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Mutant Algae to Fuel Cars of Tomorrow?

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the how-fuel-efficient-is-it-when-they-eat-your-face dept.

Biotech 158

Hugh Pickens writes "Algae has long been known as a promising source of biodiesel. It's worth noting, though, that algae also produces a small amount of hydrogen during photosynthesis. The MIT Technology Review reports that researchers have created a mutant algae that makes better use of sunlight to increase the amount of hydrogen that the algae produce. Anastasios Melis and his team at the University of California have manipulated the genes that control the amount of chlorophyll in the algae's chloroplasts. Although the process is still at least five years from being used for hydrogen generation, Melis estimates that if 50% of the algae's photosynthesis could be directed toward hydrogen production, an acre could produce 40 kilograms of hydrogen per day. At the price of $2.80 a kilogram, hydrogen could compete with gasoline, since a kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent in energy to a gallon of gasoline."

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What should I do! (1, Funny)

Centurix (249778) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792221)

Mutant Algae! Overlords! In soviet Russia! Profit! Help!

Re:What should I do! (1)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792263)

How about Libraries of Congress?

Re:What should I do! (1)

MattHarris (1140737) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792273)

The planet covered in mutant algae - reminds me of something, a musical i think. But that was Red.

Re:What should I do! (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792629)

The planet covered in mutant algae - reminds me of something, a musical i think. But that was Red.

You may be thinking of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds [wikipedia.org] , and specifically the section of it about the red weed [wikipedia.org] .

Plenty of Russian Abiotic Oil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20794599)

Oil is not a fossil fuel.
We have more than we need.
http://tinyurl.com/ymcxyg [tinyurl.com]

Feasible (4, Informative)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792253)

If they can make this work I think it's great. The current U.S. consumption of oil is about 5.2 Million bb/d [doe.gov] , and there is about 950 Million acres of farmland as of 2002 [usda.gov] . One barrel of crude equals about 42 gallons of gasoline according to this [anl.gov] . So we can safely say that one acre is about a barrel of crude according TFA. I think that is very doable provided that it actually works. Much better solution than ethanol if you ask me, which has proven time and again that if we want to go with corn ethanol that there isn't enough farmland in the U.S. Now granted that 40kg is optimal so if we allow say 8 million acres for this I think we may even have a surplus of energy. That is the kind of idea I like to see.

Re:Feasible (4, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792289)

Ethanol is a corporate welfare scam. The government knows it, ADM and Gargil know it, the DOE knows it, and the politicians are hoping that you and I don't. Generating fuel from algae or bacteria would be so much better on so many levels than fermenting corn, I really hope it comes to fruition.

Just imagine the effect on world politics if nobody cared who had control of the petroleum in the middle east, because it was selling for $4/bbl.

-jcr

transition (2, Interesting)

zogger (617870) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792693)

Corn was never meant to be the perpetual energy fuel feedstock. It is being done as a transition fuel feedstock while other technologies, like this algae for instance, or cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, etc, develop. And it is because we are set up to produce corn (and soybeans) in mass quantities with no infrastructure changes right now today, this season, it's happening. Just like the vehicle changes, we are transitioning from straight gashogs to hybrids to eventually plug in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells and straight electric drive, but that is still way down the road. This is the tech we have now, that's all, have to start someplace.

Re:transition (4, Interesting)

SunTzuWarmaster (930093) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793545)

No one ever seems to remember sugar cane and sugar beets, so I'll point it out. They are double the yield per acre (vastly more efficient but harder to grow) as compared to American corn.

Well that's not entirely true, Brazil didn't forget. But then again, they don't have corn lobbyists.

Re:transition (4, Insightful)

budgenator (254554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794535)

I live in sugar beet country and I can assure you that we didn't forget, I'm also in corn country so that gets a lot of noise as well. The real answer will be more like
1. grow the corn,
2. grow the beets,
3. press out the oils out of the corn for food use,
4. reclaim the used food stuff oils aned animal fats for biodiesel,
5 extract the sugars from the corn, feed the distiller's dried grain and roughage back to the cows (makes food and animal fat for step 4)
6. add beet sugar to the corn sugar and make Butanol [wikipedia.org] instead of inefficient Ethanol
7. profit!

I don't think there will ever be a one answer answer; the answer will be multi-use feed the waste of one almost economical process to the next almost economical process.

Re:Feasible (0, Redundant)

fredklein (532096) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793105)

Generating fuel from algae or bacteria would be so much better on so many levels than fermenting corn, I really hope it comes to fruition

I'm waiting for some smart company to engineer a [baterium/algae/whatever] to eat waste cellulose (read: sawdust, woodchips, grass clippings, etc) and excrete a hydro-carbon. Imagine being able to dump your grass clippings into a drum, add a few gallons of water, and a packet of bacteria, and a few days later, siphon off gallons of ethanol.

Re:Feasible (2, Informative)

Xonstantine (947614) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794293)

Uh, we functionally already have yeast that eat waste cellulose and excrete ethanol. The problem is, the cellulose has to be emersed in water, ethanol is a waste product that eventually poisons the yeast at a fairly low concentration, and you have to distill the solution to extract the alcohol...and distillation is energy intensive.

Re:Feasible (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794713)

They've engineered yeast that with proper coaxing, will output 25% alcohol. But you have to oxygenate the wort (unfermented beer/wine) before hand, and then nurse it along under very specific temperature conditions (unknown to me).... oh yeah, and use a specially bred strain of yeast not avalible to the public.
 
I'm sure that you use less energy to distill alcohol when your solution is 25% ethanol, vs. 3-8% (maybe even 15%?), but ultimately you're using (roughly) the same amount of food, but expending far more energy to coax the yeast to do the work for you.

Re:Feasible (1, Insightful)

thanatos_x (1086171) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792295)

It's not a matter of how much farmland we have, it's oceans (or lakes, if it's a freshwater variety). If this works, it'd be a great boon to the environment - The algae removes C02 from the air, and creates H2, which unlike ethanol or other green fuels releases no CO2 back into the environment.

Granted, there's an issue of oxygen removal from the water and disrupting the balance of an already stressed environment, but if it was done in largely dead ocean areas, this shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Now if we can only find a fast breeding (but non-disruptive), good tasting fish who likes to eat algae... we'd solve 3 key problems - ocean depletion, CO2 emissions, and an energy source.

Re:Feasible (1)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792315)

It doesn't so much remove CO2 as give us a way to sequestor carbon. Also I don't think O2 would be a problem either. Let's do some chemistry here. It reales H2, which comes from where? H2O, that's right it strips the oxygen off the hydrogen leaving 2 Hydrogen and 1 Oxygen. Also, the carbon that it removes is stored as carbon in the plant's structure. This carbon comes from both the air and the food that is uses. I don't think that putting it in dead areas of the ocean would do much for the energy situation though as the H2 would be rather difficult to harvest from something as vast as an ocean. Another thing to consider with that is you're introducing an unknown to the environment, what's to keep it from taking off and destroying large parts of the ocean? So yes, farmland is the best place, you can control the growth as well as harvest the benefits and bury the carbon if you so choose.

Re:Feasible (2, Informative)

thanatos_x (1086171) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792361)

The end result is the carbon is removed from the air. It's exactly like trees and other plants, albeit as a likely single celled organism the resulting structure it's stored in isn't usually as useful.

Also I may be wrong, but I believe you'd still run into oxygen depletion in the ocean, though not directly from the algae. An algal bloom http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algal_bloom [wikipedia.org] increases the amount of bacteria present to 'eat' the algae. These bacteria use the oxygen dissolved in the water, and eventually most animals can't survive in it.

As to the possible problem of breeding an algae which takes over things - this species seems to me like it'd be less likely to survive in the wild, and even if equally as likely, it is probable that in order to cultivate the algae in sufficient quantities, it would have to be fertilized, limiting it's excessive spread to the areas fertilized/naturally containing a large abundance of such nutrients.

It likely would be difficult to harvest the byproduct of multiple millions of acres of algae on the ocean, but I don't see it being significantly easier farming it. Perhaps the easiest solution would be to flood an area near the ocean (or a continental shelf), but these tend to be areas valued by man and inhabited by diverse wildlife where man hasn't chased it away. Regardless you'd need large quantities of water and of land, and they tend to be somewhat exclusive of each other. The great plains aquifers are estimated to run dry as early as 2050, and these are the prime reason why farming the great plains is as productive as it is. I don't know, perhaps I'm missing an obvious solution?

