09 October 2009

2009 Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy

Honolulu will host the upcoming 2009 Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy from Nov 8-11. One of the most important topics of discussion will be algal biofuels, with detailed reports on algal R&D progress from producers.
Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section, said, “Algae is seen as a promising source of raw material for biofuels, but it also could become a workhorse for producing ethanol, chemical, protein and food ingredients. As companies work to achieve the full potential of algae for fuels and chemicals, they’ll face the same challenges and opportunities as other biotechnology companies. The Pacific Rim Summit provides an opportunity for startup companies to present the state of their research and development, share their experiences and network with one another and with other biotechnology companies.” _EarthTimes
With a world oil market trade amounting to trillions of dollars yearly, algal biofuels companies have a long way to go to compete with the well established liquid fuels industry. The challenge is immense, but worth rising to.

The promise of ultimately replacing a large proportion of petroleum fuels with algal biofuels is seen as a threat by certain economic interests. Any corporation that is heavily invested in biodiesel from soy, maize, rape, palm, or other conventional oil crop must feel significant threat from the long term promise of microbial energy -- including algal fuels. Promoters of electric vehicles are likewise worried that an abundant liquid fuel seen as "clean and green" would slow the momentum toward an "all electric" highway fleet.

Last of all, promoters of environmental doom -- the dieoff.orgiast believers in catastrophic climate doom and peak oil doom -- must feel enormous threat from any source of energy that might allow modern societies to continue a life of prosperous consumption.

Still, the economic argument of a potential multi-trillion dollar market is inescapable. Enemies of algal fuels will use every trick in the book to stop the perceived threat. After they lose the fight, they will be forgotten.

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Blogger rbl said...

The best technical biofuel skeptic I've encountered is a chemical engineer in the business, Robert Rapier. He blogs at i-r-squared.blogspot.com . He admits that algae biofuel is technically feasible, but a long way from being economically workable. You might like to read his thoughts before you get too carried away with biofuels.

Friday, 09 October, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

I am quite familiar with RR's ideas about the wide range of biofuels.

What is most clear from his long postings on biofuels is that the technology for total replacement of petroleum by biofuels is not here now, and probably won't be here in 5 or 10 years.

We already know that. The problem of scaling the infrastructure alone will take decades.

It is not a question of replacing all petroleum based fuels. Any qualified economist could tell you that even a relatively small, consistently growing replacement would have a huge impact on the entire psychology of the transportation fuels industry.

Obviously maize ethanol is not the answer. And butanol -- a chemical that Rapier is quite familiar with -- will take time to achieve yields comparable to modern ethanol production.

Algal fuels will experience some laboratory breakthroughs. But those breakthroughs have to be repeated in pilot plants and in ever larger commercial production plants. Think at least a decade before measurable impact and multiple decades before significant replacement.

Saturday, 10 October, 2009  

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