Algae Biofuels Not Ready For Scale-Up

TornadoRed

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Aug 3, 2003
Location
Saint Paul (ex-San Diego)
TDI
2003 Golf GL 5-spd, red; 2003 Golf GLS 5-spd, indigo blue; 2003 Jetta TDI wagon, Candy White
http://cen.acs.org/articles/90/i44/Algal-Biofuels-Ready-Scale.html

Volume 90 Issue 44 | p. 9 | News of The Week
Issue Date: October 29, 2012 | Web Date: October 26, 2012

Algal Biofuels Not Ready For Scale-Up
Report finds shortcomings in present technology but cause for long-term optimism

By Jeff Johnson

Using today’s technologies and knowledge, a scale-up of fledgling algal biofuel production sufficient to meet even 5% of U.S. transportation fuel demand is unsustainable, says a report released last week by the National Research Council (NRC). The report examines the efficiency of producing biofuels from microalgae and cyanobacteria with respect to energy, water, and nutrient requirements and finds that the process falls short.

The energy from algal biofuel, the report finds, is less than the energy needed to make it. In terms of water, at least 32.5 billion gal would be needed to produce 10 billion gal of algae-based biofuels, the report states.

The study also finds that making enough algal biofuels to replace just 5% of U.S. annual transportation fuel needs would require 44–107% of the total nitrogen and 20–51% of the total phosphorus consumed annually in the U.S.

NRC conducted the study at the request of the Department of Energy, which for nearly 20 years had a robust program to develop biofuels from algae. The program ended in 1996 when DOE concluded algal biofuels were unlikely to be cost-competitive with petroleum, the report says. “Fast-forward to 2012 and with advances in genetics and engineering we are back to the future in considering if algae can be an economic and sustainable alternative,” the report says.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society
 

kiwibru

Veteran Member
Joined
Sep 21, 1999
Location
Distant island in WA. state
TDI
Golf 2-door, 2k Silver. Red RTDI now gone but not forgotten!
That is a lot of water and a huge load of N & P! It will be interesting to see if newer technology will pop up to move the process forward with lesser demands.
 

40X40

Experienced
Joined
Feb 12, 2006
Location
Kansas City area, MO
TDI
2013 Passat SEL Premium
Thanks TR.

This just in!

Something from nothing still not feasible. Hope for future still bright!

Now everyone can see the problem with trying to grow algae in the desert. 3.25 gallons of water consumed to produce one gallon of fuel.

I still hold out hope for this... but it needs a breakthrough or two or three.

Bill
 

nicklockard

Torque Dorque
Joined
Aug 15, 2004
Location
Arizona
TDI
2010 Touareg Tdi w/factory Tow PCKG
It would be really neat if you could use brackish waters exiting the Mississippi, which have a massive excess of fertilizer run-off to feed salt-tolerant species. Then, bubble some CO2 rich powerplant effluent gases through a clear, long, vertical tube (5m by 4" diameter) with a free-floating spiral squegee to prevent surface fouling.

Side bonus: other contaminants reduced because the exhaust gets scrubbed at fixed back-pressure. Could be set up in bypass mode too so that only some exhaust is treated this way, then feed wet, warm air back into burner to reduce emissions further (EGR).
 
Last edited:

BeetleGo

TDIClub Enthusiast, Pre-Forum Veteran Member
Joined
Oct 21, 1998
Location
Cambridge, MA
TDI
5-door, 5-speed Golf GLS replaced BeetleGo.
Thanks, Tornado. So algae is not yet ready for prime time. Too bad. But it's not a never ever proposition. Just a not yet. I can live with that.