Re:Feasible (1)

gluechucker (976140) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793025)

How about stacking? I don't know much about algae, but I can't imagine it needing anything too terribly deep. Could one-foot deep water do the job? A three-story, one-acre building isn't all that big, but could hold about 30 acres of this stuff. Then, being inside it would make collection simpler.

Re:Feasible (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793195)

You still need to get the sunlight through to the algae... so for the lower layers you'd need a complex system of mirrors to direct sunlight down there.

Re:Feasible (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794711)

Right now algae ponds are typically shallow, and the collection isn't complicated just inefficient. The biggest advantage of the mutant algae is it's "thin", it doesn't have as much chlorophyll as normal algae so the light penetrates deeper growing more algae. It doesn't make sense to me. I'd think that less chlorophyll would mean less photosynthesis, less hydrogen etc. but the guys with 3 letters after their names figure it'll work. The only thing that makes any sense to me is that by making the algae "thinner" and the productive zone of the "pond" deeper they'll get more hydrogen producing volume per a given surface area and that'll make it easier to collect the hydrogen for fuel.

Re:Feasible (4, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792383)

It produces nearly enough hydrogen per acre to make "backyard" hydrogen farms feasible.

Instead of thinking entirely in terms of big honking swaths of farmland covered in algae, think of 5 or 6 vertical tanks in every backyard, producing ~4kg of hydrogen a day. That would cover automotive energy needs for the average person, probably with some left over.

Also, while farming this stuff right in the ocean wouldn't make much sense, floating farms would be practical, and a good use of space.

I'm a big fan of the idea of using the kind of space that we already waste for energy production (e.g the tops of every wal-mart in america covered in solar cells). Even a land efficient method like this one could benefit from using parts of land that we already use for another, non-conflicting, purpose.

Re:Feasible (2, Insightful)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792393)

I like the way you think. Putting them in the backyard definately would solve most of the storage problem, and if I'm not mistaken (not sure about this breed) couldn't you feed the algae your housewaste including graywater?

Re:Feasible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20793605)

I don't like the way you spell "definitely", though. When you speak it, do you pronounce the "a" you stick in there for no good reason? "DefinAAAtely"?

Re:Feasible (1)

thanatos_x (1086171) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793959)

Depends exactly what chemicals you use in your sinks/laundry. Standard soaps would probably be alright in limited quantities, but i'd be very cautious about bleach or drain cleaners, etc.

The algae might actually thrive from blackwater - Urine is the primary method for removing nitrogen from the body, and feces generally contain nutrients necessary for plants. Considering that algae thrives from nitrogen and phosphorous...

But in the end if you can find a sanitary way to do this, I could envision a method of reducing strain on sewer systems and generating energy. Granted I wouldn't want to ever have to work on repairing a system that contained algae and sewage, all steeping under the sun, day in and out.

I suspect this wouldn't be an option for most people's back yards - certainly not in the more temperate/polar regions, where'd you'd have to worry about keeping snow off it, preventing it from freezing, etc. It may be well suited as something for integration into waste treatment centers though.

All in all the prospects of such a system, if well designed and planned, could probably put a newly built city well on the way to being carbon negative and having an environmental footprint a quarter or less of what a similarly sized city would be (though it probably would take up somewhat more room).

There are multiple interesting ideas and initiatives along this idea, including a green city going up in china http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.05/feat_popup.html [wired.com] , (scroll 3/4 down to hear actual plans for the city) Although I can't find it, there was also a 6 spoke fractal design for transportation, which started as a circle crossed by 6 equidistant spokes, each of which had a circle with 6 spokes, a design which continued for 1-3 iterations. I think for a city of 1 million, point-to-point rail transportation within one of the 6 primary circles was 5 minutes, and within the city as a whole 12 minutes. It didn't scale especially well if you added iteration -1, making the city capable of holding 6 times as many people, but it was still competitive with current systems I believe.

Re:Feasible (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794741)

Feces also contain competing bacteria that inefficently produce methane!. Unless your majic H2 plant is powering a UV sterilizer, that bacteria is more than likely going to compete with whatever's in the waste you send it, decreasing efficency, and leading to you having to clean it out 2-3 times a week.

Re:Feasible (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794759)

We'd even have good reason to switch back to detergents with phosphates. From what I remember they took the phosphates out because it was causing increased algae production, which killed off a lot of the other life in the lake. If we're just using the water to feed the algae, we might as well put phosphates in the soap.

Can you get enough sun light and CO2? (2)

cyfer2000 (548592) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793033)

Can you get enough sun light and CO2 in your backyard?

Assuming you have 10 square meters yard, the sun shine's energy input is 1000W per square meter, you get 10 hours of sun shine per day, then you have 100,000Wh energy input. Assume 10% photosynthesis energy convert efficiency (this assumption is too high, 1%-5% is better but for the ease of calculation, I will use 10%), you will get 10,000Wh energy into hydrogen, that's 36MJ.

One kilogram of hydrogen has 143MJ of energy. Then to produce 1kg of hydrogen, you will need 40 sqare meters of yard, to produce 4 kg of hydrogen, you will need 160 square meters of yard, that's 1700 sqare feet. Remember we are assuming 1000W sun light input and 10% conversion here, both are too high.

I don't think we need to calculate the CO2 input now.

Re:Can you get enough sun light and CO2? (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793991)

I don't think we need to calculate the CO2 input now

I know this was your point, and I agree, but just a few minor comments:

Translate "yard" to "rooftop or other available area", and suddenly 40m2 isn't that much of a deal.
in addition, as with solar cells, the best efficiency is obtained when angling the surface at a right angle to the incoming light (or an unmoving angle that optimizes that angle for the best-yield hours of the day).
Unless you are near the equator, the footprint on the ground can be significantly lower than the effective area.
 

Re:Feasible (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794261)

Instead of thinking entirely in terms of big honking swaths of farmland covered in algae,

Will people stop saying "farmlad" all the time? Yes, conventinal biofuels require farmland, and that is aming its greatest weknesses, but this here is a green soup that bubbles out hydrogen if you give it sunlight. It doesn't need soil at all, but it does need large areas. It would make no sense to place such a facility on valuable farmland.

Re:Feasible (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794283)

Will people stop saying "farmlad" all the time?

Or "farmland", for that matter. While I appreciate that some may see the aesthetic qualities of dumping great big bio-hydrogen production plants on top of farmlads, I doubt if it would make any economic sense in the long term.

Re:Feasible (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794055)

It's not a matter of how much farmland we have, it's oceans

It's neither.
For there to be any point you need to capture the generated hydrogen, so the soup needs to be enclosed; you can't just throw the little buggers into the ocean.

Sure, you could make offshore h2 plants of this kind, but it's a lot of extra running costs, and the only benefit would be free 'land' to keep it on. The first decades of viable plants like this would be on land. But not farmland. It doesn't use the soil, so why pay for it. The best places would be desert, barren mountain, and rooftops. The latter has convenient infrastructure in place, and includes new roofs where none has been required before, like over parking lots.

Re:Feasible (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794605)

How are you going to collect the hydrogen for fuel? OOPs forgot about that didn't we.

Re:Feasible (3, Informative)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792371)

Don't count on this getting too far. Corn producers have their heels into politicians pretty good on the matter, and Hydrogen has this problem of being very hard to contain with a problem of brittling most metals used to contain it outside of titanium.

Re:Feasible (1)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792389)

Oh trust me, I don't have much faith in the system. I do realize that it's probably a pipe dream, I'm just saying that it could be possible and that this kind of thinking is definately a good thing. Storage is a problem, but I don't think that it's insurmountable.

Re:Feasible (2, Interesting)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792763)

There's another bonus with oil producing algae, it can grow in brackish water and eat sewage [unh.edu] .

What algae lacks is a powerful lobby in Washington like the corporate farms and corn sweetener have. It would also threaten a large volume of the petroleum supply chain. Since so much of our foreign policy seems centered around protecting Saudi Arabia's cash flow (when we're not arming Israel), I can't imagine our government getting behind algae production.

Not like energy independence should be a national strategic priority or anything.

