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Novel Algae Fuel-Farming Method Gets Big Backing

timothy posted about 5 years ago | from the alcohol-project-leads-to-endowment dept.

Biotech 176

Al writes "Dow Chemical has given its backing to a Florida startup called Algenol Biofuels that hopes to produce commercial quantities of ethanol directly from algae without the need for fresh water or agricultural lands. Dozens of companies are trying to produce biofuels from algae, mostly by growing and harvesting the microorganisms to extract their oil. Algenol has chosen instead to genetically enhance certain strains of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, to convert as much carbon dioxide as possible into ethanol using a process that doesn't require harvesting to collect the fuel. Algenol's bioreactors are troughs covered by a dome of semitransparent film and filled with salt water that has been pumped in straight from the ocean. The photosynthetic algae growing inside are exposed to sunlight and fed a stream of carbon dioxide from Dow's chemical production units. The goal is to produce 100,000 gallons of ethanol annually."

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Awesome to hear! (4, Insightful)

electrosoccertux (874415) | about 5 years ago | (#28723111)

Lets just hope the corn lobby doesn't catch wind of this...

Re:Awesome to hear! (3, Interesting)

schmidt349 (690948) | about 5 years ago | (#28723229)

Isn't Dow part of the corn lobby? [dowagro.com]

ssssh! (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | about 5 years ago | (#28723841)

You don't wan them to figure that out, do you? ;-)

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | about 5 years ago | (#28724599)

They are smart enough to not put all their eggs in one basket, I see that as a plus for now.

If they came out to do it as a scheme to buy off the competition, this may not be so good.

Re:Awesome to hear! (2, Insightful)

religious freak (1005821) | about 5 years ago | (#28723237)

My first question after reading TFS is where these little buggers go after the salt water is pumped in. Presumably, the salt water is pumped out at some point in time. ... Oh, don't worry, I'm sure they filter them out after returning them to the ocean - yeah somehow I highly doubt it.

I agree this type of stuff is the least worst choice, but something about genetically modified bacteria designed to produce fuel, in the ocean gives me the creeps.

Red Tide (1)

conspirator57 (1123519) | about 5 years ago | (#28723443)

Why would you worry? Now red tides will come new and improved with added octane!

I hear sugarcane is a good source of grain alcohol (ethanol).

I think i hear the corn lobby at my door...

connection reset by peer.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723447)

You'll stop worrying once the sea is 5% alcohol.

Re:Awesome to hear! (4, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 5 years ago | (#28723453)

I agree this type of stuff is the least worst choice, but something about genetically modified bacteria designed to produce fuel, in the ocean gives me the creeps.

It is producing alcohol. It is spending a part of its energy budget into producing alcohol, which is totally useless for reproduction and survival. Thus out in the wild it will be swamped out by the regular bacteria. Remember the currently bacteria living in the ocean have been fighting it out for some 3 billion years and they are as fine tuned to optimum as they can get. Any deviation from it is likely to fall at a suboptimal point in the fitness landscape. Any large deviation like producing alcohol is really a saltation. It will land it so far off the starting point in the fitness landscape it is likely to be much much lower than optimum.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723795)

If what you said were true, they wouldn't be able to use unprocessed ocean water as the algae already in that water would outcompete and kill off the bioengineered algae in the farm.

Ding! (2, Insightful)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | about 5 years ago | (#28723957)

Got it, in one! Bioengineering is potentially dangerous. Various analogs of the "grey goo" problem are a real bioengineering risk today, and we're not ready to deal with it any more than the far future hypothetical nano-engineering risk. Corporations, by default, will be inclined to ignore risks like this, and it's not clear how to effectively regulate it. Think the financial crisis was a problem? Wait until we make our first major screw up with bioengineering.

For the record, I think that this type of ethanol production has the potential to replace oil for transportation. We need to make sure we invest properly in risk investigation and management, so we don't completely wreck the biosphere in some disastrous new way, in the process.