Meanwhile, using fryolator oil, and growing soybeans on marginal land as well as fallow land that we pay good tax dollars for is still out there. We need to maximize that! So is using all the land between the interstate highways. That could be used to grow all kinds of grasses, etc. that would really quiet down the fuel/food drama. If you ask me, we need to think in terms of growing a Victory Garden for oil there. That's sucking sound is all the money being drawn out of the country to buy petro oil. We can do more, but I'm not complaining. We're making more biodiesel than ever before. :cool:

http://www.eia.gov/biofuels/biodiesel/production/
 

jimtuul

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 19, 2011
Location
Rochester, NY
TDI
2006 duramax, 2004 Golf
I don't think anyone was expecting algae fuel to come online tomorrow and solve all the worlds problems. It is something that needs some time. I am a big fan of algae and synfuels, but I don't really see them hitting the market until at the earliest 2020. I hate to say it, but by then oil prices will be high enough that these technologies will be able to compete.
 

powerfool

Veteran Member
Joined
May 25, 2012
Location
Indianapolis Metro Area
TDI
None anymore
They are doing something wrong... and that is trying to make the algae in a factory-esque setting. They need to utilize something more like a fish hatchery... they can't get rid of algae fast enough.

I am wondering what Solazyme is doing besides getting algae oil and doing transesterification on it. They are claiming that their fuel is molecularly the same as petrol diesel, which I don't think you could get by applied the biodiesel process to it, as BD is NOT the same as diesel, despite what all of the hippies on TV shows say... it produces hydrocarbon chains that are very similar to diesel in their size, which is tolerable to existing diesel engines. Heck, not all petrol diesel is the same. When refining petroleum, it works just like distilling alcohol... the first stuff off is butane and methane, because it is the lightest... but you never get exactly one thing... you get a range of different sized hydrocarbons containing a significant amount of your target. The other molecules are "good enough." I think that the right syn/bio fuel could produce something much more consistent... and at that point, they could begin tweaking it to get better performance... just like folks will tweak the operating temperature of the engine to get small gain, or the drag coefficient to get a small gain, a shift to a different sized chain as an additive or a primary component could do the same thing.
 

jimtuul

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 19, 2011
Location
Rochester, NY
TDI
2006 duramax, 2004 Golf
powerfool- not all algae makes a vegetable oil. There are several strains that make what is essentially crude oil. Look up Botryococcus Braunii. After they have the oil all they need is to hydro crack it. That is the angle solazyme is going after. I personally don't think Solazyme is that far off from this algae to biofuels idea.
 

powerfool

Veteran Member
Joined
May 25, 2012
Location
Indianapolis Metro Area
TDI
None anymore
Yikes. That stuff is interesting. Based on the carbon chain size, each molecule should be able to produce 2-3 molecules in the (practical) range of diesel... again, it is an equivalent, just like cracking heating oil, essentially... still not 100% identical to what we know as diesel fuel. While the spec range of diesel is much larger, I am fairly certain what is actually used is on the lower side of that range, because letting fuel span that entire range is less controllable.

Anyhow, the same problems with most algae... toxicity. Just look around on the environment trade rags. Aggressive growth of algae that is leeching neurotoxins into waterways, much of it due to agricultural fertilizer run off. Lot's of concerns related to retention ponds, as well. In a controlled environment, I am confident that it could be addressed, but a potential hurdle. Having the lipids exterior to the cells is a positive, especially if they can create a process to extract it and leave the cells viable and to continue producing. As far as water goes, it can be a closed system that recycles the water. There would be some loss from the algae uptake, but assuming you recapture any during "drying", it would be minimal. Also, that water will retain considerable phosphorus... kind of like salting fries at McDonalds: the first couple of batches in the day need the standard salting, but once the bin is coated, you only need a minimal amount added to get it right for the remaining batches.
 

Ski in NC

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Jul 7, 2008
Location
Wilmington, NC USA
TDI
2001 Jetta ALH 5sp stock
If nitrogen, phosphorus and water are not in the end product, could they not be recycled? Understand that some H from the water would be consumed to form the HC chain, but 3.7:1?? And there is plenty of water on the planet.
 

powerfool

Veteran Member
Joined
May 25, 2012
Location
Indianapolis Metro Area
TDI
None anymore
powerfool,

Not all algae produce neurotoxins or other toxins.
Hence why I said "most" algae. This algae does produce it, including many of the algae that are springing up in retention ponds and other fresh water areas.