It would mean we'd need to put more diesel vehicles on the road but who says we have to have a single source model? With the hydrogen bonus from the algae oil, a little ethanol to keep the farm lobby happy, and oil producing algae we could certainly retire a few of those super tankers in the oil pipeline.

With the right financial incentives and treating it like a strategic priority we could have large scale production online in five years. We could potentially be getting the majority of our transportation fuel from algae in ten years if we really committed to it. I don't mean a Bush commitment, I mean a Kennedy man-on-the-moon commitment.

Re:Feasible (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794345)

Well, the good news is you only need money for the research. Once a suitable strain of algae (or whatever we plant the capability into) is there, the horizon for profit should draw near enough for private enterprise to waltz all over corn-ethanol i the marketplace in a matter of years.

Not in cars first of course. Single factories and other businesses burning fuels today, seeing they can save money by switching to hydrogen, leading to a rudimentary backbone distribution network gradually built, then some die hard enthusiasts and insiders arranging side-outlets for smaller uses for hackers an idealists, then small buinesses seing savings, densening the distribution network, then some asian company lauching hydrogen cars _and_ consumer "gas"(literally) stations at the same time, killing the American automobile yet again.

Give me figures. (1)

eniac42 (1144799) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792255)

Give me figures in terms of overall % efficiency - how many joules per m2 of sunlight area. How does that compare to solar cells, or other solar converters? How much water would be needed for the process? If so, would it need prime agricultural land, or could it be done in a desert region?

Whenever I have looked closely at Hydrogen/bio production, its a fraction of the efficiency of direct electric production - and/or requires unrealistic amounts of prime land..

Re:Give me figures. (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792293)

The trade-off, when comparing these sorts of solutions to direct energy generation, is that we don't need to manufacture algae. Get a few of these mutants made, let em breed, and harness the work. It isn't really that simple, of course, but the first step involved with manufactured solar generators - building the damn things in the first place - is skipped.

Solar cells, or a combination of mirrors and sterling engines, will probably always beat out organisms for pure efficiency. Doesn't mean we don't also want the organisms. Particularly when the object of the exercise is hydrogen production, since water electrolysis isn't very efficient either. In practical economic terms, bioproduction of hydrogen (or other fuels) may make more sense than using generated electricity.

You're right about the water and arable land though. If we start using those to make fuel, they'll be in short supply in no time. OTOH, I've seen proposals for algae produced biofuel that worked with saline water, and could be built in a desert - that would be ideal.

Re:Give me figures. (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792299)

I've seen proposals for algae produced biofuel that worked with saline water, and could be built in a desert - that would be ideal.

So, the middle east could still be a major fuel-producing region, even when it's no longer worth the cost to pump petroleum out of the ground?

-jcr

Re:Give me figures. (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792323)

Heh, you're joking, right?

Why go all that distance? The US at least has no shortage of sunny desert, and coastal access to two oceans. Either land or sea based biofuel production would be feasible. And after Iraq, I think an increasing number of Americans will want energy independence. Why import fungible goods you can make cheaply and locally? Particularly if the countries exporting said goods are a long way from friendly?

I think the only countries that would actually need fuel imports, if biofuel worked out, would be those lacking in either sufficient space or sunlight.

Re:Give me figures. (2, Insightful)

Zouden (232738) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792349)

Get a few of these mutants made, let em breed, and harness the work.

A major reason why this won't ever be as economical as biodiesel production is that this requires mutant algae, as you said. This means the culture needs to be kept isolated from the outside world to keep it pure (the mutants have reduced fitness compared to wildtype algae).
Biodiesel, on the other hand, is produced by wildtype algae that are capable of holding their own against competing organisms.
If I had more time, I'd dig up photos of the respective bioreactor design. Hydrogen production requires sealed, sterile, glass containers, while biodiesel production simply requires an irrigated ditch.

Re:Give me figures. (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792369)

Point. Still, regardless of what other hardware is needed to make the system work, you are using self-replicating "solar cells" of a sort. You are, in effect, getting one of your components made cheaply, and replaced constantly. So what it boils down to is whether a bioreactor that produces hydrogen from algae when is more economical than a solar array that produces hydrogen from electrolysis, given the same source of sunlight. This of course is assuming the object of the exercise is hydrogen production.

I agree on the viability of simple biodiesel though. My only real caveat with it is the potential problems associated with dedicating farmland to fuel production. We don't lack for arable land or fresh water in this part of the world, and in this day and age, but if we start farming biodiesel on a meaningful scale, we will run into problems.

Re:Give me figures. (-1)

walt-sjc (145127) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792381)

Unfortunately biodiesel produces a HUGE about of co2 when burned - more so than gasoline. So it makes the global warming problem worse.

Biodiesel is not a panacea.

Re:Give me figures. (5, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792397)

Why do people keep saying this? It's like they don't actually understand why fossil fuels contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Look, carbon that's locked away underground in the form of fossil fuels isn't part of the carbon cycle. It's been sequestered by geological processes for millions of years, removing it from the air. When we dig it up and burn it, we bring it back into circulation. The total amount of airborne carbon increases; the greenhouse effect gets stronger. This is, in a nutshell, anthropic global warming.

Carbon that's already in the atmosphere can be trapped by photosynthesis. If the plant that trapped the carbon is then burned, or eaten, or even if it just dies and rots, the carbon returns to the air. This is the regular carbon cycle, with or without human intervention, and it doesn't alter the net balance of Co2. It's this process that we employ when we make biodiesel.

Biodiesel doesn't contribute to global warming. At all. The "bio" part means the hydrocarbons were synthesized from plant matter; the carbon in those hydrocarbons came from airborne Co2. As long as you plant biofuel crops, process them, and burn them, the total amount of airborne Co2 will never increase. Every ounce of carbon added to the air is matched by an ounce of carbon removed from the air by the fuel plantation.

Re:Give me figures. (1)

eniac42 (1144799) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792901)

Fair comment, since parent post was daft, but the situation is a bit more complex. First you have to look at the carbon used to make the biofuels - some will be used for fertiliser, tractors, transport, etc. Also if you are using plant matter that currently is being left to rot back into to the soil, (as proposed) then you are burning carbon that would otherwise be sequestrated - and stripping the soil of natural nutrients - and so on. You also need to use water resources which are increasingly scarce, and land which can be used for food - again world food demand is on the increase.

From what I have seen of the maths so far, biofuels only capture a few percent of Solar power net, so there is simply not enough spare arable land in the world to make enough fuel - especially as countries like India and China ramp up demand for cars. There is still plenty of sunny unused desert for Solar, or offshore sites for Wind, not to mention Tidal, Wave, etc.. Just use the power in its original Photon->Electron form, and bypass Carbon & Hydrogen altogether..

Re:Give me figures. (2, Interesting)

jstomel (985001) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794175)

First you have to look at the carbon used to make the biofuels - some will be used for fertiliser, tractors, transport, etc.
Biodiesel production is cheap, easy, spontaneous, and produces no harmful waste. If your starting source is lipids from algae (as GP was talking about) then you need no fertilizer or tractors. And to be honest, you're transporting fuel. Transport isn't carbon input, it just decreases the net yield a bit because you use some of the fuel to transport the rest.

Also if you are using plant matter that currently is being left to rot back into to the soil, (as proposed) then you are burning carbon that would otherwise be sequestrated - and stripping the soil of natural nutrients - and so on.
Plant matter that rots back into the soil releases it's carbon into the aptmosphere through the rotting process. It actually takes very special circumstances (peat bogs and whatnot) to sequester the carbon long term. And what was proposed was not using plant matter, but algae. Algae do not live in the soil and do not strip it of nutrients.

You also need to use water resources which are increasingly scarce, and land which can be used for food - again world food demand is on the increase.
Again, none of these things really apply to biodiesal from algae. Why does everyone trot out these arguments that apply only to corn and soy and act as if they apply broadly to all biofuels?

From what I have seen of the maths so far, biofuels only capture a few percent of Solar power net, so there is simply not enough spare arable land in the world to make enough fuel - especially as countries like India and China ramp up demand for cars. There is still plenty of sunny unused desert for Solar, or offshore sites for Wind, not to mention Tidal, Wave, etc.. Just use the power in its original Photon->Electron form, and bypass Carbon & Hydrogen altogether..
Because the infrastructure for using biofuels is already in place. It would take almost 20-40 years to replace the vehicle fleet already in place with electric cars. We need a solution that we can start to apply today. Also, all the energy sources you mention (wind, tidal, wave, etc) are ultimately driven by solar power. For the most part they are less efficient converters of solar energy into human usable forms than biofuels. Current solar panels are expensive, fragile, toxic to manufacture (they release arsenic and heavy metals into ground water), and not much more efficient than biofuels. Algae for the most part take care of their own production and upkeep and are environmentally friendly.