Re:Ding! (2, Informative)

Hubbell (850646) | about 5 years ago | (#28725645)

Too bad ethanol eats away at most semi modern and older cars fuel systems even in concentrations of 15% or lower. Ethanol is TERRIBLE for a car.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 5 years ago | (#28724425)

What makes you think they're using unprocessed ocean water?

Even if you were to use unsterilized water, which is a big no no in bioreactors, if you dump in enough of your tailored algae it's going to have a shot at overwhelming whatever's there simply by virtue of a gigantic head start.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

RsG (809189) | about 5 years ago | (#28724545)

Actually, I wonder if the ethanol could serve as a sterilizing agent. Presumably the fuel algae are themselves resistant to it, whereas most microorganisms are not. In a high-ethanol environment, they might have the upper hand over normal algae.

Mix X units of ethanol with Y units of seawater, seed with algae, allow photosynthesis, and (eventually) extract 2X units of ethanol, setting aside one unit for reuse. Lather, rinse, repeat. The only stuff you need to do is add more water, more nutrients and remove excess salt buildup.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 5 years ago | (#28724653)

Maybe. It sounds like the ethanol is a normal waste product of anaerobic respiration, which the unmodified bacteria produces in oxygen-poor conditions. They've modified the stuff to always use the anaerobic respiration pathway. They may have added some ethanol resistance, but not necessarily.

Incidentally, since anaerobic respiration is spectacularly inefficient compared to aerobic respiration, this bacteria must be at a really, really serious disadvantage when up against it's unmodified cousins.

Re:Awesome to hear! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28724357)

Maybe nature has never evolved/designed this specific type of bacteria. Maybe the alcohol will be a serious weapon against other bacteria killing them all.

Re:Awesome to hear! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28725533)

Like bioengineering lysine dependent reptiles!

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

afidel (530433) | about 5 years ago | (#28726219)

What if the alcohol offers a competitive advantage by keeping their colonies from being eaten by other organisms?

Re:Awesome to hear! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723519)

According to the science section of their website:

5. Algenol only uses algae strains that do not produce human toxins. In addition, the specific algae cells used cannot live in the environment found outside their Capture TechnologyTM contained sealed bioreactor.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

allawalla (1030240) | about 5 years ago | (#28723613)

Huhmmm... this reminds me of a movie/book with a large meat eating dinosaur in it.

gene swapping (2, Interesting)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | about 5 years ago | (#28724009)

Everywhere we look, we see single-celled organisms swapping genes. I'm just sayin'.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#28723535)

ethanol and salt mixes with water. As such, they will likely use a distillation or a chromatograph to separate ethanol from the water and salt. To do that, means that it will run better if they do not have the algae in there. I think that they will have some sieve filters that will hold back large molecules, which will also hold back the algae.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 5 years ago | (#28723561)

No need to pump the salt water out- ethanol has a lower boiling point, so you simply boil it out of the tank- leaving the salt water behind to grow more algae. The ocean only is the initial input- from there on out, the tank produces ethanol until the algae dies.

Re:Awesome to hear! (3, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 5 years ago | (#28724447)

You should have read TFA. Sometimes there are more details in it.

The salt water isn't pumped out. The alcohol evaporates into the air at the top of the bioreactor and is skimmed off. The bioreactor does produce fresh water as a "waste product" but presumably they seem rather optimistic about finding a better use for that than dumping it in the ocean.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | about 5 years ago | (#28724573)

The algae aren't doing anything new, they are just doing much more of what they can already do. If this made them more able to survive in the wild than current algae, evolution would have produced them already. Instead, we have a bunch of algae which waste most of their energy pointlessly making and leaking ethanol - they won't survive long. Also, ethanol won't cause any harm unless in high concentrations. There are already lots of natural critters who produce ethanol, especially yeasts.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

hey! (33014) | about 5 years ago | (#28723541)

Especially if it ends up you can eat the organic residue. The omega 3 fatty acids that make fish so healthy for you aren't made by the fish; they're made by algae and bioaccumulated up the food chain.

So have another of those yummy Soylent Green crackers... They've got everything needed to build strong bodies.