What would be great is if we could find a salt water based algae that could produce good numbers. We could avoid using freshwater, which is in a more limited supply.
 

pharmerman

Veteran Member
Joined
Mar 28, 2001
Location
I-94
TDI
1996 Passat, maroon (gone but not forgotten), 2002 Passat GLX v-6 Manual
Great topic. It's interesting to note that green algae lipid production increases in nutrient poor conditions. In terms of yield per acre, algae will change the world when the process becomes a bit more refined (pun intended).

http://www.oilgae.com/algae/oil/yield/yield.html
 

nicklockard

Torque Dorque
Joined
Aug 15, 2004
Location
Arizona
TDI
2010 Touareg Tdi w/factory Tow PCKG
Man, you find the neatest stuff! :p

Interesting development. If it scales up well and can produce the volumes necessary at comparable costs to D2 or current BioD, we may have a winner.
The devil is always in the details and this stuff ain't easy.
 

kjclow

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Apr 26, 2003
Location
Charlotte, NC
TDI
2010 JSW TDI silver and black. 2017 Ram Ecodiesel dark red with brown and beige interior.
Let's break it down:
Raise salt water alge
Run the alge through an 1100 F heat sink.
Refine it to remove excess oxygen and nitrogen

At this point, it sounds like an extremely expensive process.
 

nicklockard

Torque Dorque
Joined
Aug 15, 2004
Location
Arizona
TDI
2010 Touareg Tdi w/factory Tow PCKG
Yeah, and what happens when you run an algae-water emulsion through a tube heated to 1100F?

You're going to get a supercritical steam--so this can't be made in a continuous through-pass process operation. It'll have to be pressure swing, peristaltic through-flow at minimum.

And the heat losses, even for a well-jacketed reactor, at 1100F? Ka-razy! It'll have to be high strength, low corrosion, thick walled steel, but you'll have to have ten thousand of them in parallel to get any commercially reasonable, small scale throughput. Then you'll have issues with mineral scaling, and validating tube cleaning procedures. Tube inspection schedules for corrosion and pitting. Times ten thousand.

Oh no, just build one big batch tank mofo....ummm okay, that's gonna have issues too. Massive footprint for a pretty crappy throughput. Most of the input mass is water. Capital expenses to bust a budget, custom construction contracts for one-off equipment no one certifies or is willing to warrant under these extreme process parameters. You'd have to build 5-6 parallel units just to have any expectation of uptime while the others are being serviced...

I'm not saying it can't be done, but it will be no walk in the park.
 

kjclow

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Apr 26, 2003
Location
Charlotte, NC
TDI
2010 JSW TDI silver and black. 2017 Ram Ecodiesel dark red with brown and beige interior.
I'm not saying it can't be done, but it will be no walk in the park.
Nor will it be inexpensive to set up and routine maintenance will also be expensive. Not sure how long this will take to produce "oil" in the $90 a barrel range.
 

wxman

Veteran Member
Joined
Oct 26, 1999
Location
East TN, USA
TDI
Other Diesel
Nor will it be inexpensive to set up and routine maintenance will also be expensive. Not sure how long this will take to produce "oil" in the $90 a barrel range.
I don't disagree. Nevertheless, one of the major barrier to algae biofuels currently is the energy intensive dewatering process...



(http://greet.es.anl.gov/results)

So even though this may be a long way from being practical, it may be a step in the right direction to avoid dewatering.
 

Lightflyer1

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Sep 13, 2005
Location
Round Rock, Texas
TDI
2015 Beetle tdi dsg
I still think Joule's method will win out over this. Being that the microorganisms excrete diesel directly, a lot of the tail end processing is removed. As long as the bugs are kept alive and fed, you get fuel. Next time my wife and I visit her family in Odessa, TX, I will drive over and see their plant in Hobbs, NM and take some pics.
 
Top