True but needs a little refining (2, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792937)

This is absolutely true provided that oil is not needed to fuel the processing. Currently, for instance, ethanol production in the US requires a very significant input of oil. Therefore, while demand for energy is increasing, satisfying some of that demand with ethanol will only at best reduce the slope of the release curve.

This ceases to be true when biofuels become totally self sufficient. This means that fertiliser plants, the plants that manufacture everything used in the biofuel production cycle, storage etc., are all being entirely fuelled by their own product.

For this reason, for many years to come, biodiesel has to be the preferred route. This is because the huge installed base of plant can mostly run on it; you can do process heating with biodiesel as well as run generators, trucks and ships. You can, as it were, bootstrap the biodiesel economy, whereas you cannot bootstrap the ethanol or hydrogen economies. Steel plants and machine shops cannot run on either.

Hydrogen is attractive to the vehicle industry not because it is efficient but because it requires replacement of the entire vehicle fleet and would provide a boost to the industry. Biodiesel allows the existing fleet to be replaced much more slowly, with the same emissions benefits.

One of the simplest ways to reduce anthropogenic global warming is just to use less energy. One of the best ways to do that is to make consumer durables last longer, and make them out of readily recyclable materials. But that threatens the entire basis of the US-Chinese industrial complex, whereas hydrogen offers it greatly increased opportunities to expand.

Re:Give me figures. (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793041)

Biodiesel doesn't contribute to global warming. At all. The "bio" part means the hydrocarbons were synthesized from plant matter; the carbon in those hydrocarbons came from airborne Co2. As long as you plant biofuel crops, process them, and burn them, the total amount of airborne Co2 will never increase. Every ounce of carbon added to the air is matched by an ounce of carbon removed from the air by the fuel plantation.


This is true if and only if you don't chop down a bunch of trees in order to make room for the bio-fuel producing crops. As it happens, deforestation causes CO2 emissions similar in magnitude to fossil fuel use. Thus rather than starting to grow bio-fuel crops, you would be much better of planting trees. This is especially true if you simultaneously retrofit fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage technology and start expanding the use of nuclear, solar,wind geothermal and tidal power.

Having said that, if you could find a way to economically grow these algae in water tanks in the dessert or something, then you might have a fairly decent energy source, thou I suspect it would just be a very inefficient solar plant.

Re:Give me figures. (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793849)

"This is true if and only if you don't chop down a bunch of trees in order to make room for the bio-fuel producing crops. As it happens, deforestation causes CO2 emissions similar in magnitude to fossil fuel use"

If you chop the trees and don't burn the wood, you don't get significant CO2 emissions.

Convert the trees to timber and paper and the carbon will be stuck in furniture or a landfill for quite a long while.

Re:Give me figures. (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794201)

Having said that, if you could find a way to economically grow these algae in water tanks in the dessert or something, then you might have a fairly decent energy source, thou I suspect it would just be a very inefficient solar plant.

Well, what effieciency the actual organisms will reach is as yet completely unknown (as yet it's awful but the premise is that it can be improved though breeding or manipulation), but in any case:
Probably inefficient per area compared to solar cells, for a good while. But if we're talking desert or other low-value land, it's really efficiency per investment that matters for both of them.

The cost of solar cells is still huge, while H2 bioreactors could be done in dirt-cheap extruded plastic canal sheets like those used in greenhouses and for solar water heating. The organisms would build themselves, just feed them nutrients and sunlight (and circulate the gases they need).

Re:Give me figures. (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793857)

Biodiesel doesn't contribute to global warming. At all.

That's not entirely true. Yes, the binding of carbon in fossil deposits is ultra-long-term, and in biomas it is not, but htta does no mean it does not have an impact.

If we assume that the fuel extraction results in most of the captured carbon from the plot ending up in the fuel (or in the atmosphere during processing), that means that the only carbon bound up "by" that land at any point in time is that which is in the crops currently growing there, or any fuel generated from it and still not used. Most likely not all that much.

In contrast, the carbon bound up by, say, a similar patch of forest binds all the carbon in all the biomass on it, decaying on it, and transported out of it (for example for lumber) but not yet burnt or decayed. Quite a lot.

For farmland it is a similar proposition: sure, the turnover rate for food is faster than for lumber, but it still takes longer for the carbon in harvested for food to return completely to CO2 than if you just burned it straight away, and the rest of the plant is typically not burnt straight away, but decays slowly too.

Just burning the entire amount of captured carbon more or less immediately (which is sort of the idea of biofuels) short-circuits the cycle, bypassing this reservoir of resident and decaying biomass.

So although yes, biomass fuel is a lot better than burning oil, converting other carbon-binding biotopes into biomass-farms for fuel does indeed free up more carbon into the atmosphere.

It is a one-time per-land-area cost, as opposed to the per-energy consumed cost of fossil fuel, so it is of course far superior to that. But it is not zero. Very far from it if we envision biofuels becoming a global energy contender.

It is reversible, if it ever becomes economical to revert the area to heavier growth and slower decay, but it takes many decades to get a plot of farmland back to anywhere near the carbon-binding ability of, say, old-growth forest.

SO: a lot better than fossil fules, but solar is still significantly better, and when bio-H2 comes of age it will be way superior too (probably much better, since there is less high-energy manufacturing involved).

Re:Give me figures. (2, Interesting)

norton_I (64015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793007)

Biodiesel production also requires (or at least prefers) carefully bred strains with high oil production. This also leads to somewhat reduced fitness. Probably not as big a deal as these hydrogen producers, but still an issue.

What I can't seem to get anyone to explain is why we want a hydrogen economy anyway. Liquid fuel for vehicles seems like a much better plan. The only reason to go hydrogen is if you want to fuel vehicles with coal or nuclear plants, and even then, I think it is a better plan to convert they hydrogen to methane or methanol at the generation facility. Biodisel, on the other hand, seems nearly the optimal motor fuel.

Transportation, storage, transfer, and use of hydrogen are all difficult. All of those problems are solvable, but it seems like unnecessary cost and complexity to me.

Re:Give me figures. (1)

eniac42 (1144799) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792421)

Solar cells, or a combination of mirrors and sterling engines, will probably always beat out organisms for pure efficiency. Doesn't mean we don't also want the organisms. Particularly when the object of the exercise is hydrogen production, since water electrolysis isn't very efficient either. In practical economic terms, bioproduction of hydrogen (or other fuels) may make more sense than using generated electricity.

I think the crux there is whether you want Hydrogen or Bio-fuel at all. Improvements in Batteries are making straight-forward electric cars more and more feasable - just use the electricity from solar/wind/tidal (and for that matter nuclear) directly, bypass the large inefficiency involved in Hydrogen or Biomass generation/storage (most of the storage methods for Hydrogen cars are very poor - less than 2% Hydrogen for overall stored weight). For example, (from another thread) I calculated you needed about 100x100 miles of Nevada desert to generate the complete daytime US gridload (approx 1 TerraWatt). This scheme in Nevada:

http://www.reuk.co.uk/Nevada-Solar-One.htm [reuk.co.uk]

Delivers 64 Mw for 350 acres = 45 watts per sqr meter.
100 x100 miles = 26 000 000 000 m2.
x 45 (watts) = 1.17 TerraWatt supply.


Cost? Figures vary, but Nevada Solar quote about $0.07/Kwh, wind and others maybe a little less. I wonder how algea would compare, in terms of cost, land/water used, and so on..

Re:Give me figures. (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792359)

how many joules per m2 of sunlight area

You need a unit for time as well.

But the article did have kilograms of hydrogen per acre per day. If we accept the assertion that 1kg of H2 is roughly equivalent to 1 gallon of gas (for automotive use), you are really only some very simple arithmetic away from a fair comparison with gas.