Re:Awesome to hear! (1)

ground.zero.612 (1563557) | about 5 years ago | (#28724833)

Dude, let's just hope that blob floating around Alaska doesn't get pissed and go on the offensive!

This is Going to be Big (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723129)

This is a great example of human ingenuity and self-directed evolution.

As peak oil approaches and passes us by, these fuel farming methods are going to have to take their place.

All the people hoping for a car-less future can kiss my ass. We may run out of oil, but we will never run out fuel.

I'm going to drive my SUV in circles to celebrate.

Concern. (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 years ago | (#28723147)

This is a bad, bad idea.

How long before it's noticed by the Invid???

Re:Concern. (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 5 years ago | (#28723251)

I would love to hear why you think its a bad bad idea.

Care to inform people?

Re:Concern. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723273)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invid_(Robotech)

Sources of Ethanol (4, Insightful)

Frigga's Ring (1044024) | about 5 years ago | (#28723157)

Good for Dow. It's probably about time some company jumped on this. I'm just waiting for one of the big oil companies to shut them down so they can go back to using expensive corn crops for ethanol. I mean, corn? Really? Couldn't they have come up with anything more costly that produces less ethanol? Oh! Coming in 2015 from Shell: puppy ethanol!

Re:Sources of Ethanol (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723183)

Piker.

Coming soon: CEO biodiesel.

Re:Sources of Ethanol (1, Insightful)

tsotha (720379) | about 5 years ago | (#28724255)

The use of corn has less to do with oil companies than it has to do with pork barrel politics in farm states. Biodiesel will probably never be competitive with fossil fuels on a purely economic basis, so it's hard to believe the oil companies care.

Re:Sources of Ethanol (3, Interesting)

nevergleam (900375) | about 5 years ago | (#28724333)

I was listening to NPR's All Things Considered yesterday (7/15/09) and they had a profile on a California start-up developing algae-sourced fuel in partnership with Exxon-Mobil.

Oil companies aren't stupid. They invest heavily in all of the R&D for these alternative sources of fuel so they can oligopolize it when any of the research produces something practical.

Re:Sources of Ethanol (2, Informative)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | about 5 years ago | (#28726355)

This technology has a LONG way to go, 100,000 gallons per year is quite litterally nothing in the energy business.

For example, the Alaska oil field, which produces quite a lot of oil but nowhere near what is needed, put out an average of 650,000 barrels per day, or just shy of 30 million gallons per day. That's ten and a half billion with a "B" gallons per year. Also bear in mind that Alaska accounts for only 1/3 the total oil production in North America, and also remember that the US must import 80% of its oil from overseas.

100,000 gallons per year is nothing more than a "proof of concept". If they can scale that up to the millions of barrels per year range they'll start making a profit. If this scales well enough it could eventually be a good replacement for gasoline, which would mean the demand for gasoline could be cut in half. That would be awesome.

Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723199)

If it pans out, this is an obvious win. Not to stare a gift horse in the mouth or anything, but exactly how are these algae modified, and are we sure they won't be able to survive in the wild?

100,000 gallons = drop in the bucket (SSIA) (2, Informative)

pweitz (646666) | about 5 years ago | (#28723219)

100,000 gallons = drop in the bucket (SSIA)

Note, the only reason I repeat myself is that I get this message when I try to leave out the body: "Cat got your tongue? (something important seems to be missing from your comment ... like the body or the subject!)"

Re:100,000 gallons = drop in the bucket (SSIA) (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723283)

Note, the only reason I repeat myself is that I get this message when I try to leave out the body:
"Cat got your tongue? (something important seems to be missing from your comment ... like the body or the subject!)"

I think you mean, "I tried to post like an idiot by putting my message in the subject field, but Slashdot tried to save me from myself. I'll show them by being an idiot anyway!".

