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Company Claims Potential Magnification In Bio Fuel Production

ScuttleMonkey posted about 5 years ago | from the burn-it-all dept.

260

duanes1967 writes "A company called Joule Biotech claims to have a breakthrough in biofuel production. Their process can create 20,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year at a cost of about $50 per barrel. 'Algae-based biofuels come closest to Joule's technology, with potential yields of 2,000 to 6,000 gallons per acre; yet even so, the new process would represent an order of magnitude improvement. What's more, for the best current algae fuels technologies to be competitive with fossil fuels, crude oil would have to cost over $800 a barrel says Philip Pienkos, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. Joule claims that its process will be competitive with crude oil at $50 a barrel. In recent weeks, oil has sold for $60 to $70 a barrel.'"

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It's always a startup... (4, Insightful)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 5 years ago | (#28842719)

... begging for money that comes up with these "revolutionary" breakthroughs. Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

Whenever there is a lot of government money flowing into an industry, there is never a shortage of snake-oil salesmen lining up to grab a piece of it. There really isn't a limit to what they will say they can do.

Re:It's always a startup... (4, Funny)

Andr T. (1006215) | about 5 years ago | (#28842825)

Nah, say whatever you want, skeptic. When my ORBO [steorn.com] arrives, I'll be the one laughing!

Re:It's always a startup... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28842827)

We'll never get anywhere with that attitude, negative nancy!

Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 5 years ago | (#28842829)

... begging for money that comes up with these "revolutionary" breakthroughs. Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

Whenever there is a lot of government money flowing into an industry, there is never a shortage of snake-oil salesmen lining up to grab a piece of it. There really isn't a limit to what they will say they can do.

You may want to inform Exxon Mobil that their recent six hundred million dollar investment [gas2.org] is snake oil.

Big oil's investing in this, I wouldn't write it off as snake oil:

  • ExxonMobil - Venter, Synthetic Genomics
  • BP - just announced a partnership with DuPont to develop butanol; Qteros, Verenium [gas2.org] , Synthetic Genomics
  • Valero - purchased seven VeraSun plants out of bankruptcy earlier this year; Qteros, ZeaChem, Solix
  • Marathon - Mascoma [gas2.org] (also backed by GM)
  • Shell - Iogen
  • Total - Gevo [gas2.org]

Re:Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (1, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | about 5 years ago | (#28842871)

You may want to inform Exxon Mobil that their recent six hundred million dollar investment is snake oil.

If it is, they likely already know, and consider it worth it to look "green" or to take advantage of some sort of incentive program.

Investment by big oil doesn't mean anything either way.

big oil is not stupidly evil (4, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | about 5 years ago | (#28843239)

They are greedy. they are in a for-profit business. Once we realize that green investments by most of the big oil companies is not some show to appear green, and really a strategy for them to continue operating refineries it all starts to make sense. If the big oil companies have to buy unprocessed biofuels from New Mexico and Arizona instead of shipping it from the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East, who cares. As long as the fuel is good and cheap they can build or convert refineries to process it. Ultimately the big oil companies are in the business of refining matter to make it usable in an internal combustion engine.

Given the assumption that big oil wants to survive (and thrive) and continue profiting. The myth that big oil wants to suppress innovation because they have some sort of warped ideology where they hate the Earth and the environment. (sorry, capitalists are nothing like the villains on the Captain Planet cartoon from the 1990s)

While I have no proof, I think an argument could be made where big oil does suppress, or at least has motive to suppress, innovation that makes it easy for any individual or small start up to transport people and materials without the the use of products from big oil's refineries. This sort of conspiracy at least fits big oil serving their own self interests. The other conspiracies where big oil spends a billion dollars on "green" investments as a PR stunt seems far less likely, because it uses money so inefficiently.

Re:big oil is not stupidly evil (3, Interesting)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 5 years ago | (#28843475)

They are greedy. they are in a for-profit business. Once we realize that green investments by most of the big oil companies is not some show to appear green, and really a strategy for them to continue operating refineries it all starts to make sense.

This is woefully uninformed. They are in business to turn a profit *this quarter*. There is no commitment to "future shareholders", only current ones, so no the company has little incentive to do anything aside from very short term "investment". Think of it this way, if it boosts PR enough to avoid a public outrage that leads to a windfall profits tax being levied the next time oil gets above $100 a barrel, it will have been worth billions. Considering the current political climate, that is not a far fetched scheme at all.

Re:big oil is not stupidly evil (4, Insightful)

Bruiser80 (1179083) | about 5 years ago | (#28843757)

If that is true, why are wells with lots of available oil across the country not being pumped? If it were true that they weren't looking towards the future, they would not consider this "easy" oil an asset for future use. It would be cheaper to pump that oil now than to pay $70/bbl from the mid-east. However, in the future, that oil could be pumped when the mid-east is charging $200/bbl.

If they perceive a shortage of oil, which would lead to inflated prices, it would be in their best interests to determine a way of getting oil. If one path leads to profits now, but bankruptcy in 10 years, that's not good business. The most profitable path is the one that is sustainable for the company.