As for water usage, the algae live _in_ the water, not on the ground, so the water will be enclosed, probably in transparent pipes or covered pools. There would be no evaporation, and ground conditions would be largely irrelevant. So farmland would be too valuable and not competitive. Water consumed form actual conversion to hydrogen would be a barely noticable expense, and absolutely tiny compared to agriculture.

Comparison with other direct electric is fruitless, because this _isn't_ a technology for generatring electricity, it produces storable and transportable _fuel_. It will compete with stuff like refined gas/diesel, biodiesel, hydrogen electrolysed from solar electricity, or batteries charged with solar electricity.

Yes, producing H2 this way in order to burn it for electricity would be dumb, just like using electricity to synthesize fuel would.

Haven't done the math, but my guess is the inefficiency of solar cells coupled with the extra cost of conversion when you're not using the electricity directly, means it can be beat quite easily the second we get our hands on some reasonably efficient hydrogen-generating critters. But not before. Breeding them may take time, but maybe soon we will understand enough about photosynthesis to manipulate the circuitry in a directed way, and produce only enough sugar to keep the cell alive and make hydrogen from the rest.

This reasearch has been going on for years, BTW.

Not just to be used in cars..maybe (1)

fadilnet (1124231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792259)

Just wondering - can this new algae be used to power satellites, and other space crafts?

Re:Not just to be used in cars..maybe (1)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792285)

According to this [google.com] I think it's possible provided the light is toned down a bit. I don't know how well it could be scaled due to container size and other factors such as nourishment and the availability of water. It can grow, but I'm not sure if it can be sustained.

Re:Not just to be used in cars..maybe (1)

burni (930725) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792409)

In theory this is possible, but Algae do only grow well under certian conditions,
the reactor environment and all material must be sterilized before planting algae.
In Space you must provide a nearly 100% reuse of the material,
to sustian this artificial circle of life, and you must controll the feeding.

here are the cons
cg - Algae need Water
cs - in Space the Temperature must not fall beyond 0°C (freeze)

cg - Algae need light and often they have an inner clock
cs - Satelites travel the orbit not in a 12/12 day/night cycle

cg - Algae need warm Water, but not too warm
cs1 - you must heat the water when you are in the night
cs2 - you must cool the water when you are in the day
cs3 - you must do it very frequent

cg - bioreactors can collapse by infection
cs - you energy source is gone and you just cannot repair it

cg - Algae are robust against radiation, but what about mutation
cg - when you produce gm plants you turn things by your own and not as the DNA intended
them to be,
cs - these algae can mutate the way you don´t want
cs - these algae can die cause of high radition (solar bursts, gamma-, x-ray,HE-particles)
cs - the tank must provide presure, if it got damaged by micrometereotes the presure is gone.

cs - this means you must provide mechanical and optical protection while providing access to certian parts of the suns spectrum,

btw. you have also to apply an UV-filter, like you do on your own.

so I would say, not usefull for satelites, but perhaps space stations.

Re:Not just to be used in cars..maybe (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794507)

algae will not be used in cars, not in spacecraft.

Spacecraft will continue to be best served with solar cells for electricity, if they are near enough the sun, nuclear otherwise.

The best you can hope for is that the ones who come ready-loaded with chemical rapid-propulsion fules get theirs from these algae.

There might appear craft that generate h2 from solar (for more concentrated blasts than they would have power to from electrical engines), but they still have to bring along water to make it from. I suspect the necessary systems needed would outweigh the benefits of just launching with H2 and O2 in stead of water, even for solar cell electrolysis, and especially for biological H2 generation.

The best you can hope for is that the h2 they bring along is generated in a friendly way, but looking at the total energy consumption of a space mission, it scarcely matters.

algae filled lakes (1)

OffTheLip (636691) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792271)

Based on the amount of algae I see in the lakes where I live this could be useful. Assuming accelerated algae growth is caused by fertilizer runoff could this counteract some of the environmental damage we (collectively speaking) cause? If nothing else the polluters would feel they are contributing to the greater planetary good along with having a kick ass lawn.

Re:algae filled lakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20792689)

Based on the amount of algae I see in the lakes where I live this could be useful. Assuming accelerated algae growth is caused by fertilizer runoff could this counteract some of the environmental damage we (collectively speaking) cause? If nothing else the polluters would feel they are contributing to the greater planetary good along with having a kick ass lawn.


Maybe. If you have a lot of money and energy for glass production. And as long as you don't have a driver practice range to go with your putting green.

This algae produces hydrogen. It's lighter than the oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide mix we breath. Do you think it gonna sink to the ground where you can hoover it up? All that acreage and you lawn needs glass warehouses built over them. Big huge warehouses, made with lots of glass. Still, in most of the United States, it'll only be productive for half the day, half the year. Grow lamps, heh!?

And how do you make glass? Sand and lots of heat, which would probably come from oil or natural gas. Or, you could use plastic bags instead of glass. But that comes from oil again, unless you can polymerize algae.

Of course, there's also the probem that mutant algae like to mutate and become huge green glass and plastic devouring monsters, just before they discover that pets and then humans are ideal sources of the CHON they need for another stage of mutation. Or, maybe the first spark of intelligence will ignite acres of hydrogen gas creating an algae consuming implosion? Time to flip another coin.

Re:algae filled lakes (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794555)

All that acreage and you lawn needs glass warehouses built over them. Big huge warehouses, made with lots of glass.

No warehouses. Just transparent pipes/canas.

And how do you make glass? Sand and lots of heat, which would probably come from oil or natural gas.

No need to use glass. Plastic is fine.

Or, you could use plastic bags instead of glass. But that comes from oil again,

_coming_ from ois is not what makes fossil fules bad. As long as you don't burn the damn things on a massive scale, or pollute too much in other ways along the way, making stuff from oil is just fine.

Nice work, but... (3, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792277)

At $2.8 per Kg, this would be one of the cheapest ways yet to extract hydrogen, but it still leaves the problem of containing it in a vehicle, the cost of building the fuel cell or engine you'd burn it in, and so on. The fact is that gasoline has an incredible energy density by volume, and in absolute terms, it's still very, very cheap.

Something I find rather more promising is the work described in an earlier MIT review article, where bacteria are being modified to make gasoline directly. [technologyreview.com] Just like petroleum-based gasoline, except that it's carbon-neutral, and sulphur-free. We're talking gasoline from anything that E. coli can ferment.

-jcr

Re:Nice work, but... (1)

thanatos_x (1086171) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792327)

Hydrogen does have quite a lot of energy bang for the buck, though since it's a gas vs a liquid, the comparison by volume is kinda flawed. I'm pretty sure that as a liquid it has considerably more energy density than gasoline, but it is a bitch to keep compressed like that and it's insanely volatile.

So many problems to solve? Yes. But chalking one off the list is a good thing, reducing the fundamental problem with hydrogen power - the fact that the variable cost was so high. If there's an abundant energy rich resource available it gives much greater incentive to find a way to use it. If we didn't have so much oil, we'd probably find a way to use coal to power vehicles (and not simply by converting it to oil.)

The fact remains that building such facilities to produce hydrogen, as well as many other stages required to make hydrogen a practical fuel, is a chicken and the egg problem. Come to think of it, i wonder which will end first - the dominance of gasoline as a fuel, or the dominance of the x86 ISA. The same solution is required, a hybrid which can implement the old way and new way reasonably well (70+%) of a pure implementation of both.

Re:Nice work, but... (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792715)

The same solution is required, a hybrid which can implement the old way and new way reasonably well (70+%) of a pure implementation of both.
Nope. The "solution" is a pressing need to move from one to the other. x86 will be around for a long time because there's no significant end-user benefit to ditching it. Hyrogen vs. Gasoline, on the other hand...

Re:Nice work, but... (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794667)

Hydrogen is quite a bit trickier to store than liquid fuels. You need either a pressure vessel, cryogenic storage, or a gigantic gas bag. All of which have their issues, and that's before considering diffusion (H2 is really, really small and will diffuse through just about anything given enough time) and its related problem, hydrogen embrittlement.

It is not at all unintuitive to believe that the cars of the future will be powered by liquid hydrocarbons, with only the source of those hydrocarbons in question.

Is it to much to ask (2, Interesting)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792283)

Is it to much to ask to get reference links with more credibility than wikipedia? I mean, come on, is it really that hard to find a credible source to reference? For pete's sake even wikipedia claims it should /not/ be sourced as a cite, only a starting point.