Re:100,000 gallons = drop in the bucket (SSIA) (1)

Sooner Boomer (96864) | about 5 years ago | (#28723367)

100,000 gallons = drop in the bucket (SSIA)

Yeah, I drink more than that in.....wait, is this my inner voice....

read the article (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28724189)

read more. talk less. the article describes a pilot project. if you read it, the article also mentions another project which aims to produce 1 billion gallons annually.

from a 24 acre demonstration plant (1)

CanadianRealist (1258974) | about 5 years ago | (#28724215)

That 100,000 gallons is from a 24 acre demonstration plant.
Sounds like a bit more than a drop in the bucket when you consider that fact.

Re:from a 24 acre demonstration plant (2, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | about 5 years ago | (#28726291)

100 barrels per acre per year is NOT at ALL promising! To produce the current US consumption you would need ~137K square miles. For reference that would require the entire east coast be filled to ~55 miles inland.

Re:100,000 gallons = drop in the bucket (SSIA) (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 5 years ago | (#28724267)

I suspect it's a "plan B" option for DOW if carbon taxes go through. They can easily ramp up production if it's economically feasible.

Ok for a tech demonstration (4, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | about 5 years ago | (#28723223)

But less than 2,400 barrels of ethanol (~1,600 barrels of oil) is such a small drop in the bucket as to be laughable (The US consumes ~21M barrels a day!). Of course scale it up and feed it the output of some GW scale coal plants and you are starting to make at least some impact.

If this sucker gets out! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723327)

"Instead, Algenol has chosen to genetically enhance certain strains of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, to convert as much carbon dioxide as possible into ethanol using a process that doesn't require harvesting to collect the fuel."

The non engineered algae only produces ethanol anaerobically, this GM sucker makes it and it seeps out (no harvesting needed) with C02 and sunlight...

Wonder what happens if some of it gets out in the wild, you would have your 21M barrels and lots of drunken fish.

Hold on didnt we see your cousin in Alaska earlier today?

Re:Ok for a tech demonstration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723499)

DOOD, it's a TEST plant. If it works and is profitable you'll see these plants (probably bigger ones) pop up all over.

Re:Ok for a tech demonstration (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 5 years ago | (#28723807)

21M barrels a day? That's ~14 Barrels for each man/woman/child in the country. At $33 a barrel that's $168,000 a year per person, or about 4 times the national average household income.

Re:Ok for a tech demonstration (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 5 years ago | (#28723835)

whoops, forget all that, calculated it wrong. .05 Barrels a day per person and ~$600 a year. More reasonable.

Re:Ok for a tech demonstration (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | about 5 years ago | (#28724667)

Still misleading, because a usage is not evenly distributed among the population.

It'll probably blow your mind that you get more than 1 barrel of refined product out of one barrel of crude, too.

But this is a good hedge bet. We have algae biodiesel, TDP diesel, cellulosic ethanol, and now algae ethanol.

No single tech will solve our petroleum needs, but the more diverse our options the closer we get to energy sustainability.
=Smidge=

Re:Ok for a tech demonstration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723897)

But less than 2,400 barrels of ethanol (~1,600 barrels of oil) is such a small drop in the bucket as to be laughable (The US consumes ~21M barrels a day!). Of course scale it up and feed it the output of some GW scale coal plants and you are starting to make at least some impact.

Yes but say 10,000 plants did the same. You'd be talking about 24 million barrels a year which may only be one day of oil use but that's still attractive for a wasted source of energy. Want a single solution? We obvious use a lot of sources now. Even "fossil fuels" are made of oil, coal and natural gas. People want one solution because it keeps things simple. The problem is then you depend on one source which is dangerous. I lived through the oil embargo and it wasn't fun. Better to have a 100 sources so loosing a few hardly causes a ripple. More sources also decentralizes things so corporate control is less of an issue. I've been a big proponent of using excess and over ripe fruits and high sugar vegitables for alcohol. Only a few million barrels a year? Yes it won't replace oil but it could be another. I know from experience there are millions of fruit trees on private property that are never harvested a year. If people simply harvest the fruit and turned it over to a recycling center it could mean millions of barrels a year. The whole point is there are vast sources of untapped energy out there. People just need to decide it's worth a little effort to make use of the micro sources.

