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Newest Energy Source — Pond Scum

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the slippery-when-wet dept.

Power 289

An anonymous reader writes to tell us that several start up companies include one from MIT are looking at using (both natural and engineered) algae as source of bio-fuel. Since algae grows quickly and absorbs green house gases. From the article "Soybeans can give you 50 to 60 gallons of oil an acre compared to 75 to 125 gallons for canola, but algae is almost limitless because it grows so fast, so potentially you could get 10,000 gallons per acre."

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even so (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17381894)

my wife is still going to insist i clean up the pond out back

Re:even so (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382756)

My son got some baby red-eared sliders turtles and we have plenty of that around. Maybe I could save on heating the house when I clean the turtle tank.

Re:even so (1)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382798)

You've got an out. Tell her that there is an orginization [google.com] that claims all "IP" rights and that you don't want to infringe on those rights.

DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-'96 (5, Informative)

roguerez (319598) | more than 7 years ago | (#17381908)

A Look Back at the
U.S. Department of Energy's
Aquatic Species Program:
Biodiesel from Algae

http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/fy98/24190.pdf [nrel.gov]

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (3, Interesting)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382046)

Very interesting, thanks!

From a quick scan - "Even with aggressive assumptions about biological productivity, we project costs for biodiesel which are two times higher than current petroleum diesel fuel costs".

If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs, especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (1, Insightful)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382202)

If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs, especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

The problem is, taking into account inflation, in constant dollars, oil costs less today than it did 30 years ago. Yes, even at $4/gallon. So the project is still not worth doing.

As for the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, I don't think this country cares much about pollution, unless it affects people's way of life, which is doesn't (so far). A noble pursuit to be sure, but one Americans don't give a fuck about.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (5, Funny)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382232)

If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs, especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

The problem is, taking into account inflation, in constant dollars, oil costs less today than it did 30 years ago. Yes, even at $4/gallon. So the project is still not worth doing.


So, what's it like posting from 2028?

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382272)

Dude, look at the title of the OP, you'll read "78" - that's the date the study the OP refers to was written - 78+30 == 2008...

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382312)

Except that the report was published in 96-98, using the data at that time, instead of the 78 beginning of the study.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382568)

Except that the report was published in 96-98, using the data at that time, instead of the 78 beginning of the study.

Considering TFA confuses 10,000 gallons an acre w/ limitless, we should just expect bad math and misleading statement from anything related to this...

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382414)

You're neglecting improvements in technology for both processes. I suspect it's easier to go from algae to biodiesel, than it is from oil to gasoline. Plus it's harder to get oil from it's source than it is getting algae from it's source.* I've seen plans over a decade ago about putting transparent tubes coiled across the desert, and pumping algae through that, then filering at the plant.

*Note that includes the efforts to find the oil. Plus biodiesel could be made close to the source, while oil refineries are a good distance away.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (5, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382498)

The problem is, taking into account inflation, in constant dollars, oil costs less today than it did 30 years ago. Yes, even at $4/gallon.
Bull [oregonstate.edu] . 30 years ago gas was $2/gal in inflation-adjusted dollars, not over $4. Even during the darkest days of the gas crisis in the early 80s, the annual average reached "only" $3/gal in today's dollars, a situation that was equaled last year.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (5, Informative)

careysub (976506) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382310)

From a quick scan - "Even with aggressive assumptions about biological productivity, we project costs for biodiesel which are two times higher than current petroleum diesel fuel costs".

If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs, especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Indeed so! The 2006 inflation adjusted price in 1998 was $18 a barrel, last I checked it was three and half times this right now. In fact the average inflation adjusted price over the last 33 years is about double the 1998 price.

If the DOE algae biodiesel cost estimate is correct then it has already been on average a break-even technology for a third of a century.

Both the total world production of oil and the production of oil available for export are peaking about right now. This has been predicted for years: http://www.energybulletin.net/147.html [energybulletin.net] and current studies verify this.

Thus the cost of oil is not likely to experience any significant downward trend from now on, ever.

The original article's production estimates are a bit suspect though. The 20,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre they give as the upper range of production is 47 g/square meter a day. The DOE gives a maximum annual production of 50 g/square meter of algae (not biodiesel) a day.

Still, the technology looks really good.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (4, Interesting)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382514)

> If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs,

Only if you can burn the product in current systems, otherwise you have to factor in the conversion costs. And you have to assume oil prices will still be insane when your production makes it online. I'd bet on oil remaining high for a while personally, not sure how many billions I'd bet though.

> especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

How moronic do they make Greens these days? Yea that pond scum will absorb a lot of CO2... and release it right back when you burn it for fuel. So it is carbon neutral unless you plan to compact the algae into bricks and bury it. Of course neutral still beats burning dead dinosaurs who fixed their carbon millions of years ago.

Stories like this are why I don't worry about running out of oil or about global warming. Anytime the system begins to get unbalanced it forces a correction through the free market, and it works even faster and better when the government stays the hell out of things and allows nature to take its course. As oil becomes more expensive, potential replacements that used to be discarded as uncompetitive start looking viable. Once one gets established the intense competition that drove the cost of oil production down will make the new thing cheap and plentiful.