Re:Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (1, Funny)

Hadlock (143607) | about 5 years ago | (#28842935)

Exxon? Investing in something? Never! Heck with what 10 billion a year in research investments, all you have to do is start a website saying you're doing bio-fuel research with a valid mailing address somewhere on the homepage, and more likely than not Exxon will just mail you a check for $2500.

Re:Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (3, Interesting)

Anachragnome (1008495) | about 5 years ago | (#28843077)

Big Oil is investing in such tech because it will continue to squeeze revenue out of the distribution systems the oil companies have spent many billions creating.

They will do anything to keep people from switching to electrical grid/self-generation systems for their energy needs. They really don't care WHAT they are selling as long as they can do it at a profit and do it from the existing stations. There is an entire industry based simply on the middle-man aspect of distribution. People make money from it, so it remains. But it also cost the consumer more, in the long run.

The electrical grid already exists, is in the public realm for the most part, and the middlemen have no part in it. Granted, the electrical grid needs some improvement in order for everyone to switch to it for ALL our energy needs, but it is not, by any means, impossible.

Biofuels do NOT solve many problems. In fact, they simply create new ones.

And, yeah. Snake oil. Hrmm...now that I think about it...I wonder what the energy storage of a snake is...

Re:Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (1)

Dravik (699631) | about 5 years ago | (#28843219)

Granted, the electrical grid needs some improvement in order for everyone to switch to it for ALL our energy needs

You sir, are a master of understatement. It would take dramatic increases in both electrical production and distribution to move everything to electrical power. Without using nuclear power it won't happen.

Re:Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | about 5 years ago | (#28843553)

My personal belief is that if we LEARNED from Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl and made the NEEDED modifcations to nuclear facilities--high-level redundancy, human error modification/compensation, etc., that nuclear energy is probably the way to go for supplementing renewable resources. Until we find something better.

One thing you may not be taking into account is that small-scale energy production(solar, wind) can be located closer to where it is used, requiring far less infrastructure to move the energy around(as well as minimize transmission loss/inefficiency).

Re:Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (4, Interesting)

amRadioHed (463061) | about 5 years ago | (#28843587)

Biofuels solve two major problems, they are carbon neutral and they are not dependent on the middle east. Are the problems they create worse than those?

Re:Uhh, Heavily Bought Into By Oil Industry (1)

nabsltd (1313397) | about 5 years ago | (#28843789)

It depends on whether you consider all the unintended consequences (e.g., the price of all foods having risen dramatically since the reduction of corn available for human consumption and as feed for animals) from promoting corn-based biofuels to be "worse" or not.

Since biofuels cost much more than gasoline per unit of energy provided, a better strategy would be to tax gasoline until it matches that cost, and hand that extra tax money to the corn growers to not sell their corn to biofuel production facilities. This would both reduce the demand for oil and reduce prices at the grocery store.

From TFA (0, Redundant)

mcgrew (92797) | about 5 years ago | (#28842861)

I don't know, it looks promising to me. From TFA:

Joule Biotechnologies grows genetically engineered microorganisms in specially designed photobioreactors. The microorganisms use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into ethanol or hydrocarbon fuels (such as diesel or components of gasoline). The organisms excrete the fuel, which can then be collected using conventional chemical-separation technologies.

If the new process, which has been demonstrated in the laboratory, works as well on a large scale as Joule Biotechnologies expects, it would be a marked change for the biofuel industry. Conventional, corn-grain-based biofuels can supply only a small fraction of the United States' fuel because of the amount of land, water, and energy needed to grow the grain. But the new process, because of its high yields, could supply all of the country's transportation fuel from an area the size of the Texas panhandle. "We think this is the first company that's had a real solution to the concept of energy independence," says Bill Sims, CEO and president of Joule Biotechnologies. "And it's ready comparatively soon."

The company plans to build a pilot-scale plant in the southwestern U.S. early next year, and it expects to produce ethanol on a commercial scale by the end of 2010. Large-scale demonstration of hydrocarbon-fuels production would follow in 2011.

So far, the company has raised "substantially less than $50 million," Sims says, from Flagship Ventures and other investors, including company employees. The firm is about to start a new round of financing to scale up the technology.

Emphasis mine. Fifty bucks per barrel would have been WAY low compared to oil prices last summer.

Re:From TFA (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#28842971)

And it would be uneconomic with the $25 oil that we had at the beginning of this year.

Any technology that can put a significant amount of fuel onto the market (say 5 or 10 percent of the current market) needs to be able to compete with prices below what oil is currently trading at before it will attract significant capital.

Re:From TFA (1, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | about 5 years ago | (#28843403)

We simply need to tax fuel enough to establish a price floor that will encourage alternative investments. The Europeans are already there so now the US just needs to start increasing the tax rate at say 25c per gallon per quarter and we will be there in a few years. You'd need to increase the standard deduction to balance out the regressive nature of such a use based tax but it would encourage alternative fuel generation AND curb demand at the same time, a win-win situation.

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843651)

Talk about flawed liberal logic. If it was all about the price of a gallon of gas, then there would already be algae/bio based fuels used in Europe. It's not and there aren't. It would be cheaper and better for everyone involved if the Socialists that want to remake America would just move to the country they think is so great.

Your win/win situations sounds like something a professor (or President) with no real world experience would come up with, like tackling the tonsillectomy problem that is driving up health care costs.