Proof of concept? (2, Informative)

mcrbids (148650) | about 5 years ago | (#28723945)

When considering new technology, scale is largely irrelevant. For a proof-of-concept, 2,400 barrels is not much more or less useful than 240 or 2.4 million, since even at the latter level, it's more an indication of how well funded the project is than it is an indication of the usefulness of the technology.

The questions are:

1) Can it be done?

2) Can it be done cheaply enough?

After those two questions are answered with "yes", then scale is largely a matter of getting sufficient capital, and working out the mechanics.

Re:Proof of concept? (1)

afidel (530433) | about 5 years ago | (#28724937)

Yes, but you won't know the answer to your second question until you have operated a plant at (or near) commercial scales which this obviously isn't. That's why I said it's a nice technology demonstration, it's nothing like a test plant. It's more an intermediate step between the test-tube and a pilot plant.

Butanol needed, not ethanol (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28724247)

They need to make Butanol [wikipedia.org] instead of ethanol. It's a much better motor fuel.

Re:Ok for a tech demonstration (1)

thesandtiger (819476) | about 5 years ago | (#28725419)

Actually, I could see it becoming interesting if it were made smaller-scale and efficient enough to have individual fuel producing systems for rural and distant suburban dwellers. Enhance public transit in cities (reducing the need for cars) where land is scarce, and it might be very well worth it for places where driving is essential and the grid is less reliable.

Another (small but important) contribution to the many different ways we can kick fossil fuel dependence and go with renewable sources.

Re:Ok for a tech demonstration (1)

Hubbell (850646) | about 5 years ago | (#28725685)

Fuck coal plants. We need to invest heavily in nuclear and educate the public on the fact that they're pretty much the safest form of largescale electricity production we have, and start building shittons of fast breeder reactors as they can consume up to, I believe, 90% of their waste as fuel and what's eventually left over is only radioactive for like 5-10 years, and even then the level of radiation it emits is laughable.

100,000 gallons annually? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723225)

Just a test facility, I suppose. Does it scale? 'cause we're gonna need these by the 1000s.

Pour me another glass (4, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | about 5 years ago | (#28723245)

of that pondscum whiskey.

Novell? (1)

I_Can't_Fly (1442225) | about 5 years ago | (#28723249)

Sorry. Read that as "Novell Algae Fuel Farming Gets Big Backing" and thought it a good question to ask if it ran Linux.

Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (5, Interesting)

wonkavader (605434) | about 5 years ago | (#28723265)

From TFA: "Every gallon of ethanol made creates one gallon of fresh water out of salt water."

This sounds interesting. If this can be cheaply scaled up, it sounds like coastal towns all over the developing world would want to become gas providers for more inland towns -- it solves their water problem at the same time as it solves their cash flow problem.

I suspect there is a lot of distillation in the process as well, to purify the alcohol. So this sort of system would couple well with hot equator sun and passive solar systems.

All this makes me wonder: how much human waste can you pour into the system to fertilize the algae? Can this system be used to solve that problem, too?

And what do you do with the algae? Once you have a full tank, you just want to maintain the status quo, but the algae will continue to reproduce. Could the excess turn into an animal feed?

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#28723465)

I assume that TFA wouldn't lie about something as verifiable as the freshwater production thing; but I'd like to have a better idea of how exactly that happens. I don't remember any notable quantity of salt being consumed in any aspect of photosynthesis or biological ethanol production.

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (3, Informative)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 5 years ago | (#28723629)

Nothing quite so exotic- the salt is going to end up a toxic byproduct of this process. The rest is just solar-based distillation- salt water + algae + sun -> fresh water + ethanol, which is then further distilled down into it's component parts.

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (3, Insightful)

Zerth (26112) | about 5 years ago | (#28724869)

I'm sure the EPA or other agency has an "allowable salinity" restriction on water dumped into the ocean. If it is less than, say, double the normal salinity, they'll probably just stick it back in the ocean.

Otherwise, they'll probably sell it as "Organic sea salt, purified by cute widdle ocean organisms".