Uhhh... (2, Informative)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382866)

Newsflash:The Government imposes the carbon market on companies. Otherwise pollution is what economists call an Externality [wikipedia.org] . Free markets fail whenever externalities exist. So the free market is incapable of solving Global Warming without Government.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (1)

Assassin bug (835070) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382884)

Maybe, but it might be relevant to worry about where the oil comes from and considering that, how sustainable our oil consumption is with our current sources. I think the issue is a little more than just being carbon neutral. As far as climate change is concerned, I'm not convinced that the markets will do anything fast enough to buffer the expense of many large cities dealing with rising water levels. Maybe it's fortunated that the largest stock exchanges exist in areas predicted to be affected by increasing water levels. Not saying that I have the answers, just expressing my doubt that the free market is offing real solutions here.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (5, Funny)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382146)

Wow.
This algae idea could grow on me.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (4, Informative)

grimJester (890090) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382242)

An alternative approach: Hydrogen from algae [ucop.edu] . (PDF warning, scroll to page 4)

Ah, dammit, the Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] is easier.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (4, Insightful)

aarku (151823) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382260)

I found this conclusion interesting: "...we project costs for biodiesel which are two times higher than current petroleum diesel fuel costs." (Emphasis mine)

So the price of gasoline in 1998, the year the paper was written, was around $1.25 per gallon. I'll pay $2.50 a gallon for algae fuel anyday.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (1)

Rufus211 (221883) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382634)

So the price of gasoline in 1998, the year the paper was written, was around $1.25 per gallon. I'll pay $2.50 a gallon for algae fuel anyday.

The price of gasoline and the price of oil it comes from are related, but not directly. A huge percentage of what you pay at the pump goes to taxes.

A better comparison would be to crude prices (as some posters above have done), and it's still competative.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (1)

RoffleTheWaffle (916980) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382354)

Something that should be kept in mind is that new technologies have emerged since then that could enable us to grow and process biofuels more efficiently. (Slashdot featured an article some time ago that featured a credit card sized biodeisel reactor that could be assembled with other such units into a stack to process large volumes of fuel efficiently.) Given all the past and present research into biofuels and the apparent growing demand for it, it might not be such a bad idea to find a way to make this cost effective, especially considering that algae is thus far the most potentially productive biofuel feedstock we know of.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (2, Insightful)

Thomas the Doubter (1016806) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382526)

The problem with algae as a biodiesel source is that algae have a very low oil content. The oil from soybeans and cannola is extracted almost directly, while any substantial percentage of the fuel value of algae in the form of oil would have to be synthesized at high cost. To simply extract oil from algae we would have to re-engineer algae to produce more oils, and even then, the gross biomass to oil ratio would likely be quite high.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (2, Interesting)

xs650 (741277) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382868)

The remaining biomass should be considered a feature rather than a bug. Most dried bio-mass has an energy content of about 4,000 BTU/lb, about the same as wood and roughly 1/2 that of coal.

Re:DoE research on biodiesel from algae from '78-' (1)

Bush Pig (175019) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382744)

I think a lot of the original research was done here - http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/ [unh.edu]

Great!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17381910)

Well, it looks like global warming is solved.

another bio-craps (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17381922)

Why don't they look at how to make liquified coal cheaper and better? We have the world largest reserve of coal, warranty to last for a few hundred years. We have enough reserve to make Opec oil reserve look like a bucket.

Re:another bio-craps (4, Informative)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382004)

Why don't they look at how to make liquified coal cheaper and better?

Firstly, "they" are of course looking at that. The fact that some scientists work on biodiesel does not mean that nobody is looking at liquified coal.

Secondly, liquified coal doesn't do anything towards solving the CO2 problem, so biodiesel should always be preferable.

Fossil Fuel: MILLIONS of years. Biodiesel: MONTHS (2, Insightful)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382578)

What makes biodiesel renewable is the fact that you are recycling a net amount of carbon. Over the growth period of a biodiesel harvest (in this case algae), the plants would have absorbed about the same amount of CO2 that had been generated by the burning of the previous harvest. I.E: The amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere from burning biodiesel made from last years harvest would be recaptured by this years harvest, assuming the current harvest is of similar or larger size.

Burning fossil fuels creates a similar cycle in which CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by plants which then over an extordinarily long period of time turn into oil/coal. However, this process of plants turning into the black stuff takes millions of years, much much slower than the rate at which it is currently being burned. On the other hand, harvesting plants to convert to biodiesel takes only a handful of months (with crops/algae). The speed at which the plant matter is generated and the speed at which it is burned is much closer to each other, canceling each other out.

Galactica likes algae... (0, Offtopic)

Akardam (186995) | more than 7 years ago | (#17381938)

I suppose that's why the crew of the Battlestar Galactica are always chasing algae laden planets... ... oh wait, they want it to eat, not to fuel vipers? Hmm... anybody want a algae burger?