Re:From TFA (3, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about 5 years ago | (#28843739)

We simply need to tax fuel enough to establish a price floor that will encourage alternative investments. The Europeans are already there so now the US just needs to start increasing the tax rate

Why?

Why do you automatically assume that if the Europeans do something it must be right for every place on earth?

If this breakthrough is for real, and it was developed in Cambridge Massachusetts USA, with the tax structure we have today, and nothing like it has appeared out or Europe with all its horrendous taxes, then where is the basis for your euro-centric view?

How will pouring more tax dollars down social rat-holes help solve an energy crisis?

Do I necessarily believe this announcements? No, not yet. Does that mean I should run to Europe and adopt every tax-grab they dream up? Of course not.

Re:From TFA (1)

grassy_knoll (412409) | about 5 years ago | (#28842977)

Saw that myself.

My inner cynic reminds me that:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.
-Andy Finkel.

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28842979)

We know the process works. We don't know that it works cheaply enough. The time to be convinced that it does is when they're selling it.

Re:From TFA (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | about 5 years ago | (#28842993)

I've seen plenty of perpetual motion devices which have been demonstrated in the laboratory. Until it's a reliable peer-reviewed and reproduced experiment, it holds little to no weight.

Re:From TFA (1)

sgage (109086) | about 5 years ago | (#28843529)

"Joule Biotechnologies grows genetically engineered microorganisms in specially designed photobioreactors. The microorganisms use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into ethanol or hydrocarbon fuels (such as diesel or components of gasoline). The organisms excrete the fuel, which can then be collected using conventional chemical-separation technologies."

What kind of microorganism? Is the result ethanol or hydrocarbon? These are two wildly different metabolic pathways. The organisms excrete fuel? So do I, especially after eating a lot of beans.

This whole thing smacks of a fund-raising scam.

Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28842899)

Just so long as I don't have to change my lifestyle, these companies can and should do whatever they can!

Re:It's always a startup... (4, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 5 years ago | (#28843163)

... begging for money that comes up with these "revolutionary" breakthroughs. Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

Are you saying we were supposed to learn that revolutionary breakthroughs are ALWAYS snake-oil?

Re:It's always a startup... (3, Interesting)

vertinox (846076) | about 5 years ago | (#28843245)

Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

Invest early?
Sell often?

No seriously, if you could have invested in Google's IPO you would have been a rich man today.

The problem with the tech boom is that people were investing in bad ideas, not good ideas with bad results. You know... Like Pets.com

Re:It's always a startup... (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about 5 years ago | (#28843531)

I clearly remember google's IPO, and unlike most other IPO's, it was much more open [cnn.com] - in the format of an auction - so that any of us could invest (as opposed to most IPOs offered only to preferred customers of big investment houses). The other thing I remember is that everybody in my research group thought it was over-hyped and over-priced, including me. Oops :)

Why not save all the time and confusion (5, Funny)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 5 years ago | (#28842785)

Just brand this as "$50/barrel oil derived from harvesting common, readily available snakes and processing them in a revolutionary (and certainly patent-pending) way".

Re:Why not save all the time and confusion (1)

AttillaTheNun (618721) | about 5 years ago | (#28843627)

1) Harvest snakes 2) Press them 3) Sell "snake oil" 4) Profit!

Re:Why not save all the time and confusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843745)

Step 3 is always "Patent"!!!

Scan to drive their stock up. (1)

charliemopps11 (1606697) | about 5 years ago | (#28842889)

Scan to drive their stock up. Nothing more.

Re:Scan to drive their stock up. (2, Informative)

karnal (22275) | about 5 years ago | (#28842983)

Scan to drive their stock up. Nothing more.

Let's assume for a moment that instead of "Scan" you meant "Scam".

From the company's about page: Founded in 2007 by Flagship Ventures, Joule is privately held and headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Last I checked, "privately held" == "no stock price."

Re:Scan to drive their stock up. (1)

garcia (6573) | about 5 years ago | (#28843189)

"no stock price."

Yet.

Re:Scan to drive their stock up. (2, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 5 years ago | (#28843261)

Not completely true. Privately held companies do stock issues to raise money. They generally set a price for their stock and then see who will buy it at that price. So a big press release right before an offering might let them set a higher price and sell less stock and make the same money or set a higher price, sell the same amount of stock and make more money.

Re:Scan to drive their stock up. (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 5 years ago | (#28843271)

So in that case, replace "drive their stock up" with "convince an idiot venture capitalist to give them money".

Re:Scan to drive their stock up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843397)

Please don't squash the ideals and world views of idiots with your facts. It makes them drool with anger and that actually causes the process to work less efficiently.

Re:Scan to drive their stock up. (1)

bcmm (768152) | about 5 years ago | (#28843357)

Everybody knows you rushed your post because you thought you'd be first.

Just sayin'.