Re:Is it to much to ask (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20792317)

Would have modded you up, until I saw your signature.

If you want more credible sources, find them yourself. This is the internet, you jackass. Wikipedia's at least attempting to index them, you instead are bitching about it and not doing any work yourself.

Re:Is it to much to ask (2, Insightful)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792343)

Wikipedia is attempting to index what, the Internet? Wikipedia cites only popular persistant opinions of very narrow political persuasions. Pick a contorversial topic, it doesn't matter what it is, said writing is full of bias presented as fact often bordering or outright propoganda. I have a problem when people assume that popular persistent opinions somehow equal truth, accuracy or science. I'm not the one who cited something. Besides, since when has it ever been prudent to ask readers of a story to provide their own cites? I have done technical writing in one form or another for a decade now, providing a reliable cite is par for the course. Your not one of those that thinks people have a duty to update wikipedia are you?

Wikipedia requires some basic understanding (2, Insightful)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792863)

> Wikipedia, the concept that persistent opinions are accurate opinions

Persistent opinions ARE accurate opinions in many fields (to the best of human knowledge), and in other fields they're not.

The only strong "limitation" of Wikipedia's model is that it requires readers to understand which field falls into which category. If you wish to accuse Wikipedia of not being 100% useful to totally non-perceptive readers, then yes you're right, one would have to agree with you. It's only useful to totally non-perceptive readers when they happen to be reading pages of the first kind, not the second. But those who are perceptive know how much to trust both kinds of article.

The types of fields in which persistent opinions are accurate opinions are those ruled by verifiable fact, the rule of mathematics and logic, and cooperative progress through explicit reasoning, not through debate. That includes mathematics and logic themselves, plus all the hard sciences and branches of engineering. It excludes almost everything else, even many fields that try to employ logical discourse (eg. about 95% of philosophy is excluded). And even harsher than this, it also excludes personal opinion within the included fields: for example, it excludes personal interpretations in climatology and claimed predictions for the future, while including the very scientific fact finding and analysis in that field of science.

To those who understand the above, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, because (apart from occasional human error and abuse, which are both rapidly corrected) the entries are all made cooperatively and all new progress builds upon past progress. Thus, the entries that persist represent the current peak of human understanding.

This contrasts markedly with the other kind of fields, in which personal opinion, claimed experience, authoritative position, and vocal statements matter. Yes, you can't trust anything that you read in those fields on Wikipedia, but that's not Wikipedia's problem. You can't trust what you read about those field on any other forum or means of communication either.

So, if you have a problem with trusting Wikipedia, it's either because you work in fields of the second kind (and hence you're part of the problem), or else because you fail to understand how human endeavour is split into those two very different categories and so you don't apply suitably varying degrees of trust.

It's your problem, not ours on the science and engineering side. Wikipedia serves us well.

Re:Wikipedia requires some basic understanding (1)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793107)

"The types of fields in which persistent opinions are accurate opinions are those ruled by verifiable fact, the rule of mathematics and logic, and cooperative progress through explicit reasoning, not through debate. That includes mathematics and logic themselves, plus all the hard sciences and branches of engineering."

No, beliefs in the hard sciences are not ruled by verifiable fact, at least not when you get beyond the very basics. Most of science is based on hypotheses and theories. One cannot verify that all matter is made of tiny vibrating strings, or that the moon was formed from the collision of Earth with a smaller planet, or that human activity is the primary cause of global warming. All scientists can do is develop more hypotheses, test them, and use those results to support, fine tune, or occasionally throw out their theories. So the belief that persistent opinions are accurate ones is actually very dangerous to science.

But anyways, you miss the main problem with the wikipedia. It is not that it is often inaccurate or that it pushes the idea that popularity means accuracy. Those are disturbing consequences of it, but not the main problem. The biggest problem is that it is a tertiary source. This means that like an encyclopedia article, it makes for a very bad citation. The purpose of tertiary sources is to serve as an easy way to look things up and get a quick overview, they do not replace real research.

In fact it is insulting to give a link to the wikipedia to explain whatever it is you are talking about (like the submitter of this story did) because the implication is that the readers are too stupid to do a wikipedia search. If all you know about something is what the wikipedia told you, you are not an authority on the subject.

Re:Wikipedia requires some basic understanding (2, Interesting)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793345)

No, beliefs in the hard sciences are not ruled by verifiable fact, at least not when you get beyond the very basics.

Um, the hard sciences *are* the very basics because they're directly verifiable.

One cannot verify that all matter is made of tiny vibrating strings, ...

Which is why string theory isn't science.

... or that the moon was formed from the collision of Earth with a smaller planet, ...

If by "verify", you mean, "we can't go back in time to witness it", yes.

... or that human activity is the primary cause of global warming.

And if by "verify", you mean, "simplify global climate into a simple, testable experiment", yes. You can merely verify most (if not all) of the factors that make up the theory.

All scientists can do is develop more hypotheses, test them, and use those results to support, fine tune, or occasionally throw out their theories.

Reasonably true.

So the belief that persistent opinions are accurate ones is actually very dangerous to science.

That's hardly the case. The problem is when hypotheses or conjectures are taken as accurate (instead of merely well-informed guesses) or when theories, after being disproven, are still viewed as accurate (even innaccurate ones (general relativity) can be useful when one recognizes and works around those innacuracies). Or, put another way, the very dangerous to science is when people think science always has an answer, instead of taking a more nuanced view of the situation (which is often, "I don't know").

But anyways, you miss the main problem with the wikipedia. It is not that it is often inaccurate or that it pushes the idea that popularity means accuracy.

Correction. It pushes the idea that eventually enough people will see problems and issue changes to correct those problems. The point of accuracy is supposed to come not from popularity but through proper citation (which itself is based squarely on verifiability, to the point that verifiability is more important than accuracy).

Those are disturbing consequences of it, but not the main problem. The biggest problem is that it is a tertiary source. This means that like an encyclopedia article, it makes for a very bad citation. The purpose of tertiary sources is to serve as an easy way to look things up and get a quick overview, they do not replace real research.

Perhaps you hadn't considered that that's what people view Wikipedia as? Consider that, instead of linking to a source directly, one can instead alter Wikipedia to include that source (assuming, of course, that the source is appropriate (ie, that it serves better than existing sources)) and link to the article so that you not only receive the source but also *other* sources as well. Of course, it might be wise to include Wikipedia *and* an appropriate source.

In fact it is insulting to give a link to the wikipedia to explain whatever it is you are talking about (like the submitter of this story did) because the implication is that the readers are too stupid to do a wikipedia search.

I somewhat agree. But, one of the main points of /. (and the web, in general) is to provide an easy means of linking things. Of course, one could aruge that such easy linking is something more suited for a web browser extension. Or, one could go to google news as a stream of news articles to filter through to find your own sources and avoid /. completely. In fact, googling something can be trivially easy at times, to the point that one could argue that citing anything is to mock one's audience. Clearly that's not true. So, while Wikipedia might not be the best source (directly), that doesn't mean providing a link to Wikipedia is meant as an insult.

If all you know about something is what the wikipedia told you, you are not an authority on the subject.

And if you're upset because Wikipedia told you something and it's not backed by verifiable sources, you have reason to be upset. But, you seem to be under the impression that Wikipedia doesn't strive to provide verification for things. When it fails, it is a horrible source. That doesn't mean it's always a horrible source.

Re:Wikipedia requires some basic understanding (1)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793679)

"Um, the hard sciences *are* the very basics because they're directly verifiable."

No, they really are not. I don't know how to state it more simply than that. You have a dangerously inaccurate view of the epistemology of science and its role in our world.

"If by "verify", you mean, "we can't go back in time to witness it", yes."

By 'verify' I mean to prove the truth of it, you know, the definition of the world 'verify'. And you had better not whine that that is too strong of a standard, you are the one who first used the word.

BTW, the reason scientific articles are in general more accurate than say, historical articles has nothing to do with whether or not they deal with "verifiable facts", its because of the population dynamics regarding who is editing the wikipedia. People with expertise in science and engineering are much more likely to be editing it than a historian.

"Perhaps you hadn't considered that that's what people view Wikipedia as? "

If so, we wouldn't be having this conversation as the submitter of the article wouldn't have cited it.