Re:Galactica likes algae... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382016)

Would you prefer they were chasing the girls at the casino planet?

Re:Galactica likes algae... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382164)

I would, but unfortunately Galactica is neither shown on Fox nor HBO.

Re:Galactica likes algae... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382172)

Ummm thats chasing "space bitches" on the casino planet.

Re:Galactica likes algae... (1)

cei (107343) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382224)

Considering algae is commonly used in ice cream and creamy salad dressing, it's not too much a stretch.

They found a use for Pond Scum? (3, Funny)

Kid Zero (4866) | more than 7 years ago | (#17381940)

Next they'll be finding a use for lawyers!

(Oh yeah, I'm burning for that one! :D)

Re:They found a use for Pond Scum? (5, Funny)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382032)

Actually, they have found a use for Lawyers ... as source of nutrients for Pond Scum.

Re:They found a use for Pond Scum? (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382114)

Last one I used ended up poisioning my entire crop.
Not reccomended. They are only good bu putting them in a courtroom and tapping the hot exhaust gas from objections and closing arguments.
-nB

Re:They found a use for Pond Scum? (1)

Hawthorne01 (575586) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382588)

It's like "Processed Cheese Food" : It's not cheese, it's the food that cheese eats.

Re:They found a use for Pond Scum? (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382326)

There was a study that found due to their excessive sliminess you could get a million barrels per acre of lawyers but a group of lawyers sued to surpress the report. They also filed for endangered species protection to prevent Lawyers from being converted to biodiesel but the courts countered with the fact that they breed faster than rabbits so there's no risk of running out of lawyers anytime soon.

Just cleaned out the fish tank (1)

Skidge (316075) | more than 7 years ago | (#17381948)

I just scraped off all of the algae from the walls of my neglected fish tank. I should have saved it. :)

Fish tank power for my PC!!! (3, Funny)

MrTester (860336) | more than 7 years ago | (#17381964)

How excellent is this!!!

Now I can move my fish tank next to my PC, I never have to clean the damned thing, and I have un interupted power source for my computer!

This is the best discovery EVER!

Re:Fish tank power for my PC!!! (1)

gramdel (949360) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382038)

And water cooling conveniently nearby.

Re:Fish tank power for my PC!!! (1)

rannala (876724) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382150)

And a neat water cooling solution!!1!

Re:Fish tank power for my PC!!! (1)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382410)

Why not combine the two? [nobispro.com]

Finally a use for lawyers (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17381972)

Oh wait, they are worse than pond scum.

Nevermind.

Look to salt water (2, Insightful)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 7 years ago | (#17381976)

They should look into making retaining ponds and doing this in the ocean. Not only is freshwater in short supply most of the earths surface is salt water.

Re:Look to salt water (1)

DigitalRaptor (815681) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382210)

Are the algae they are having success with compatible with salt water? Or are any salt water algae suitable for producing biofuel?

Re:Look to salt water (1)

OpenGLFan (56206) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382378)

It would definitely be nice to find out, as then we could kill two birds [slashdot.org] with one stone, if we could harvest the algae that's creating the dead zone off Oregon's coast.

Imagine it: energy suppliers and environmentalists agreeing with each other; dogs and cats, living together; mass hysteria!

Re:Look to salt water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382520)

Wrong link... try this: kill two birds [buckfax.com] with one stone.
 

Re:Look to salt water (4, Informative)

cartman (18204) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382424)

Are the algae they are having success with compatible with salt water? Or are any salt water algae suitable for producing biofuel?

Yes. The fastest-growing and oiliest algae are diatoms, which are saltwater microscopic organisms.

One of the major advantages of biofuel from algae, is that it grows quickly in saltwater ponds in hot areas like New Mexico. As a result, no fresh water or farmland is wasted. Also the land wasn't being used for anything else. Also, algal fuel is carbon-neutral (it sucks up as much CO2 as is released by burning it) so it doesn't contribute to global warming.

Re:Look to salt water (1)

DigitalRaptor (815681) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382676)

Sounds pretty ideal.

Now if they'd just design and sell (or someone would design open source plans for) a backyard unit where you could grow a percentage of your own fuel.

My house sits on 1.1 acres. I love to use 10% of that (a little more if required) to grow a large portion of my own fuel.

Re:Look to salt water (2, Informative)

Pegasus (13291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382386)

There were some experiments (even mentioned on /.) that came up with the lack of the iron in the seawater as the limiting factor for algae growth in the seas. IIRC they seeded a small area in the sea with some iron oxyde solution or something and watched it turn green in a couple of hours.

Re:Look to salt water (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382426)

they seeded a small area in the sea with some iron oxyde solution or something and watched it turn green in a couple of hours


Incidentally, that has been suggested as a mean to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, seed the ocean with iron and let the algae that grow sink to the depths.