Dubious Maximus (2, Informative)

Yergle143 (848772) | about 5 years ago | (#28842909)

Re:"If the new process, which has been demonstrated in the laboratory, works as well on a large scale as Joule Biotechnologies expects, it would be a marked change for the biofuel industry." I've been attending some of the algae biomass workshops in the SD area. There's a lot of excitement out there. But the problems of engineering and economics dwarf the problems in the lab. ï Don't give this crowd your hard earned scratch until they've gone beyond pilot plant stage. For a thorough review of the problems involved how about this position paper from a 40 year veteran of the field. http://www.spirulinasource.com/bios/johnbenemann.html [spirulinasource.com] ---537

Bullshit (1, Insightful)

Bombula (670389) | about 5 years ago | (#28842927)

The energy contained in 40,000 gallons of B85 biodiesel = 40,000 gallons x 133,000 BTU/gallon x .000293 kwh/BTU = 1.55 MM kwh

The energy falling on one acre of land ~= 5kwh/m2/day x 365 days/year x 4046 m2/acre = 7.4 MM kwh/year/acre

So they're capturing 21% of ALL solar energy falling on each acre of land in their fuel. The efficiency limit for photosynthesis is around 15%, which isn't calculated on a per-acre basis, but on a molecular exposure basis. Even if you could cover each acre with pure chlorophyll, the conversion efficiency would not exceed 15%.

This is therefore a green scam, undoubtedly designed to temporarily pump the company's stock. The last big one I heard of to do this was Valcent Technology's subsidiary Global Green Solutions. Don't believe the hype, especially when it's physically impossible.

Re:Bullshit (4, Informative)

Bombula (670389) | about 5 years ago | (#28842973)

Oops, my bad, I read 40,000, not 20,000. So their actually at 10% efficiency, which while unlikely at least has the merit of not being theoretically impossible.

Re:Bullshit (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 5 years ago | (#28843059)

The energy falling on one acre of land ~= 5kwh/m2/day x 365 days/year x 4046 m2/acre = 7.4 MM kwh/year/acre

5kwh per m^2 per day? At what latitude? If that is on the high side, they are back on the theoretical impossible part of the field. In good old days we had simple perpetual motion machine inventors who attempted to violated the second law of thermodynamics. Not these snake oil men.

Re:Bullshit (2, Informative)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#28843377)

5kwh per m^2 per day? At what latitude? If that is on the high side, they are back on the theoretical impossible part of the field.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Us_pv_annual_may2004.jpg [wikipedia.org]

In southwest texas, 5 KWH per sq M is wildly pessimistic by around a factor of two. In western Washington state, it is wildly optimistic by a roughly equal factor of two.

Taking a wild guess based on my vast real world experience, a marketing weasel might just possibly use the "best obtainable" number available, and maybe round up all figures, giving around "ten" KWH per day and rounding up to about 16 or so MM KWH per year.

Re:Bullshit (1)

afidel (530433) | about 5 years ago | (#28843599)

5kWhr/m^2 is average for the globe. Flagstaff Arizona is closer to 6, Archorage is closer to 2.5, for a fairly complete list for the US see this [nrel.gov] page.

Re:Bullshit (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843061)

Oops, my bad, I read 40,000, not 20,000. So their actually at 10% efficiency, which while unlikely at least has the merit of not being theoretically impossible.

The new Karma Whore strategy:

1. Form a strongly/zealous worded numbers heavy post with math attacking the article.
2. Rebut your own argument with a correction showing that the article is entirely feasible.
3. ???
4. Post at +1!

Your ballpark is right... (1)

nweaver (113078) | about 5 years ago | (#28843013)

I did the same rough pencil and paper calculations, and the efficiency claim they are making is 10%+, which really would be amazingly outstanding if possible, but is so high I'd find it highly doubtful.

I'd be happy with 2-5% efficiency with such a scheme.

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843019)

I think the article claimed 20,000 gallons per yer, not 40. - So that would be 11.5% efficiency.

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843167)

oops - wrong way - that gives 42%. Although, it doesn't really specify fuel energy.

Re:Bullshit (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843069)

If you use 20,000 gallons like the article said and suppose that it is ethanol (~76,000 BTU/gallon) you get around ~0.445 MM kwh.
Then the efficiency drops to around 6%, not 21%.

Re:Bullshit (1)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#28843507)

suppose that it is ethanol

With respect toward biofuel production, yeasts ferment ethanol in the dark, algaes photosynthesize oil in the light.

A direct photosynthesis route to make alcohol would be really cool. The longer the beer lays in the sunlight, the stronger it becomes...

Re:Bullshit (1)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#28843575)

Dang it! Surprise!

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/7135308.html [freepatentsonline.com]

Process for the production of ethanol from algae
United States Patent 7135308

Abstract:
The present invention describes a process for the production of ethanol by harvesting starch-accumulating filament-forming or colony-forming algae to form a biomass, initiating cellular decay of the biomass in a dark and anaerobic environment, fermenting the biomass in the presence of a yeast, and the isolating the ethanol produced. The present invention further relates to processing of the biomass remaining after ethanol production to recovering biodiesel starting materials and/or generation of heat and carbon dioxide via combustion.

probably more like 6% if its ethanol (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843105)

20000gal x 76000 btu/gal ethanol * .000293 kwh/btu => 0.445 MM kWh .445/7.4=> 0.0601 =>~~6% efficient

Re:Bullshit (1)

Thaelon (250687) | about 5 years ago | (#28843145)

Maybe they're somehow harvesting tidal forces too!

And uhh, maybe...wind! Yeah, Wind!

