03 April 2009

When Will Algal Fuels Be Plentiful and Cheap?

The algae industry is getting there – growing, harvesting, separating and converting to useful oils is nearing completion and the ideas are proving up nicely, which should trigger competition in ideas for the process steps in controlling production costs. _NewEnergyandFuel
Lots of claims have been made over the years for algae energy efficiency: Some experts say each acre given over to algae cultivation could theoretically produce the equivalent of thousands of gallons of oil per year, compared with an estimated yield of 18 to 335 gallons of ethanol per acre for traditional biofuel crops. Others claim that algae-growing systems could be tweaked to yield as much as 100,000 gallons per acre annually. _CosmicLog
There are four important steps in the production of algal biofuels: growing the algae, harvesting the crop, separating the oil, and refining the oil to useful fuels. Each step in the process is the focus of intense study by scientists, engineers, and technologists across the developed world. We have already seen a very significant breakthrough in harvesting and drying of algae.
Technologists tend to overestimate what can be accomplished in two years and underestimate what can be accomplished in ten to twenty years. Algae as biofuel looks more like a ten to twenty year project. DARPA is betting on three to five years, VCs are betting on three to five years, the algae roadmap from DOE takes a decade. _Greentech
A better method of making fuel from algal oil has got a lot of biofuel analysts excited:
"This is the first economical way to produce biodiesel from algae oil," according to lead researcher Ben Wen, Ph.D., vice president of United Environment and Energy LLC, Horseheads, N.Y. "It costs much less than conventional processes because you would need a much smaller factory, there are no water disposal costs, and the process is considerably faster."

A key advantage of this new process, he says, is that it uses a proprietary solid catalyst developed at his company instead of liquid catalysts used by other scientists today. First, the solid catalyst can be used over and over. Second, it allows the continuously flowing production of biodiesel, compared to the method using a liquid catalyst. _WaterandWastewater
A continuous process using solid catalyst is potentially more efficient and productive, compared to batch processing. Also more scalable.

Currently, producing biodiesel from algal oil costs about $20 a gallon. But with all the attention being given each of the multiple steps in the fuel production process, some producers are projecting production costs as low as $1.50 a gallon. If costs drop that low within the next 10 years, algal biodiesel will begin to place an effective ceiling on the costs of petrol diesel. It will take time to scale up production, of course.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

A fascinating field of study. Given the high energy needs of Europe and the growing sub-Saharan population wanting power and fuel, the intersection of Saharan land with Mediterranean water supplies will probably make a good place for algae production sites if the nations of North Africa can reform their economies enough to take advantage of the opportunity. Maybe the more distributed nature of the industry will make it less tempting a target for nationalization happy administrations.

A little further south, away from the easily accessed seawater they could put the solar concentrating power installations and use some of the power to run desalination operations at the Northern coasts (desalination becoming cheaper and more energy efficient as time goes by).

With water, power, and high energy chemicals, along with the existing resources like oil, minerals and tourist weather plus optimal location, how could anything short of several Mugabes at one time screw that up?

Friday, 03 April, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

The problem with any kind of technology in the third world is maintaining it.

Most IQ distribution charts that assign different IQs to different professions tend to under-estimate the needed intelligence of top maintenance techs. Most maintenance techs may have IQs near 100 (plus or minus 10), but modern enterprise would not operate without the top dogs on the crew who tells the others what's wrong and how to fix it.

Third world population IQ averages are invariably less than 90, and often less than 80. Forget scientists, physicians, and engineers. You won't even find top maintenance techs for sophisticated machinery and technologies.

Have you wondered why the Chinese are doing so well in Africa? You can't just dump cell phone equipment on the dark continent and expect an infrastructure to build on its own. Once it's built, you'd better stick around to maintain it or it goes to rust.

Saturday, 04 April, 2009  

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