Re:Look to salt water (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382570)

Potable fresh water is indeed in short supply. But we do have an excess of poo-filled "fresh" water, so much that we have special treatment facilities to knock it down a few notches before dumping it out into the ocean. Algae probably loves poo, not to mention fertilizer and most of the other junk we put into water. Maybe we could use our waste water for growing scum.

Re:Look to salt water (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382686)

Not only is freshwater in short supply

      You know there have been HUGE advances in desalinization recently, don't you?

Re:Look to salt water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382778)

> You know there have been HUGE advances in desalinization recently, don't you?

There's plenty of water. Distribution is as ever a problem.

One real problem is where to put all the salt. You can't just dump it back into the ocean, it destroys ecosystems (and even if you're not some tree-hugger, fishermen don't like having their livelihood destroyed)

Why not just dry it and burn it? (3, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382020)

Generate electricity for these:

http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/ [phoenixmotorcars.com]

or these:
http://www.teslamotors.com/ [teslamotors.com]

And everything else. Then you don't have to bugger about expending energy processing it the stuff into biofuels.

 

Re:Why not just dry it and burn it? (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382270)

Then you don't have to bugger about expending energy processing it the stuff into biofuels.

You know, "bugger" shouldn't be used in the same sentence as "expending energy". I certainly don't even want to think about algae in conjunction with it.

Dear god... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382044)

It's over 9000!

Dirty Jobs (4, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382052)

There was something a bit like this on Dirty Jobs as I remember. It was a research project that took the output of a power plant (a portion of it) and ran it though tubes of algae that would filter it and remove CO2 and grow, then they could burn the algae afterwards. That way they could get the "free" energy (from the sun that the algae was storing) plus is was carbon neutral if implemented on a large scale.

We just have to be careful that while we enslave the algae, they don't know it's happening so they don't start an uprising. I don't want a very thin layer of mad green goo covering everything.

article (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382604)

I put up a linked article about this just last saturday, you might be interested in it, they are producing biofuel with algae from a commercial power plant by using the CO2.

http://technocrat.net/d/2006/12/23/12545 [technocrat.net]

Re:Dirty Jobs (1)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382668)

>> We just have to be careful that while we enslave the algae, they
>> don't know it's happening so they don't start an uprising.

Obviously, one would construct a virtual reality to keep them occupied. At first, you might try to construct a virtual paradise but eventually they would get suspicious and revolt. So the second virtual reality would be more like they are used to, but maybe there would be one algae, let's call him Geo, who can feel that this virtual algae reality isn't quite right. Eventually he will face the decision of whether to take the green pill or the dark green pill. His choice will determine whether he will be able to fight against his evil human-being overlords and free his people to have some sort of weird algae sex-orgy in a cave or something.

Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (3, Insightful)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382106)

potentially you could get 10,000 gallons per acre.

We are having a failure to think fourth dimensionally here. Time, folks, time! 10K gal. how often?. Yes it might be in the TFA, but that's no reason to omit it from the summary.

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382144)

Well wouldn't that depend on who is doing it? How often they harvest, how quickly it actually grows? The density however is more of a given.

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (1)

Tuna_Shooter (591794) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382154)

Agreed I for one welcome our pond scum overlords..........

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (2, Funny)

DigitalRaptor (815681) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382268)

Just once.

The algae actually produces the fuel as it bores it's way to the center of the earth. Then you have to start over again with a different acre.

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382278)

I'm pretty sure this is annual production. Most crops yield estimates assume one growing season per year.

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382606)

I'm pretty sure this is annual production. Most crops yield estimates assume one growing season per year.
I can hear the corn lobby already: "corn yeilds more biodiesel per harvest than pond scum!!" (Nevermind that with corn you get one crop per year, and with pond scum it's once a week.)

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (2, Informative)

RoffleTheWaffle (916980) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382406)

I did a bit of research on this sort of thing. Apparently that 10K or more gallons per-hectare - not acre, according to everything else I've read so far - is achieved yearly.

Kind of impressive, considering how small a chunk of land that is.

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (3, Interesting)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382566)

Actually, that would be third-dimension, since acres are two dimensional units.

Anyway, duckweed [wikipedia.org] doubles its biomass in 10 days [wildlife-g...ing.org.uk] . It's one of, if not the fastest growing plant known (which explains why it's such a pest in our backyard pond). However, since algae need not remain on the surface, the water could be agitated to perhaps increase the usable volume in which the algae grows. That probably wouldn't work for duckweed which a) floats very well, and b) has a sort of floating root which would cause problems. But if it grows faster, it might not matter -- assuming it's usable in the first place.

Re:Severe Lack of 4th Dimensional Thinking (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382670)

Time, folks, time! 10K gal. how often?

      Depending on environmental conditions, algae can grow pretty damned quick - a matter of a few weeks! Obviously it works better in the tropics ;)

Keep 'em dirty (1)

AugustZephyr (989775) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382124)

Now I just need to convince my town to stop dredging the lake near my house and turn it into renewable fuel.

Uhm..Yield rates. (3, Interesting)

The Living Fractal (162153) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382230)

The article talks pretty high of this algae. Acres upon acres of biodiesel creating algae for all!