And do you know they haven't got some sort of hot, biotechy geothermal harvesting mechanism going?

Re:Bullshit (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843201)

Your equation relies solely on the assumption that 100% of the energy derived from the algae is the result of captured sunlight. Do they not also require nutrients to grow? Would these nutrients not add to the overall energy content of the algae?

Re:Bullshit (1)

value_added (719364) | about 5 years ago | (#28843233)

Seems to me you're presenting a land-use argument. That certainly appropriate in certain contexts, but it's a bit of a narrow perspective, doncha think?

Re:Bullshit (2)

habaneroburger (184321) | about 5 years ago | (#28843277)

The article claims that they're making ethanol, not biodiesel (they compare their process to algae-generated biodiesel as the closest in terms of efficiency).

Given that, 20,000 gallons of ethanol x 76,100 BTU/gallon x .000293 kwh/BTU = 446,000 kwh, or about 6% efficiency. Could still be a scam, but more plausible.

Re:Bullshit (2, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | about 5 years ago | (#28843297)

> Don't believe the hype, especially when it's physically impossible.

Oh stop being so down on these guys. They are just trying to do the right thing, which is to ensure suckers don't keep their money. And Green is THE buzzword right now to part venture capitalists from sacks of cash, and if they won't fall for it the Government certainly will.

Every week or two Slashdot has one of these Green Energy Miracle stories. Because so many people want so hard to believe in Green Energy scammers will keep giving them what they want, something to believe. Doesn't have to be true, just like any other religion it just has to make the believer feel good enough to be happy to part with the cash.

Reality check. Been waiting decades for my flying car, but it ain't ever coming. Even if the tech could be solved the legal problems can't. Been waiting for fusion power about the same time. And it is still thirty years away. Same for 'green energy.' We know how to do it but it ever coming either because the only method that makes economic sense is politically incorrect.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Spy Hunter (317220) | about 5 years ago | (#28843319)

Wait, photosynthesis is only 15% efficient? You mean photovoltaic panels are already more efficient than plants? I had always assumed that nature had done much better than that.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Duradin (1261418) | about 5 years ago | (#28843697)

Photovoltaic panels didn't have the constraint of having to develop replication and maintenance capabilities. They engineered humans to figure that out for them.

Check my math (1)

sycodon (149926) | about 5 years ago | (#28843731)

Gallons of oil in a barrel = 44
Barrels used per day in U.S. = 20,680,000 in 2007
Barrels user per year = 7,548,200,000
Gallons used each Year = 332,120,800,000
Gallons per Acre per year for this process 20,000
Acres required to meet U.S demand for a year = 16,606,040

So it might not power all of America's cars (0)

ickleberry (864871) | about 5 years ago | (#28842937)

But that doesn't mean this type of biofuel production should be dismissed completely. Of course the best types of biofuel are those that turn an otherwise worthless waste product (like fish oil) into something usable. Even with the conversion of only waste-product to biofuels there should be more than enough fuel to run the world's chainsaws so future generations of kids can play Doom II the same way we did. Maybe a fair few diesel generators, farm equipment and a few lawnmowers (get off my lawn!) can also run off the stuff.

What's also needed is the production of single cylinder ethanol-only engines, these are much more efficient than the E85 ones you see around. With the low over-all volume of fuel these things consume it doesn't even matter if ethanol is a bit more expensive than ordinary gaz. Once we got good ultracapacitors and lithium titanate batteries electric cars will become feasible for most people but electric tractors and HGV's are a long way off, so better off trying to save the biofuels for those kind of machines.

Btw electric chainsaws and lawnmowers suck immeasurably compared to their gaz-powered counterparts but that has a lot to do with the effective 3kW limit placed on household electric motors. I'm sure there is quite a negative environmental impact associated with bringing three-phase to everyone's house especially in the countryside where it would be needed most.

Re:So it might not power all of America's cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843231)

Gas powered equipment might be more powerful, but it's silly to say the current electric lawnmowers (don't know about chainsaws) suck. I have an electric mower and it works just fine. For the typical suburban home, I can't imagine how a modern electric mower wouldn't work well enough.

Re:So it might not power all of America's cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843329)

it might work for you but not out here mang, I'd hate to have to cut the grass with an electric mower, its bad enough cutting around all sorts of little shrubs and borders without a tether and anything with a battery is just too asthmatic to even bother giving a second thought. You're also stuck at around 4HP with an electric mower which just isn't enough for any decent sized push mower even

Variant of algae? (2, Interesting)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 5 years ago | (#28842941)

As best as I can tell, their process is likely using genetically engineered algae that perform better than the best existing "natural" algae for biofuels production. There aren't really any other candidates for genetically engineered organisms for this particular goal.

The problem is that to be so efficient at biofuels production, such algae are at a severe competitive disadvantage to other less suitable species. Based on what I've seen so far, one of the biggest problems with algae biofuels production has been contamination of bioreactors with species that grow more easily but are not suitable for biodiesel production. If someone engineers algae to be even better at biofuels production, it'll likely make the contamination problem even harder to solve.

Re:Variant of algae? (1)

jayme0227 (1558821) | about 5 years ago | (#28843265)

So we should completely give up trying to fix one problem because we have other problems?

