets this new economy into motion.”

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