It seems pretty biased to me. No mention of the energy required to run the biodiesel plants. No mention of exactly how long each yield cycle takes. I mean, great, 10k gallons of biodiesel (even up to 20k) per acre.. per how long? It's a measure of time I thought? So why are you giving me these one-dimensional 'rates'. Sounds pretty skim on the details.

And let's talk about acres. I'd rather cover an acre of desert with solar panels than an acre of land in more moderate climates. And now I get led into the question of solar vs. algae. The algae gets its energy from photosynthesis. Great. But can an acre of algae really compete with an acre of the highest efficiency solar cells -- again, over time? Which one wins in the end?

Look, I'm not saying I disagree, I think it's great people are pursuing alternate forms of fuel. But if you're going to write an article and call it news the least you could do is play devil's advocate along side fanboy. Give me some compare and contrast, some pros and cons. That's all I want!

TLF

Re:Uhm..Yield rates. (3, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382390)

But can an acre of algae really compete with an acre of the highest efficiency solar cells -- again, over time? Which one wins in the end?


Considering that the algae aren't black and reflect a lot of the sunlight, I would guess the solar cells win. But how about the total cost? You are considering only land cost, if the algae are less efficient, more area will be needed for them. However, algae are self-manufacturing, solar cell must be produced in a factory from a number of different machines and raw materials. And, of course, there is still another factor: solar cells produce electricity that can be used immediately, algae need some sort of processing to generate useful energy.


All in all, I'm pretty sure algae would be cheaper in our current technology level. Certainly more efficient manufacturing processes for solar cells will be developed in the future, but for now I'd be willing to bet that the total cost for generating energy is lower for algae than for solar cells.

Re:Uhm..Yield rates. (3, Insightful)

nacturation (646836) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382550)

And, of course, there is still another factor: solar cells produce electricity that can be used immediately, algae need some sort of processing to generate useful energy.
On the flip side, also consider that solar cells produce electricity that must be used immediately, while the algae -> oil process results in stored energy that can be used later.
 

Re:Uhm..Yield rates. (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382454)

Different fuel sources. Solar power returns electric power. Algae would be converted to a liquid fuel source.

Instead of algae, try it with soybeans in your argument. Would you plow under an acre of soybeans to put solar panels there?

It's two different arguments. The means aren't just different, the ends are as well.

Re:Uhm..Yield rates. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382784)

Why limit yourself? Can you grow algae and/or soy beans in the desert where you could place solar panels?

Why not put solar panels in the desert where you can't grow algae and/or soy beans, and then grow algae and/or soy beans somewhere you can and use multiple sources of fuels?

Doh!

How do they convert algae to diesel? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382256)

A company 'Changing World Technologies' got a lot of attention a few years ago by announcing that they could convert garbage to oil. They set up their processing plant next to a plant that processes turkeys so they could use the waste turkey guts. For the last few years they have been going to reach plant capacity "real soon".

Converting biological material to fuel hasn't become an economically sustainable technology yet in spite of the number of people working on the problem. I'll believe that algae can solve our energy woes when it actually comes about. For the time being, I'm skeptical.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changing_World_Techno logies [wikipedia.org]

Re:How do they convert algae to diesel? (2, Informative)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382650)

The plant has been running for a couple of years now, producing 400+ barrels per day of diesel fuel and heating oil, running through some 300 tons of turkey and egg waste and pig fat daily.

A lot more than oil (5, Informative)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382280)

The value of algae farming is a lot more than mere fuel oil. Algae is at the base of the food chain. If we're going to take responsibility for support of human populations whether terrestrial or beyond earth -- algae will be very crucial.

There is a great need to increase world-wide carrying capacity without impacting high biodiversity ecosystems such as the Brazilian rainforests or continental shelf fisheries [i-sis.org.uk] , and that reduces greenhouse phenomena. There may be an economic option that uses sea water pumped to desert areas powered by the fact that ground level temperatures are much higher than temperatures at high altitudes. Indeed, it would dump greenhouse heat to space for its power while producing biodiesel, electricity, fish, fresh water, salt and real estate -- all in quantities demanded by developed-world populations -- without adding to, and possibly even sequestering, greenhouse gases.

Proposals for solar updraft tower [wikipedia.org] s have typically assumed that they would be single use structures: solar to electricity via heat differentials between high altitude air and ground level greenhouse-enclosed air. The resulting system has marginal economic value.

Something which would further enhance the value of the solar updraft tower power structure is to use the greenhouse area for algae ponds to add biodiesel, water, fish and salt production to the production of electricity normally envisioned.

Doing so brings the proposal from marginally viable to viable, with a net present value, primarily from live fish production, of $3.5 billion per system, thereby allowing for far higher capitalization and/or return on investment.

Let's start with just the value of algae biodiesel:

The greenhouse area required per solar updraft tower of [wired.com] is huge:

(pi * (5km/2)^2) ? hectares
= 1963.49 hectares

producing peak at peak 200MW via a 1km tall tower.