Both the relative lack of efficiency and the problem of contamination need to be solved in order for this to be a viable solution. If they solve the contamination issue, it may make it more difficult to increase efficiency, but if they solve the efficiency problem, they may have more difficulty solving the contamination problem. Since they both have to be solved, and, in all likelihood, each problem is just as likely to cause difficulties with the other, why does it matter which is solved first?

That said, I'm highly skeptical of this whole technology, and will continue to be skeptical until they show real evidence that they are capable of doing what they say they can do. In theory, I can design a plane that can fly faster than anything the military has now. In fact, the model airplane I've designed flies faster than any model military plane. Give ME money.

Re:Variant of algae? (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 5 years ago | (#28843331)

No, I just suspect that their system is more snake oil or will fail to deliver on promises as it's more susceptible to the main current barriers to microorganism-based biofuels.

They claim they're not using algae, which is interesting as bacteria that perform photosynthesis are pretty rare (and IANAB but I thought that in general, if a single-celled organism is capable of photosynthesis that it was considered algae.)

Re:Variant of algae? (1)

scorp1us (235526) | about 5 years ago | (#28843565)

Or to put it another way, the effort to create the fuel is the effort removed from its pursuit of survival, and therefore is at a competitive disadvantage to other naturally occurring organisms. Perhaps they could find a pair of organisms that work together to make an environment ideal for each other while being hostile to any other bacteria not contributing to the goal. While the efficiency may be reduced (the volume of "helpers") will decrease from the maximum production) you'll get more stable production over the long term, decreasing maintenance costs. I imagine an additional helper to create a toxin or hunts contamination down and destroys it leaving the producers to produce. Just a thought.

Re:Variant of algae? (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 years ago | (#28843643)

As best as I can tell, they've only done this in the lab, probably in closed reactors. So long as they stick with closed reactors, they should do fine. The problem then becomes getting CO2 into the mix; algae normally just gets it from air. But, until you filter it down to one micron, maybe less, air might contaminate your water.

The USDOE already determined that the best you could do with open ponds is to just let the local algaes drift in on the wind... but that doesn't tell us anything about closed reactor systems.

Re:Variant of algae? (1)

afidel (530433) | about 5 years ago | (#28843809)

The solution to that is simple, you put in an algicide that your GE strain is engineered to resist. This of course requires fairly heavy quantities of algicide and monitoring to make sure that you haven't crossed that trait into natural species (monitor and destroy any reactors containing cross species).

If this works (4, Funny)

xs650 (741277) | about 5 years ago | (#28842995)

we should name a unit of energy after the company

What about water? (1)

piojo (995934) | about 5 years ago | (#28843005)

I've been hearing that these ethanol energy plans would use more water than we have available. While that's certainly true in California (there's a drought here), I wonder if it's true in the rest of the US. If water becomes scarce, it's gonna get expensive, and it will no longer be feasible to use it to produce ethanol.

Re:What about water? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 5 years ago | (#28843299)

There's no shortage of water close to a big river like the Mississippi or Missouri.

Re:What about water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843641)

It's actually not an issue with algae production. Virtually all the water is recycled. A tiny amount is lost in the process but it shouldn't be a factor. Traditional power plants use far more water.

If only (1)

xrayspx (13127) | about 5 years ago | (#28843015)

If only we could actually run our cars on Snake Oil we'd be all set.

/I have no reason to believe Joule Biotech is "snake oil" fwiw.

My idea is even better!!!! (1)

tgatliff (311583) | about 5 years ago | (#28843031)

I have an idea that is 10x their idea!!!!.... Mine promises infinite energy for all (free in fact), and the best part is that it will be ready next week if you just give me $100 million dollars immediately... In fact, after the wire transfer goes thru, everything (at least for me) will be wonderful...

In short... Anytime you see a company talk about the next great thing, but they have not done it yet is just marketing for dollars... If their idea was so good, then why are they having to tell everyone about it... Also, If they have not built anything yet, then why have they already burned thru "substantially less than $50 million dollars"....

Re:My idea is even better!!!! (1)

Miseph (979059) | about 5 years ago | (#28843679)

They're trying to build a manufacturing plant and hire a staff to operate it, those things cost a lot of money, money that needs to be spent between now and when they actually are able to make money selling stuff.

Of all the possible things to point as as being suspicious, that one probably sucks the hardest.

Snake Oil? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843037)

The real question is, how many snakes can we raise per acre, and what's the average oil yield, per snake? Can snake oil become competitive with crude oil? *grin* If the snakes are green, does that make it truly green energy?

I suspect (1)

kenh (9056) | about 5 years ago | (#28843039)

The "secret recipe" has, as one of it's ingredients, just over 20,000 gallons of gasoline.

BTW, have you seen how E85 cuts engine performance? The EPA milage numbers for a late model E85 burning Suburban show 16 MPG on regular gas, and 12 MPG on E85, or put another way, it would take 1 1/3 gallons of E85 to travel as far as one gallon of fuel, more than eliminating the "savings" of using E85 in the first place.

1.333 of 0.85 gasoline equals about 1.13 gallons of gasoline to travel as far as one gallon of gasoline (and this "back of envelope calculation" ignores all the fuel consumed in creating the E85 fuel).

