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Algae Energy: the answer to the Biofuel Question

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But were afraid to Ask.



Diesels can be run on almost any kind of oil: corn, soy, whale...but probably will end up running on a kind of algae since it is by weight 50% oil or so. The following comes from a wikipedia article:


* Soybean: 40 to 50 US gal/acre (35 to 45,000 L/km)

* Rapeseed: 110 to 145 US gal/acre (100 to 130,000 L/km)

* Mustard: 140 US gal/acre (130,000 L/km)

* Jatropha: 175 US gal/acre (160,000 L/km)

* Palm oil: 650 US gal/acre (580,000 L/km) [6]

* Algae: 10,000 to 20,000 US gal/acre (9,000,000 to 18,000,000 L/km)




Let’s discuss how algae can be used to produce hydrogen.


Through a process called “biophotolysis” (breaking or splitting, utilizing an organism and light), green algae can split water into hydrogen and oxygen. There are two organisms required for this reaction: the green algae species Chlamydomonas MGA 161 and the photosynthetic bacterium, Rhodovulum sulfidophilum W-1S. Chlamydomonas MGA 161, when allowed to ferment, produces carbohydrate organics. Under anaerobic (without the presence of oxygen) conditions and in the presence of argon gas, the photosynthetic bacterium Rhodovulum sulfidophilum W-1S converts the organic carbohydrates to hydrogen. This experiment has been successfully performed in the laboratory at the Kansai Electric Power Company in Japan. Used on a large scale, this process is capable of producing millions of cubic feet of hydrogen gas, some of which can be directly converted to electricity using the fuel cell described above, and the rest stored in bottles for future use. Hydrogen is an absolutely clean fuel, the only waste being pure water.


As you can see, the entire process is a self-contained operation requiring very little in the manner of raw materials. It is self-powered and sustainable.


Each year we spend quite a bit of money for energy. In the United States, on average, each man, woman, and child uses more than 11,500 kilowatts of electricity. By contrast, the average per capita consumption of electricity in the African countries of Chad and Cameroon is 16 kilowatts. The average home in America has a roof area of approximately 125 square meters. Each day, the sun provides an average of 384 kilowatts of energy onto this surface. During one year this amounts to 140,060 kilowatts—about 12 times the energy the average person uses in the United States, and almost 8000 times more than the amount used by each person in Chad and Cameroon. All this energy is only from the roof! Most American homes are on at least a quarter of an acre (1,100 sq. meters). If a similar sized space were utilized for solar energy gain, it would provide almost 60 times more energy than the present U.S. per capita consumption. The point here is that it is possible—on one’s own property—to produce enough hydrogen gas from algae to power your entire home. Think what could be done in developing countries with algae to improve the standard of living! Not only do certain species of algae provide high quality nutrition, others can capture the sun’s energy and turn it into usable fuels.


EXCERPT, from: http://www.celltech.com/resources/vt/Algaeenergy.html


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Seasteading Algae etc. : http://www.seastead.org/commented/paper/infra.html

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According www.greencarcongress.com, "Consumption of petroleum in the US reached record highs in 2005, climbing 1.7% over 2004 levels to an average 20.7 million barrels per day, according to data from the DOE’s Energy Information Administration. "


So, for the US alone, we would need 87,500 - 1750,000 acres of algae every day, equivalent to 354-708 square kilometres. So I'm wondering, where can we grow it, or enough of it. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea but I'm wondering about logistics :) ?

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"we would need 87,500 - 1750,000 acres of algae every day"


Hmmm. Not sure of how you came up with these calculations, but Algae grows fast, and can be harvested fast. I am thinking that the Algae Energy needed in someplace like China could be growth in the Philippines


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Photosynthetic efficiency

Photosynthesis can be simply represented by the equation:



CO2 + H2O + light !’ 6 (CH2O) + O2

Approximately 114 kilocalories of free energy are stored in plant biomass for every mole of CO2 fixed during photosynthesis. Solar radiation striking the earth on an annual basis is equivalent to 178,000 terawatts, i.e. 15,000 times that of current global energy consumption. Although photosynthetic energy capture is estimated to be ten times that of global annual energy consumption, only a small part of this solar radiation is used for photosynthesis. Approximately two thirds of the net global photosynthetic productivity worldwide is of terrestrial origin, while the remainder is produced mainly by phytoplankton (microalgae) in the oceans which cover approximately 70% of the total surface area of the earth. Since biomass originates from plant and algal photosynthesis, both terrestrial plants and microalgae are appropriate targets for scientific studies relevant to biomass energy production.