We now add to this the production of algae biodiesel:

The UNH estimate [unh.edu] for algae biodiesel production is 1 quad per 200,000 hectares. Let's assume only half of the area of the solar updraft tower greenhouse would be available for production at any time (the other half would be used for ponds that buffered heat for the inner ponds, produce fish, provide additional evaporative surface for desalination and provide recreation for residential areas at the outer rim).

That gives us:

(1963.49/2)hectares/tower;200000hectares/quad ? towers/quad
= 203.719 towers/quad

Or about 200 towers per quad of biodiesel.

We can now calculate the biodiesel per tower:

7.2gallon/1e6btu;200tower/quad ? gallon/tower
= 3.5998E+07 gallon/tower

or about 35M gallons of biodiesel per year per tower.

At $2/gallon for wholesale diesel, this yields $70M biodiesel revenue per year.

Now for electrical revenue:

At an average rate of sold production only 1/2 (100MW) of peak capacity (200MW), electrical production per tower per year, is:

100MW;year ? GWh
= 876 GWh

At $30/MWh wholesale [doe.gov] :

100MW;year;30$/MWh ? $
= 2.628E+07 $

or about $25M electrical revenue per year.

Interestingly, the biodiesel revenue is nearly 3 times the electrical revenue of a solar updraft tower!

200*200MW or 40GW electrical peak capacity is produced per quad of biodiesel.

Further that same UNH document estimates 19 quads to replace all transportation fuel in the US or 3800 towers, which would also produce 3800*200MW or 760GW or .76TW of electricity.

Current winter capacity in the US is about 1TW [doe.gov] . So this cannot replace the entire US capacity but it can probably support all new growth in demand for the next several decades.

For reference, 3800towers at 1963.49hectares/tower would require:

3800towers;1963.49hectares/tower ? hectares
= 7.46126E+06 hectares

or about 8 million hectares or close to 30,000 square miles -- a figure that cross checks with the UNH figure of 15,000 square miles of optimally productive algae ponds which we are assuming are only half of our land area due to needed additional greenhouse warming area.

An additional advantage of this approach is that the relatively constant wind velocity and direction through the greenhouse disk would allow for the efficient use of wind for driving the algae raceways.

Now for desalination:

We're going to assume the algae ponds are saline, growing an aquatic species like CCMP647, and that about half of them are not producing biodiesel. These ponds would be out of algae production but would still be providing water for desalination, a market for the residual salts, live fish, climate control and residential real estate value.

Let's assume that out of the 8 million hectares, half of which is growing algae at reasonable efficiency and therefore providing 4 million hectares of evaporative surface, an additional 2 million hectares are in reasonably efficient production as evaporative ponds, some of which is salt production and some of which is fish production, for a total of 6 million hectares of evaporative surface. Then let's assume the additional difficulty of evaporating from saline cancels that gain out leaving us back at 4 million hectares equivalent fresh water evaporative surface. Using "Open water bodies in the Phoenix area evaporate at about 6.2 acre-feet per year (about two million gallons) per year for each acre of surface area. [tempe.gov] "

We get:

2*10^6gal/acre;4000000hectares ? gallons
= 1.97684E+13 gallons

or about 20Tgal per year.

Estimating total US demand:

132gal/person/day;300Mperson ? gallon/year
= 1.4454E+13 gallon/year

or about 14Tgal per year.

The entire US requirement for fresh water can be approximately replaced with the desalinated water from the solar updraft towers.

(An objection to this combined use of the solar updraft tower is that the heat of vaporization lost during evaporation will translate into a lower temperature differential between ground and exhaust at the tower head. However, this ignores the recapture of that heat upon condensation -- a phenomenon that drives powerful natural phenomena such as thunderheads. The main problem is constructing an appropriate condensor at the top of the updraft tower.)

Each tower's water output:

1.97684E+13 gallons/3800 ? gallons
= 5.20221E+09 gallons

and at a penny a gallon (remember this is high quality, nearly distilled, water):

1.97684E+13 gallons/3800;.01$/gallon ? $
= 5.20221E+07$

or about $50 million/year in water revenue. In all likelihood this would be much higher given markets for the distilled water could be found.

Salt is about $25/ton at the mine mouth [dietpower.com] .

And the ratio of sea water to salt mass is about 65:1 so the revenue from sea salt is:

25$/ton_salt;65ton/ton_salt;tonm/m^3;5.20221E+09 gallons ?
= 7.57404E+06 $

Or about $8 million/year in salt revenue. Perhaps this can be brought up by arranging radial evaporative ponds to fractionally crystallize higher value salts and accounting for the elimination of a return pipe for waste brine, but from salt value alone it seems barely worth the investment.