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (1)

OrigamiMarie (1501451) | about 5 years ago | (#28725795)

"Organic sea salt, purified by cute widdle genetically modified ocean organisms".

There, fixed that . . . ah whatever, anyway it will be banned in Europe.

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (1)

Zerth (26112) | about 5 years ago | (#28726349)

They are doing this in Florida. People in Florida would drink petroleum from the genitals of an GM anthropomorphic bull if it used a song-and-dance routine to explain that they were really drinking "cow's milk"(wink).

Not that all people in Florida are stupid, just that the IQ of the population resembles the graph of the "long tail" instead of a normal distribution.

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (1)

n dot l (1099033) | about 5 years ago | (#28724355)

I assume that TFA wouldn't lie about something as verifiable as the freshwater production thing; but I'd like to have a better idea of how exactly that happens

Probably a byproduct of the distillation process they use to extract the ethanol.

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723631)

So I can poo in it?

Re:Water/Coastal towns, sewage, animal feed? (1)

allawalla (1030240) | about 5 years ago | (#28723663)

Cyanobacteria not algae, in most instances it isn't good for animals to eat...

The 3 Steps (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723277)

1)make a carbon-dioxide sequestering device.
2)transfer CO2 to algae ethanol farm
3)profit!!!

Re:The 3 Steps (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 5 years ago | (#28724517)

It sounds like they are using waste CO2 from one of their chemical plants so the CO2 sequestering device wouldn't be necessary.

$1.25 a gallon? (2, Insightful)

AnotherBlackHat (265897) | about 5 years ago | (#28723331)

... using a process that doesn't require harvesting to collect the fuel.

Most of the reasonable plans I've read involve growing algae in ponds, sucking it up, and running it through a press (rather like an olive press)
The expensive part of the operation isn't the press - it's the pond.
As I recall, NREL recommended holes in the ground lined with plastic, and the pond was still the most expensive part.

$1.25 a gallon is about twice the spot price for methanol, and $1.25 isn't what they can do, it's what they hope they can do eventually.

Color me unimpressed.

Re:$1.25 a gallon? (2, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | about 5 years ago | (#28723713)

I'd say that $1.25/gallon is pretty impressive, given the scale they're talking about, which is tiny. 100,000 gallons of ethanol/year? Production plants being built today have anything from one hundred to, in one case one thousand times that capacity.

Why do people build big plants? To achieve economies of scale. If you built a back yard reactor that produced a thousand gallons of ethanol per year at a cost of $1.25, that would be darn impressive. Clearly, this thing is a model.

Re:$1.25 a gallon? (3, Insightful)

tsotha (720379) | about 5 years ago | (#28724385)

$1.25 a gallon is about twice the spot price for methanol, and $1.25 isn't what they can do, it's what they hope they can do eventually.

But remember they're using C02 as an input to the process. If cap and trade goes through this would allow them to sell or avoid buying carbon credits for other processes. I think C02 is a relatively common by-product in industrial chemistry. $1.25 isn't too bad if the cost of one of the inputs is negative.

Also, don't underestimate the value of a continuous process. The big knock on batch processing isn't the cost of the press, but rather the complication (and cost) it adds to scaling the process. It's the biggest reason we see all those little pilot projects that seem promising but never go anywhere.

Re:$1.25 a gallon? (1)

fatmatt_oz (680839) | about 5 years ago | (#28724863)

As far as I'm aware capturing and cleaning CO2 as an industrial byproduct is nowhere near as cheap as getting the stuff from the odd hole in the ground (occasionally people drilling for oil & gas stumble across something pure enough to be used for other purposes, I've a vague recollection of a helium well in Australia (needs to be refined) and another one that produces almost pure CO2). I reckon they'll take the cheapest source of CO2 that's clean enough to not screw up the process, ie kill the cyanobacteria. I doubt the CO2 would be a negative cost or free.