Any analysis of biomass energy production must consider the potential efficiency of the processes involved. Although photosynthesis is fundamental to the conversion of solar radiation into stored biomass energy, its theoretically achievable efficiency is limited both by the limited wavelength range applicable to photosynthesis, and the quantum requirements of the photosynthetic process. Only light within the wavelength range of 400 to 700 nm (photosynthetically active radiation, PAR) can be utilized by plants, effectively allowing only 45 % of total solar energy to be utilized for photosynthesis. Furthermore, fixation of one CO2 molecule during photosynthesis, necessitates a quantum requirement of ten (or more), which results in a maximum utilization of only 25% of the PAR absorbed by the photosynthetic system. On the basis of these limitations, the theoretical maximum efficiency of solar energy conversion is approximately 11%. In practice, however, the magnitude of photosynthetic efficiency observed in the field, is further decreased by factors such as poor absorption of sunlight due to its reflection, respiration requirements of photosynthesis and the need for optimal solar radiation levels. The net result being an overall photosynthetic efficiency of between 3 and 6% of total solar radiation.


@: http://www.fao.org/docrep/w7241e/w7241e05.htm#TopOfPage

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ALGAE has a possible Role in a Hydrogen Economy



The oil crisis in 1973 prompted research on biological hydrogen production, including photosynthetic production, as part of the search for alternative energy technologies. Green algae were known as light-dependent, water-splitting catalysts, but the characteristics of their hydrogen production were not practical for exploitation. Hydrogenase is too oxygen-labile for sustainable hydrogen production: light-dependent hydrogen production ceases within a few to several tens of minutes since photosynthetically produced oxygen inhibits or inactivates hydrogenases. A continuous gas flow system designed to maintain low oxygen concentrations within the reaction vessel, was employed in basic studies (4), but has not been found practically applicable.


Greenbaum and co-workers reported very high (10 to 20%) efficiencies of light conversion to hydrogen, based on PAR (photosynthetically active radiation which includes light energy of 400-700nm in wavelength). These authors recently reported what may represent a "short circuit" of photosynthesis, whereby hydrogen production and CO2 fixation occurred by a single photosystem (photosystem II only) of a Chlamydomonas mutant (5).


Green algae are applicable in another method of hydrogen production. The work of Gaffron and Rubin (3) demonstrated that Scenedesmus produced hydrogen gas not only under light conditions, but also produced it fermentatively under dark anaerobic conditions, with intracellular starch as a reducing source. Although the rate of fermentative hydrogen production per unit of dry cell weight, was less than that obtained through light-dependent hydrogen production, hydrogen production was sustainable due to the absence of oxygen. On the basis of experiments conducted on fermentative hydrogen production under dark conditions, Miura and Miyamoto's group (6) proposed hydrogen production in a light/dark cycle. According to their proposal, CO2 is reduced to starch by photosynthesis in the daytime (under light conditions) and the starch thus formed, is decomposed to hydrogen gas and organic acids and/or alcohols under anaerobic conditions during nighttime (under dark conditions).


@: http://www.fao.org/docrep/w7241e/w7241e0g.htm

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Following the successive oil crises of the 1970's, renewable alternatives to petroleum as an energy source, have been intensively investigated worldwide. The Research Association for Petroleum Alternatives Development (RAPAD) was established in Japan, in May 1980, by 23 private companies with the support of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). One of RAPAD's main tasks was to investigate the development of technologies for biomass conversion and utilization, in particular, the production of ethanol from cellulosic biomass. As a part of this project, studies were conducted in our laboratory, on the production of fuel ethanol from cellulosic biomass.


Various forms of biomass resources exist (Fig. 3-1). Among these, sugar and starch crops are inappropriate for use as energy sources since they are primary food sources, and are unstable from the viewpoints of long-term supply and cost. Cellulosic resources, on the other hand, represent the most abundant global source of biomass, and have been largely unutilized. In our study on fuel ethanol production processes, our efforts were directed toward the use of agricultural waste materials such as bagasse or sugar cane molasses, rice straw, and forestry waste materials such as wood chips from thinning.


Cellulose, a main component of plant cell walls, can be solubilized by either enzymatic or acid hydrolysis. Enzymatic processes are however preferable owing to drawbacks of the acid hydrolysis process. The development of cellulose-decomposing enzymes, i.e. high-titer cellulases, is however a problem that needs to be addressed prior to implementation of the enzymatic hydrolytic process. The commercial feasibility of ethanol production from cellulosic biomass is dependent on the availability of a cheap source of cellulase. Extensive work conducted in our laboratory resulted in the development a high titer cellulase from Trichoderma reesei which can be produced at a low cost.


In order to enhance the efficiency of the use of cellulase enzymes, immobilized yeast cells were used as the enzyme source. This resulted in the development of a continuous process for the production of ethanol from cellulosic biomass (rice, straw, bagasse, and wood) and led to the construction of a pilot plant. While this plant includes unit processes which have been studied by various research organizations (1, 2, 3), it was the first such total system to be constructed worldwide.




... MORE: http://www.fao.org/docrep/w7241e/w7241e07.htm#TopOfPage

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In early May 1989 the Kansai Electric Power Co was the first in Japan

to fit a unit that recovers CO2 from flue gases. Many more have followed suit. At the Tohoku Electric plant in Sendai City an experiment is underway to get algae to consume the CO2 produced by the plant. These small aquatic plants do indeed consume CO2 and grow much faster than other plants - but the experiment still has a long way to go. Research is also underway into liquefying CO2 and storing it on the sea bed at a depth of 3,000 metres - a plan that has generated much international controversy.