Now to live fish:

If the algae is 50% oil, and extraction of the oil isn't total, we can conservatively assume the mass of oil-depleted algae will approximate the mass of biodiesel:

0.827 g/ml;3.5998E+07 gallon ? tonm
= 124223 tonm

Trophic losses in acquaculture algae grazers are about 1/3 [nodak.edu] and the price per kg of live fish at the producer is conservatively $2/kg [arizona.edu] :

124223 tonm*.67;2$/kg ?
= 1.51009E+08 $

Or about $150 million/year in fish live fish revenue. This is a really big deal! Its as much as the electricity, biodiesel, water and salt production combined!

Totaling up yearly revenues:

$150M for live fish
$ 70M for biodiesel
$ 50M for fresh water
$ 25M for electricity
$ 8M for salt
$303M TOTAL REVENUE

Discount 20% for operation costs ($60M) and the yearly profit available is $240M/year or $20M/month.

A profit stream of $20M/month at 6% interest over 30 years has a net present value of $3.5 billion.

This compares very favorably with the estimated construction cost of the reference tower of $500M to $700M, which, of course, will have to be increased to account for the addition of a condenser to the tower, pond construction, centrifugal algae harvesters, boidiesel equipment, aquaculture equipment and brine transport systems. Indeed, the construction estimate for the reference system can be quintupled and still be financially sound if the technical risks are reduced.

Re:A lot more than oil (2)

adpe (805723) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382470)

Awesome, thanks for putting some numbers into this. Since about the only things which I trust are bare numbers, this helps me a lot developing my opinion. Thanks.

Re:A lot more than oil (1)

Rinikusu (28164) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382528)

Just another addition to what you're saying:

We're already dumping tons of unused fertilizers/pesticides/etc into the ocean from our major rivers. The runoff is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and other areas, creating giant "dead zones" from the rapid algal blooms and dieoffs that's destroying reef-building, etc. WOuldn't it be nice to be able to create large "algal farms" that would take the divereted river water, strain out a majority of the wastes, and then harvest the algae for energy (or even food)? We restore some semblence of sanity back into the gulf, we create energy! Now, the question is what kind of impact would this have on surrounding areas, how much would it cost to construct those ponds, not to mention locality.

Re:A lot more than oil (1)

juan2074 (312848) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382814)

I don't know if you heard. . .
Soylent green was not really made out of algae.

Already doing it (3, Interesting)

Xybot (707278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382288)

Been there, done that [scoop.co.nz] . Next you'll be telling us the the first controlled flight [nzedge.com] took place in America.

OT, but... (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382740)

From your second link: unlike the Wright brothers, who employed skilled engineers


Hmmm, I've always thought the Wright brothers were bicycle repairmen and did all the engineering work themselves. If they had had adequate funding, they could have bought a more powerful motor and have unaided take-offs. Many Brazilians and French people consider the first "true" powered flight to have been performed by Alberto Santos Dumont [wikipedia.org] in Paris in 1906, because he used an Antoinette 50HP V16 engine, vs. the Wright brothers 12HP four-cylinder engine, so he could take off unaided while the Wright brothers needed a catapult.

Uh (2, Funny)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382364)

Doesn't every friggin plant on earth absorb 'greenhouse gases', i.e., co2, and emits o2 ???

The misguided attempt to reduce co2 is actually a secret war on our little green friends. They hate plants!!

Re:Uh (1)

asifyoucare (302582) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382462)

Agreed, and the comment is especially irrelevant because the purpose of the algae is to produce fuel, and when that fuel is used the same greenhouse gases will be released straight back into the atmosphere.

Surprising numbers (4, Interesting)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382380)

If the 100,000 barrels per acre is even close to accurate there's more than enough hog waste to produce what biodiesel we need. I single factory farm could provide enough for hundreds of acres of algae ponds. Nitrogen is miracle grow for algae so farm waste could be the new middle east. I'd read about this process years ago but the numbers seem much better than I could have imagined.

HOMfO (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17382438)

charncel house.

Water could be the limiting factor (4, Insightful)

ibn_khaldun (814417) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382450)

TFA seems remarkably unconcerned about the fact that dense concentrations of algae require a continuous supply of water, which is not required for soybeans, canola, etc. Add to this the proposal that these algae farms are going to be in the desert -- an environment not noted for concentrations of water -- and one wonders how all of this is going to work on a large scale. Perhaps we could scumify [technical term...] a few of the more notorious human-engineered desert lakes -- Mead, Powell, Nasser, Chad, and there are probably others -- but one isn't going to immediately make Death Valley or the Gobi into the Saudi Arabia of scum-fed biofuels.

The Saudi Arabia of algae? (3, Informative)

Zobeid (314469) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382592)

It doesn't need fresh water, you can grow algae in sea water -- something our world still has no shortage of. So. . . Do we know any countries with warm and sunny deserts adjacent to the coast? I can think of a few. Hmm. . . Saudi Arabia just might end up becoming the Saudi Arabia of biofuels!

It might also be possible to put your facilities onto floating platforms offshore. There's lots of possibilities.

Re:Water could be the limiting factor (2, Informative)

Bush Pig (175019) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382860)

The process requires dirty water, so it's just a matter of using the algae as part of your sewerage treatment.