"And if you're upset because Wikipedia told you something and it's not backed by verifiable sources, you have reason to be upset. But, you seem to be under the impression that Wikipedia doesn't strive to provide verification for things. When it fails, it is a horrible source. That doesn't mean it's always a horrible source."

You are still missing the point. The problem isn't that the wikipedia is unreliable or doesn't always have citations, its that it is a tertiary source, which as you should have learned in the fifth grade makes it unsuitable for citations. Even the wikipedia itself has a disclaimer stating this [wikipedia.org] .

BTW, Neil Waters provides an excellent summary of these problems in a column he wrote in this month's (September) issue of the Communications of the ACM, you might want to check it out. And don't give me any crap about the ACM not putting it for free online, either go to the library or buy a copy of the magazine.

Re:Wikipedia requires some basic understanding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20793529)

All the examples in your response agree with what the parent actually wrote, because the parent moderated "100% accurate" with the phrase "to the best of human knowledge", and specifically excluded personal opinion and interpretations and claimed clairvoyance from within the fields of science and technology.

And then you chose to ignore those very explicitly stated exclusions, and proceeded to knock down the straw man which you thus erected.

In other words, your response falls squarely into the realm of debating, and not logically reasoned discussion. Your fields are clearly of the second kind.

Re:Wikipedia requires some basic understanding (1)

nwbvt (768631) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793721)

Either you have a very low opinion of human knowledge and don't believe we will ever encounter more evidence with which we can revise our scientific understanding of the world, or you are an idiot. Actually, those are not mutually exclusive options.

BTW, my 'fields' are in computer science and mathematics genius.

Re:Wikipedia requires some basic understanding (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793745)

The types of fields in which persistent opinions are accurate opinions are those ruled by verifiable fact, the rule of mathematics and logic, and cooperative progress through explicit reasoning, not through debate. That includes mathematics and logic themselves, plus all the hard sciences and branches of engineering. It excludes almost everything else, even many fields that try to employ logical discourse (eg. about 95% of philosophy is excluded). And even harsher than this, it also excludes personal opinion within the included fields: for example, it excludes personal interpretations in climatology and claimed predictions for the future, while including the very scientific fact finding and analysis in that field of science.

You know, I hear the idea that the earth was flat was rather persistant before Copernicus. I think that if you put a paleontologist and a creationist in the same room, the paleontologist would claim he's dealing in hard science yet the creationist got the most persistant opinion (2000 years and going). To exclude "claimed predictions of the future" in a field, is to exclude inductive reasoning which is the basis for all science except abstract math. Everything is built on an interpretation making predictions that are accurate. If you only recognize Wikipedia as a legitimate source for what there's no dispute about, well there are a few articles left but then you're even looking at science through the rear-view mirror. And just because science is old and undisputed doesn't mean it's accurate, like for example a lot of the "classic" physics was rewritten to take general relativity into account. Unless Wikipedia is open to reinterpretations like that, you'll basicly lose everything that relates to progress of science and just be a 20+ year old science book. That is certainly not very useful.

Re:Is it to much to ask (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794591)

Is it to much to ask to get reference links with more credibility than wikipedia?

Umm... There were two links, the second link being the actual article with interview and links to sources at laboratories doing the research. I'm assuming the first link in the summary to Wikipedia was to familiarize anyone with the concept of using algea as a source of biofuels.

Seeing there are no online encyclopedias or organizations devoted to algea farming (as of now) Wikipedia seems to be the perfect place to explain the concept and theory behind the technique. However, if you want the actual application and source material then you should be going with the second link in the summary.

I don't see anything wrong with linking WP to show someone what the concept was. If say during a casual conversation a friend or relative asked me what city Einstein was born in, I'd recommend Wikipedia since I don't know it off the top of my head and that is the quickest method of finding that information. But if they were doing a research paper on Einstein's childhood for school, I'd recommend going to the library or bookstore simply because they'd have access to the sources directly and the fact if you have to 100 pages of reading on paper is easier on the eyes.

H2 Panacea (1, Interesting)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792333)

Once it's produced, how do you store it? I confess that I now (sort of) work for evil "big oil" but I do have some experience with the practicalities of storing and transporting hydrogen.

Re:H2 Panacea (2, Interesting)

The_Dougster (308194) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792443)

Once it's produced, how do you store it? I confess that I now (sort of) work for evil "big oil" but I do have some experience with the practicalities of storing and transporting hydrogen.

Thats a pretty good question there! I'd recommend using Metastable Metallic Hydrogen [wikipedia.org] personally, except there's a small issue that nobody has exactly figured out how to make the stuff yet.

That being said, I always thought that good old Ammonia (NH4) had some nice potential for hydrogen storage. Its easily liquefied at room temperature. There are a couple issues with Ammonia though. First, it tends to be rather poisonous, such that breathing in a good lung full of the pure gas would probably be fatal. Secondly, its a bit difficult to get it to react in a controlled fashion. Thirdly, it tends to explode violently sometimes, kind of unpredictably I gather. There's no doubt that Ammonia is an energy dense substance; however, exploiting it for a consumer energy material is somewhat problematic.

A safer alternative would be to saturate a carbon backbone with hydrogens, resulting in some kind of diesel or wax type fuel. That more or less puts us back where we started though, except now we have to expend extra energy to synthesize the stuff rather than just pumping it out of a hole. I suppose when the holes start going dry it might be an option...

Re:H2 Panacea (1)

Courageous (228506) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793469)

Why no mention of Hydrogen Boraxate?

It has its own problems, but explosive and/or highly poisonous aren't among them.

C//

The requirements... (3, Insightful)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792335)

If "a kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent in energy to a gallon of gasoline" then, estimating [howstuffworks.com] about 400 million gallons of gas per day used by the US, we will need 10 million acres of algae farm. That is with the assumption that they obtain their optimal output, and no additional energy is expended for processing, transport, etc.

By contrast, an average nuclear power plant produces 1000 megawatts of energy. Also assuming optimum efficiency, we get (10^9 joules pers second * (60 * 60 *24) seconds per day / (237.1*10^3 joules to electrolyze 1 mole of hydrogen at 298K) * 1.01 grams/mole = 368,047 kilograms of hydrogen per day.

So... 10 nuclear plants, or 10 million acres of algae farm?

Let's not forget that your algae farm will stop photosynthesizing when it's cloudy out.

Re:The requirements... (4, Interesting)

eniac42 (1144799) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792561)

Hmm.. Or for 10 Gigawatts, you could use a solar plant about 10x10 miles in the Nevada desert. This sceme http://www.reuk.co.uk/Nevada-Solar-One.htm [reuk.co.uk] Delivers 64 Mw for 350 acres = 45 watts per sqr meter. 10 x10 miles = 260 000 000 m2, x 45 (watts) = 11.7 GigaWatt supply. Yup ok, day only - but you are charging car batteries, so you could work out a scheme that does that in the day. They reckon it costs around $0.07/Kwh.

You are right on one thing though - probably better to just generate & use electricity directly than to mess about with Hydrogen, etc. Think of all the plastic/glass you would need to contain the algea and collect the gas..

Re:The requirements... (2, Informative)

grimJester (890090) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794583)

The US has around 940 million acres of farmland (source [usda.gov] ). A single percent of this would be enough to fuel all the cars in the country. It's not necessarily the most efficient option but certainly doable.

Nuclear + Hydrogen + Batteries (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792441)

It sort of pains me to see all these touted solutions to fuel and energy when we have perfectly valid (and economical ) solutions available. Use Nuclear to generate electricity and hydrogen, short to medium distance travel use batteries, long distance and aviation can use hydrogen or electricity. Heck, when you factor in service costs batteries are already starting to become competitive for cars, electric trains are well tested, and it has been demonstrated several times that powering jet engines on cryogenic hydrogen is perfectly feasible. Charging times and capacities for batteries are improving every year, and the infra structure for charging batteries ( i.e the electric grid ) is more or less there. The way I see it, it is only a question of time ( set mainly by how rapidly the oil price is going to rise ) before the majority of fossil fuel consumption is replaced with electric. Aviation is a bit tricky because using batteries will probably not be practical, but on the other hand airlines have predictable schedules, use all their fuel within a few hours, and use a much larger scale than personal cars, and this essentially removes the main problems with liquid hydrogen ( the heat flow through a large container is much easier to deal with since volume increases quicker than surface area as you scale things up ). Bio-fuels are generally a very bad idea as simply planting trees would soak up way more CO2 than the bio-fuels would save within a century. Also, if used in the form of combustion of ethanol they are not much cleaner than petroleum in terms of all non-CO2 pollutants. You still get soot particles and nitrates from the combustion ...