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Humble Algae Could Be Savior




Australia would be ideally placed to develop an alternative bio-diesel industry based on algae that could be grown in brackish bodies of water using an abundance of sunlight.


We are approaching a time of limited supplies of oil and gas in Australia. It is time we started to think of alternative sources of fuel for our cars. We should look into the diesel engine technology coupled with a novel source of fuel that doesn’t compete with the production of food.


The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas Australia was officially launched in Perth on November 21. At the press conference, Swedish Professor Kjell Aleklett had the following dire predictions for global oil supply:

“We face a permanent shortfall in global oil supply (peak oil) which is inevitable and imminent,“ he said. “Long-term oil shortages are likely, followed by very steep price rises, petrol rationing and economic downturns,“ he concluded.

The message from Professor Aleklett was that we need to prepare now for a future where we lessen the dependence on oil.


The issue is not one of “running out“ of oil so much as it is one of not having enough oil to keep our economy, our trucks, cars and buses running.


Already we are seeing sales of “Toorak tractors“ with gas guzzling six or eight cylinder petrol engines under the pump. New motor vehicle sales fell 6.7 percent in October compared to last year. Sales of four-wheel drives dropped even more, down by 11.9 percent as higher petrol prices turned buyers away.

However there is a solution for Australia’s oil dependence and it is relying on technology that has been with us for more than 100 years, combined with new sources of fuel to feed it.

The inventor of the diesel engine, Rudolf Diesel, originally conceived the diesel engine to enable independent craftsmen and artisans to compete with large industry. In order to do so, he created an efficient engine that would be fuelled by locally-sourced vegetable oil.


Vegetable oil, or bio-diesel as it is now known, can go into the same fuel distribution infrastructure, replacing petroleum diesel wholly or partly.


The manufacture of bio-diesel involves a chemical process called “transesterification“ where triacyl glycerol and methanol is mixed and heated. This releases glycerol and the esters of the fatty acids. This reaction is catalyzed by a base or acid. Recent development of a carbon powder catalyst makes this process more environmentally friendly and more efficient and provides the means for large-scale production of bio-diesel.

Bio-diesel is a form of solar energy. We are harvesting what the plant produced using photosynthesis to convert solar energy into chemical energy stored in the form of oils, carbohydrates and protein. The most efficient plants in converting solar energy into chemical energy are various types of algae.

Some species of algae are ideally suited to bio-diesel production due to their high oil content (some well over 50 percent oil), with extremely fast growth rates. Algae farms would let us supply enough bio-diesel to completely replace petroleum as a transportation fuel.


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US has performed research on harvesting bio-diesel from algae farms. They were using saltwater ponds in deserts to grow algae for biodiesel. NREL’s research (pdf file 3.58MB) showed that 28.3 million tons of bio-diesel could be produced from 200,000 hectares of desert land which would almost cover the requirements of UK in 2020. In fact algae technology offers the opportunity to utilize land and water resources that are, today, unsuited for any other use. Land use needs for microalgae complements, rather than competes, with farming of crops for food. In Western Australia and South Australia there already exists a nucleus of an industry that has been built up around growing algae in ponds with salt water and the extraction of high value added products such as beta carotene out of them.

Australia would be ideally placed to develop an alternative bio-diesel industry based on algae that could be grown in brackish bodies of water using an abundance of sunlight. In a recent project funded by RIRDC researchers at Flinders University has investigated the use of a green alga as a supplier of biological hydrocarbon. It is an avenue that is worth exploring before our oil-based economy runs into trouble.


@: http://www.iran-daily.com/1384/2441/html/energy.htm

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Fuel From Crops

Another potential way to get energy is to grow crops, either for vegetable oil (which can be converted to biodiesel), or for sugar, which can be fermented and then distilled to yield alcohol. Hydroponic potatoes have high yields and are rich in starch. Biodiesel has the great advantage that it can be used with existing diesel generators and motors. However, these processes are quite inefficient, and are best left to land where area is cheap.


An alternate possibility is to use algae. As with Spirulina for protein production, algae waste much less resources in producing their output. NREL estimates that algae can produce 15,000 gallons/acre/year of biodiesel [uNHBiodiesel]. Again, even if algae are more efficient, such land-intensive industries are best suited to where land is cheap. However, it is worth noting that while conventional terra firma is expensive on the ocean, terra aqua {?aqua firma?} is cheap and plentiful. If algae can be farmed on the ocean's surface, the comparative disdvantage of seasteads becomes a comparative advantage, and this could prove a profitable industry.


Until such technologies are developed, we suspect that initial seasteads will need their limited growing space for food, and that other forms of energy generation will prove more useful. A seastead is much more likely to import fuel than to grow it.



@: http://www.seastead.org/commented/paper/in...Fuel_From_Crops

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