For thsoe of you slow with math it takes 1.333 gallons of E85, which is diluted so-called E0 (no Ethanol) gasoline to travel as far as 1 gallon of E0 fuel WITHOUT the Ethanol. And there is the subsidies, and the research money,and the taxc incentives, etc. What exactly was the point of E85 again?

Re:I suspect (1)

kenh (9056) | about 5 years ago | (#28843175)

I'M WRONG.

My BAD.

E85 is 85% Ethanol, not 15%...

I'll wear my Emily Litella ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3FnpaWQJO0 [youtube.com] ) moniker with shame for the rest of the day.

Re:I suspect (1)

ickleberry (864871) | about 5 years ago | (#28843383)

Not E85, but E100 in purpose built engines is where it's at. Burning ethanol in an engine that can also burn petrol does reduce performance but ethanol doesn't hold quite as much energy as petrol so while the actual volume of liquid consumed is larger, the amount of energy stays the same or decreases

Re:I suspect (1)

bcmm (768152) | about 5 years ago | (#28843411)

That is true for engine tuned for gasoline.

Engines designed to take advantage of ethanol can perform very well indeed on it (not that this makes bioethanol a good idea, considering land use and all).

a factor of 3 is NOT an order of magnitude (2, Interesting)

TheCarp (96830) | about 5 years ago | (#28843051)

> yet even so, the new process would represent an order of magnitude improvement.

Nope.

6,000 to 20,000 is somewhere around a factor of 3. An order of magnitude is a factor of 10. Or as wikipedia puts it:

"An order of magnitude difference between two values is a factor of 10. For example, the mass of the planet Saturn is 95 times that of Earth, so Saturn is two orders of magnitude more massive than Earth. Order of magnitude differences are called decades when measured on a logarithmic scale."

Still impressive.

-Steve

or I should have said.... (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about 5 years ago | (#28843153)

Ok.... 2,000 (taking the low) to 20,000 is an order of magnitude. However.... when the range is 2,000 to 6,000 well
thats a pretty big range. There is a factor of 3 between the low and high water marks for the previous tech. Does it seem fair to judge the new tech based solely on the low water mark for the old tech?

So essentially its anywhere from a factor of 3 to an order of magnitude. Which is, at least in my mind, not really as good as saying its "an order of magnitude"

-Steve

Re:a factor of 3 is NOT an order of magnitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843191)

I think they were talking about the low end for algae: 2,000, in which case they are correct.

Then again, the claim: "we are better than the worst of the best by an order of magnitude!" is rightly confusing and unimpressive.

Re:a factor of 3 is NOT an order of magnitude (1)

BassMan449 (1356143) | about 5 years ago | (#28843237)

Haven't you learned yet that proper comparisons always compare the low end of one product to the high end of the other.

Cold Fusion (0, Redundant)

halligas (782561) | about 5 years ago | (#28843075)

Hay guys. I made cold fusion work in my bathtub. Want to invest?

Furlongs per Hogshead (1)

R2.0 (532027) | about 5 years ago | (#28843127)

It isn't even snake-oil - it's dimensional sleight of hand. Basically, they are taking a reactor vessel and flattening it out so that they can use solar energy for input. And someone said "Hmmm, if we make this big enough, we can use really big words to describe it." So when they say "per acre", they mean "per X thousand reactors, which happen to fit on an acre of land".

This is to agriculture as cocaine is to chewing coca leaves - same raw materials, BIG difference in process, cost, and end product. It actually sounds like a good idea, but for the marketing deception.

My goodness. (1)

johncadengo (940343) | about 5 years ago | (#28843165)

First snakeoil... now algaeoil! What's next?

Good and Bad (1)

scorp1us (235526) | about 5 years ago | (#28843177)

Well, assuming there is a viable competitor to gasoline (never mind the somewhat dubious claims of photosynthetic efficiency, they are claiming over 10%, with photosynthesis being about 2%-4% in the real world) You will only manage to set the upper price for gas. Given that the gas is pretty much completely speculatively priced, the availability of a competition would be to put a practical price limit. This is good in that it ensures gas will be cheap. This is bad because it ensures gas will be cheap. It is counter to the environmental agenda which is to get us off of fossil fuels. Ensuring its cheapness is a step in the wrong direction. Furthermore, as pointed out by others, the algae needs a substantial amount of water and land to scale. This in and of itself is an environmental burden. I think the real answer lies with photo-electric solar cells. The only downside to those is the many greenhouse gasses used in their manufacture. I see that as temporary as we discover and invent to materials to make the cells out of.

Re:Good and Bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28843533)

Hopefully the algae gasoline will be more carbon neutral as the carbon is coming from the air instead of being dug up from under ground. If all gas was made this way, maybe there'd be no problem with gas being cheap.

Re:Good and Bad (1)

epine (68316) | about 5 years ago | (#28843623)

photosynthesis being about 2%-4% in the real world

Photosynthesis in a colonial atmosphere, with no green shift.

Wikipedia:

Actual plants' photosynthetic efficiency varies with the frequency of the light being converted, light intensity, temperature and proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere, and can vary from 0.1% to 8%

Why is it the plants reflect the most energy intensive portion of the visible light spectrum? Maybe they can't handle the heat?