Re:$1.25 a gallon? (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 5 years ago | (#28725003)

It's negative in the sense that with cap and trade it's going to cost companies money to release C02 into the atmosphere. A company like Dow makes lots of different kinds of industrial chemicals, and C02 is a common byproduct. Of course, eventually that C02 would be released into the atmosphere by whomever buys the biodiesel. But presumably someone else is paying for the carbon offset at that point.

If this thing is really true ... (2, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 5 years ago | (#28723389)

... this could turn out to be the one that will allow us to tell the OPEC to go drink their own oil.

Re:If this thing is really true ... (1)

tsotha (720379) | about 5 years ago | (#28724417)

It's not going to be even close to price-competitive with oil, at least in the foreseeable future. So I doubt it will have much effect short of major governmental playing-field-tilting.

Where's the downside? (5, Insightful)

Gre7g (801284) | about 5 years ago | (#28723395)

So, we could hook up the CO2 exhaust from a coal-fired plant, use that to grow algae, and then turn algae into fuel? And as a "dreadful" side-effect, we get clean water from sea water?

Greenhouse gas reduction, renewable fuel, and fresh water...

Why aren't we focusing everything we have on such a process? It sounds too good to be true.

Re:Where's the downside? (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 5 years ago | (#28723647)

What do we do with the excess salt?

Re:Where's the downside? (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | about 5 years ago | (#28723869)

Dump it back in the ocean?

Re:Where's the downside? (1)

jhfry (829244) | about 5 years ago | (#28723877)

Put it back in the ocean. Any water that was extracted will end up there eventually. Even if it didn't it would be difficult to raise the salinity of the oceans by any measurable amount. If that were ever a concern, just flush the the salt into the ocean with the fresh water collected and have zero net salinity change.

Re:Where's the downside? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723953)

Margeritas.

Re:Where's the downside? (1)

rpmonkey (840379) | about 5 years ago | (#28724509)

"Sea Salt [wikipedia.org] , obtained by the evaporation of seawater, is used in cooking and cosmetics."

Re:Where's the downside? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28725397)

What do we do with the excess salt?

PURE NaCl? Oh, come on man... If that's the worst byproduct of this, we're home free.

About 10,000 different things as a catalyst and at least one or two more as the single ingredient.

Deicing Road salt
Caustic soda
Bleach
Paint
Fertilizer
Food processing
Drugs
Cosmetics
Sodium sulfate
EXPLOSIVES
Solid rocket fuel

Almost anything to do with production of latex:
Tires
Latex gloves
Boots
Synthetic rubber

Re:Where's the downside? (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 5 years ago | (#28723893)

We have several variations of it. We normally call it solar power though.

Re:Where's the downside? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 5 years ago | (#28725891)

"Greenhouse gas reduction"

I doubt it...

Before: Coal - Power Plant - CO2 in atmosphere.
After: Coal - Power Plant - CO2 - Algae - Fuel - Combustion - CO2 in atmosphere.

Watch Out! (1)

crsuperman34 (1599537) | about 5 years ago | (#28723433)

Man oh man, you guys have done it now. Burnin' up the the Rougarou's swamp gas is really going to upset him...

Welcome to our next ecological disaster (5, Funny)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 5 years ago | (#28723441)

1) Dow makes magic algae.
2) Economic pressure forces Dow to make algae directly excrete ethanol in high concentrations (about 20%).
3) Algae gets into environment
4) Algae kills almost anything near it.
5) Algae lives on rotting stuff it killed.
6) Water around algae becomes flammable, sparked by lightning. Fires ensue.
7) Worldwide, waterways and oceans become alcohol laden.
8) Dolphin's social life improves remarkably.
9) Whales start singing a *lot* more.
10) Seals start coming ashore, seeking bars when their algae supply runs out. Barfights ensue. The ACLU gets involved. Punching seals is declared a hate crime.
11) Growing algae becomes illegal. Everyone grows it anyway. California semi-legalizes "medicinal algae."