Re:Nuclear + Hydrogen + Batteries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20794489)

But how many nuclear plants and amount of uranium do you need to replace the energy currently produced by oil?

I have heard estimates about 10 000 new nuclear plants worldwide and running out of uranium in just 20 years.

Only ITER can save the world, assuming it works and in time. :)

My tech is better! (2, Funny)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792483)

Let me introduce you to an advanced technology vehicle I've been researching for years. It runs on nothing but pure cellulose in form of grass and so is very environmentally friendly. I call it a "horse". It requires no fossil fuels and is surely the transportation of the future.

Re:My tech is better! (2, Funny)

dvice_null (981029) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792543)

Actually horses are not that environment friendly, they produce pollution from both ends.

Re:My tech is better! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20792719)

Plus you apparently enjoy being fucked in the ass by gay hairy men. Fag.

Omits depth of shit considerations (2, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793319)

The downside of the horse is that it is unsuited to high density urban environments. Not without reason is the horseman a symbol of the aristocracy. If New York or London had the same horse population as they currently have cars, nothing would move because of the height of the horse dung (and no technical solution to removing it without powered transport.) Even in 18th century England, there was a profitable occupation in large cities of "crossing-sweeper", i.e. somebody who cleaned the dung off a section across roads and charged pedestrians for the right to cross.

That's without considering that the entire planet would be given over to growing grass. Unlike cars, horses consume a lot of fuel even when going nowhere. You have to be quite well off to be an Amish.

same question (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792581)

same question as the last time [slashdot.org] - be careful what you release into the wild.

Re:same question (2)

taricha (1115245) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792819)

In general, by genetically modifying something we make it less fit in a survival sense. Look at all the plants and animals we've domesticated for our use by hybridization. They hardly run rampant destroying their wild cousins. In fact they'd be dead without our help, because we've reduced their fitness by making them overproduce some aspect we are interested in. This algae is no different. The modification actually makes each cell absorb less light so it absorbs only what it can use allowing the sunlight to be spread over more cells. So this algae is less competitive than its wild "light-hogging" cousins.

Duke Nukem's comment... (1)

g253 (855070) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792599)

Duke Nukem's comment was "what are these cars, some bottom-feeding scum-sucking algae eaters?"

If this actually turns out to be viable... (2, Interesting)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 6 years ago | (#20792649)

...then the governments of the developed world will find ways to:

a. stifle it while there's still fossil fuels to be had (ie with prohibitive taxation)

b. stifle the technology which utilises it (by classifying it for military use)

c. bud off private concerns (or use existing military contractors) who then go on a patent grab for said technology, making an example of anyone who tried it (yes, you, Mr. Hobbyist!)

d. license favoured concerns to (under)develop and (under)utilise the technology until such time as the oil becomes economically nonviable.

As a side note, I already use photovoltaics and gel storage to power my custom bike (so, sue me, Shell!). While it doesn't go 0-60 at the speed of thought, it does carry me and my laptop at a nice pace (20-40 depending on conditions). No petrol consumption at all there, and I get about two hours off of a cold charge with the panel off.

Good story in National Geographic this month (1)

cgrayson (22160) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793263)

Titled Green Dreams [nationalgeographic.com] , it discusses biofuels from all different sources: corn in the US, sugarcane in South America, and the possible future miracle of algae.

While each acre of corn produces around 300 gallons (1,135 liters) of ethanol a year and an acre of soybeans around 60 gallons (227 liters) of biodiesel, each acre of algae theoretically can churn out more than 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of biofuel each year.

Great idea but theres a problem ..... (1)

shmack (1161519) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793399)

I think its a great idea that people are trying to find new ways to power their cars, and heck if using hydrogen would work and it would be cheap, I'm all up for it. Seriously who right now is not angry with the amount of money we spend on gas. With $2.80 for the equivalent of a gallon, i think a lot of people would actually be happy The problem though would come with moving from gasoline powered cars to hydrogen. I believe that the oil industry would try as hard as possible to prevent it from happening, and how many car companies out there would actually take the risk of try a new technology which could quite possible not last. I think its a great idea, but it's still going to be a very long time before any new form of power replaces oil.

wouldn't this help pig farms? (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20793417)

They're supposed to be one of the worst manure polluters around. Right now, the pig shit is just waste matter. If they could use this as feedstock for the algae ponds, suddenly it has a monetary value. This could be a good thing, environmentally speaking.

Go Imperial! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20794243)

This post demos the benefits of the imperial measurements.

1 kg hydrogen = 1 gallon gas

It is much easier than

1 kg hydrogen = 3.7854118 liters gas

When will the rest of the world catch up and go imperial?

Isn't Slashdot wonderful? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794309)

Where else can you wake up on a Saturday morning and read an article about mutant algae fuels.

Why Hydrogen at all? (1)

CCTalbert (819490) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794389)

I'm sorry, I just don't buy into the whole "Hydrogen is Cool/The Answer/Better" story. It's simply not very convenient, if nothing else; high pressure is energy intensive and has some safety issues, cryo is energy intensive and opens up a whole other can of worms. IF you can get bio-diesel out of algae (or anything for that matter) I think it's a much better use of the little critters.

Bio-diesel is carbon neutral, so it's as green as we can ask for; easy to transport and store (even uses the existing infrastructure) , relatively safe to handle, and requires virtually no new technology to implement. It's dense, to, which I think is worth noting- pressure tanks or cryo need more space, and that can be at a premium in a small vehicle. It doesn't have to obsolete *every* vehicle on the road. If I spill some in my driveway (or even my living room for that matter) it's just No Big Deal. If someone rear-ends you at a stoplight, ruptures your tank, and your bio-diesel runs out on the ground, again it's pretty much NBD. (Happens every day. Sometimes it ends badly, but even with gasoline it's rather rare to have a fire.)

The technology of fuel cells is cool, I'll give you that, but what good does it actually do me or the environment? I can't keep a can of hydrogen in my garage and fill my garden tractor with it!

Now, what I'd really like is a nice mid-size car, a diesel hybrid. Like maybe a Jetta, with a little help in the trunk from some of those spiffy new cells that A123 Systems makes. Just my preference. And I'd like a little smart-car sized electric for my local trips.

I think our easiest and most useful gains can be from hybrid (or pure electric) vehicles with the batteries that are finally becoming available now. Lead acid just wasn't there, NiCad wasn't quite there either; Ni-MH pretty much there for most use, and now these Lithium Ion cells seem to be there. Depending on where you set the bar for energy density, safety, etc., I think most would agree if it hasn't been passed we're *really* close.

And if nothing else, if our President is touting a Hydrogen economy, you know it's gotta be a farce! :)

Re:Why Hydrogen at all? (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794637)

I'm sorry,
It's OK.
I just don't buy into the whole "Hydrogen is Cool/The Answer/Better" story. It's simply not very convenient, if nothing else; high pressure is energy intensive and has some safety issues, cryo is energy intensive and opens up a whole other can of worms.

Ah, you havn't been following. Suffice to say none of these are among the generally suggested ways of keeping hydrogen in a car. Go do your homework.

IF you can get bio-diesel out of algae (or anything for that matter) I think it's a much better use of the little critters.

Now that actually has some merit.

Some math shows that this could really work. (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20794593)

Given 35kg of hydrogen per acre, and that

http://www.technologyreview.com/BizTech-R&D/wtr_16523,295,p1.html?a=f [technologyreview.com]

says that a fuel cell car needs about 5kg per fill up of 350 miles, we're looking at roughly 1750 car miles per acre per day, or, about 640,000 miles per acre year, assuming that you can grow algae year round.

Assuming that the USA has 240 million drivers , driving on average, 11,000 miles per year (wikipedia), then, we're talking about a demand for about a little over 4 million acres of algae. So, this could actually work, and work a lot better than ethanol.

Even a 10% hydrogen conversion efficiency would require only 20 million acres of land, and that's considerably less than the several hundred million acres (more than the area of the USA, to grow enough corn to make ethanol with for fuel).
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