Regarding this thread as a whole, why is it that scepticism is so often given a free ride? I don't think 10% is out of range for an engineered solution. It's the engineering, not the claimed parameters, most deserving of scepticism.

It isn't Algae... (3, Informative)

meerling (1487879) | about 5 years ago | (#28843213)

If you've read the article, you will note that it states specifically that it doesn't use algae.
It does say that the closest thing out there to what they do are ones that use algae.
When the first cars were built, the closest thing to them was the carriage, but automobiles didn't use horses to power them.


As to the people questioning as to whether they are using genetically engineered organisms, the article clearly states that they are.
Yes, your fuel may soon come from a genetically engineered non-algal microbe.
Sure, fine and all that, but I still want man portable fusion cells... Or maybe pocket antimatter. >^_^

Am I the only one? (1)

PingXao (153057) | about 5 years ago | (#28843349)

Am I the only one who doesn't even bother to read these "revolutionary energy breakthrough" stories? Seriously, I read them for a year or two back in the day, but stopped after that, and for the last 5 years I don't feel like I missed anything.

The only thing that makes me pay attention is when it's revealed these new startups are headed by the brother-in-law of some eleceted official who then attempts to get them a sweetheart deal on real estate, tax breaks, regulations, permits, etc.

Re:Am I the only one? (2, Interesting)

QuantumRiff (120817) | about 5 years ago | (#28843625)

The thing is, it has been happening, quietly in the background. I think it speaks well of may technologies that they are so hidden, and just work..

The US has the production capacity of over 2.5Billion gallons a year of BioDiesel [biodiesel.org] with another half billion gallons a year coming online in the next year.

So, if you pay attention, you are frustrated, because it doesn't seem to be coming fast enough, and if you go away for a few years and come back, you don't notice the differences, because they are baked into the system by then.

$50/barrel (1)

alizard (107678) | about 5 years ago | (#28843483)

with entirely transparent (i.e. entirely plastic or glass) bioreactors?

Remember that in the unlikely circumstance that this project goes to actual production, the most important ongoing cost of this project is going to be financing the capital investment which is proportional to the amount of capital going into this. So it isn't just the cost of the plastic or glass bioreactor megastructures, it's that cost times x. The numbers might pencil out at $50 minus costs of financing (though without seeing their spreadsheets, I have trouble believing that), but including financing?

IMO, story's bullshit until proven otherwise.

Comparable units please!!! (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | about 5 years ago | (#28843525)

Why not convert the numbers in the summary to how many barrels per acre/year, or how much money per gallon. When did adding the important units of measurement (and converting them all to the same base) become so difficult?

Produces 20,000 gallons per acre, at $50/barrel.
I got a car with a 18Gallon tank that gets 3.5L/100km. Oh, wait.. that makes no sense..

Re:Comparable units please!!! (1)

argee (1327877) | about 5 years ago | (#28843659)

At current fuel prices, this is half a million to two million dollars of "product" per year. I am in the wrong line of business. How do I get my acre in production? Or, put it another way, if my car(s) go through only 1,000 gallons a year, can I have a small greenhouse of only 2,000 square feet produce my fuel?

Will it hurt our engines less? (1)

WheelDweller (108946) | about 5 years ago | (#28843563)

Isn't this the stuff stranding folks at sea with bad (nautical) engines, caused by ethanol?

I sure hope I'm right; I'd like to think there was *anything* that could touch the effeciency of fossil fuels, but do we have land available for growing both food and fuel?

Comes with FREE ecological disaster potential (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 5 years ago | (#28843579)

Hydrocarbon producing algae escaping into the environment....
.
Whole ecology destruction, anyone? Anyone? Any takers? You! With the gas guzzler? You don't give a flip about some ocean life do ya? Well, here's your algae oil/gasoline. Now go home and don't upset the government/financial speculators. We know what we're doing....

don't ridicule (1, Offtopic)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 5 years ago | (#28843751)

algae-based fuels MUST work, and MUST achieve greater efficiency

or we must learn to master fusion

but fission won't last forever, and fossil fuels won't last forever, and currently all renewable sources (including algae) are tiny boutique niche sources that won't satisfy our huge energy demands

civilization will go into decline unless we master alternative energy sources. civilization already funds the enemies of civilization in order to dig on their land (wahhabi islam is an obscenity... to hell with your moral relativism, reactionary fundamentalism of any religion is pure evil, but wahhabi islam is example #1 of this kind of evil)

so don't criticize, and don't joke. this is very serious. we must get this right. if these joule guys are snake oil salesman, then fine, to hell with them

but this entire subject matter is very serious. in the next 200 years, we will either master an alternative enery source, or in 800 years, after the next middle ages to come, there will be archeologists writing doctoral theses about why this age of man failed

and this story is about why we would fail: the inability to master cheap alternatives

to hell with killer asteroids, nanotech gone amok, atomic bombs in iran, or other speculative modern bogeymen. lack of cheap energy won't possibly do us in... on our current track, lack of cheap energy WILL do us in

this is the biggest issue of our time

Cost of what? (1)

SlashDev (627697) | about 5 years ago | (#28843795)

"...at a cost of about $50 per barrel..." Yeah, if you replace legal workers with illegal ones.
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