Re:Welcome to our next ecological disaster (1, Funny)

lexical (842527) | about 5 years ago | (#28723759)

1) Dow makes magic algae.
2) Economic pressure forces Dow to make algae directly excrete ethanol in high concentrations (about 20%).
3) Algae gets into environment
...
10) Seals start coming ashore, seeking bars when their algae supply runs out. Barfights ensue. The ACLU gets involved. Punching seals is declared a hate crime.
11) Growing algae becomes illegal. Everyone grows it anyway. California semi-legalizes "medicinal algae."

12) ???
13) Profit!!!

Re:Welcome to our next ecological disaster (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 5 years ago | (#28723817)

10.1) So these two baby seals walk into a club...

Re:Welcome to our next ecological disaster (1)

JackSpratts (660957) | about 5 years ago | (#28724781)

yeh, who needs jesus when we have dow turning the seas into seagrams.

Re:Welcome to our next ecological disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28725855)

So... does this mean that environmental groups will get pissed when each new generation of algae is created, tested, recognized as a unique species and wiped out? Do these even qualify to be covered under the Endangered Species Act?

I love how the environmentalist scream here (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723491)

They finally get what they claim they want.
Cleaning the environment while producing fuel and fresh water.
Yet from the reaction, you'd think someone is trying to destroy the planet.
If anyone has any doubt left that radical environmentalists are for crippling the economy rather than saving the planet, read the first post in the article. The guy laments that this must not impede the phasing out of the Internal Combustion Engine...
So sad...

Is this based in Alaska? (1)

InfinityWpi (175421) | about 5 years ago | (#28723515)

I have a theory that if this goes wrong, and some of the stuff gets out into the ocean, you get a blob like the one they're tracking up there...

Re:Is this based in Alaska? (1)

Lost Penguin (636359) | about 5 years ago | (#28725329)

Uh, now they tell us about the algae, now that they had a leak go sentient in the arctic.

Coming To A Theater Near YOU: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28723581)

Attack of the Exploding Algae.

> Hey, Dude, got a cigarette.

>> No, Asshole, buy your own tobacco

> I got a cigar, Asswipe. Got a match

>> Sure, Asshole. Here. Kkaaaabbbbboooooommmmm.

Yours In Comediy,
Trout Kilgore [youtube.com]

I feel compelled to point out that it's not algae (1)

Brian Feldman (350) | about 5 years ago | (#28723941)

Cyanobacteria has some similarities with algae, but it is not algae [wikipedia.org] .

It actually can be quite toxic, to boot. This doesn't seem all that ecologically-minded to me....

Cyanobacteria aren't even close to algae. (1)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | about 5 years ago | (#28724449)

As a couple of other people have pointed out, these are cyanobacteria [wikipedia.org] , not "algae". Except for being microscopic and having photosynthesis, cyanobacteria are a long way from algae, although they used to be called "blue-green algae" before biologists figured out what they really were. They're actually a type of bacteria and are a very ancient group, possibly as old as 3 billion years or more. They are single-celled prokaryotes [wikipedia.org] with a very simple cell structure which has no nucleus [wikipedia.org] and lacks significant organelles [wikipedia.org] . Algae [wikipedia.org] , on the other hand, are eukaryotes [wikipedia.org] , which evolved much later; they have a much more complex cell with both a nucleus and organelles. Among these organelles are chloroplasts [wikipedia.org] , which do the actual photosynthesis in algae cells, and in fact these chloroplasts may be descended from cyanobacteria which became internal symbionts [wikipedia.org] within eukaryotic cells.

Algae + Trees = Profit (1)

Thail (1124331) | about 5 years ago | (#28724535)

Combine this with those artificial trees that pull CO2 from the air. Use Artificial Trees to gather CO2 from the air, Use CO2 to feed Algae (along with salt water), Use algae to create ethanol AND potable water, use ethanol to create fuel, burn fuel for transportation, capture released CO2 using artificial trees Charge for water and ethanol fuel add a CO2 collection tax to car and fuel purchases Profit ???

How to increase algae yield for free (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28725527)

Simple: You put dead people into the tanks!

There will be a small additional cost for taking care of the mold-men that rise from the vats.

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