Still depends on fossil fuels (3, Interesting)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382468)

I think that it is worth noting that the 10,000 gallons per acre estimate assumes that the algae will have a gas feed from a coal power plant. It would be more apt to compare the tield of this process to direct generation of liquid fuel from coal since it's essentially generating it indirectly. Other questions unanswered by TFA: Are there enough coal plants in the country to support a total replacement of gasoline by this method? Does it affect the efficiency of the power plant? How long will our coal resources last if this were implemented on a large scale? What are the maintainence costs (hard to estimate from a test setup, but important to consider)?

So where are the oil companies? (4, Insightful)

sphealey (2855) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382490)

I have been reading about biodiesel from algae for at least 5 years now. Sounds great: Closed carbon cycle. Free energy from sunlight. Happy friendly energy.

My question is: where are the big oil companies? Why aren't they buying up huge tracts of land in southern Texas and Mexico and digging huge ponds? Why aren't the hiring algae biologists by the thousands? Building proof test algae refineries? Seems to me that if this were such a great idea ExxonMobil etc would be all over it like flies on algae (so to speak).

Perhaps they are and it is all being kept secret. But as far as I can tell every article/web post/discussion of this process traces back to a single paper by a single biology professor with some basic input/output calculations and not much else. Which makes me a bit suspicious.

sPh

Water in the desert? Trade one problem for another (1)

buddahfool (123287) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382530)

The article mentions that the ideal place to house this type of energy plant would the desert, like the pilot in the American Southwest.

  I am assuming that this is not a total closed system and thus will consume water. Since it mentions doubling the biomass in "a couple of hours" I assume it would consume a lot of water... (but IANAMarineBiologist)

  As a resident of the southwest I can say that one of biggest ecoplogical hurdle we face is our need for water. We keep "doubling our biomass" with a constant influx of people excaping the big cities on the coasts with no new sources of water. We constantly are threatening to run the Rio Grande dry in spots and put many species and ecologies in threat. Not to mention all the farmers and communities competing for the same resource.

  It sounds like a great idea but not in my backyard. Lets do it, but near a big water supply, not the desert southwest...

(Hmmm... I assume the algae can handle salt water, how about nearer to the ocean? But then the real estate costs more!)

vastly overlooked (2, Interesting)

lwiniarski (105158) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382574)

I don't think people realize that how important this is. I converted my van to run on
raw vegetable oil and have been quite happy with it. I can easily see this replacing
mineral oils in a relatively short time. It is becoming more and more popular as
diesel prices keep increasing.

Biodiesel is basically chemically altered vegetable oil that reduces viscosity
(transesterfication) but is not necessary if you modify your diesel to reduce the viscosity
by heating the oil to around 200F.

While electric cars are super neato and probably our long term solutions, I can see
imagine that it's gonna be pretty hard to make an electric powered jet airplane, but
I think an algae oil powered jet airplane might be pretty reasonable. After all
kerosene (used for jet fuel) is very similiar to diesel #1.

A better source of fuel... (0)

SurturZ (54334) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382612)

... REBEL scum.

*yawn* (3, Insightful)

Dolohov (114209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382620)

I'm getting tired of all the "*gasp* New Source of BioFuel!" articles I keep seeing. Look, all sorts of life creates all sorts of things that burn. Some significant portions of our body chemistry are designed to oxidize. This isn't rocket sci -- er, brain surgery here.

The real problems aren't a matter of finding something else we can burn, it's a matter of creating a supply chain and infrastructure to rival that of petroleum in terms of quantity, price, availability and reliability, and then of maintaining that long enough for our dumb-ass auto companies to produce decent vehicles which make use of the new fuel, in the styles and manner that will persuade consumers to buy and drive them. In other words, the real problem isn't scientific, it's a matter of economics, logistics, and public policy.

Wake me when someone solves *that* one.

Potentially, but not practically. (0, Redundant)

AnotherBlackHat (265897) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382730)

Soybeans can give you 50 to 60 gallons of oil an acre compared to 75 to 125 gallons for canola, but algae is almost limitless because it grows so fast, so potentially you could get 10,000 gallons per acre.


Pardon my bluntness, but reasearching higher yields per hectare is stupid.
Land suitable for algae production is cheap.
What we should be looking into are cheaper ways to harvest, grow, and water it.

Practical algae growth involving cheap materials but lower yields per hectare - think "sea water pumped over plastic tarps".

Algae grown in the outdoors, without CO2 charged water and heating may "only" have 10-20 times higher yields than Canola, instead of 80-130, but so what?
Even at approximately 100 barrels (4200 gallons) per hectare per year, the Great Sandy could grow all the worlds current oil needs twice over.

-- Should you believe authority without question?

Drying it? (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382786)

Algae, like any other bio-mass, is mostly water. I expect that drying the algae would be a huge problem. You can't feed soggy green slime directly into a power station - not if you want to keep the fire burning anyway...

Energy... (1)

NemosomeN (670035) | more than 7 years ago | (#17382864)

Since when do we measure energy in gallons? Useless measurements are... useless.

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