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Aggressive Funding Needed for R & D in Algae Biofuels

February 25th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Algae-Biodiesel

Researchers at ExxonMobil’s La Jolla greenhouse facility  are spending more than $600 million  in a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, Inc. in the algae biofuels sector. They believe that biofuels from photosynthetic algae have the following advantages:

First, algae can be grown using land and water unsuitable for plant or food production, and algae use photosynthesis, turning sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into bio-oil.

Second, bio-oil produced by photosynthetic algae have molecular structures that are similar to the petroleum and refined products we use today, and could be transported using existing pipelines, unlike ethanol, which requires a separate distribution system.

Third, bio-oils from photosynthetic algae could be used to manufacture a full range of fuels including gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel that meet the same specifications as today’s products, with the same BTU content per gallon.

Fourth, algae will likely yield greater volumes of fuel per acre of production than other biofuel sources.

Fifth, algae used to produce biofuels are very productive, so large quantities of algae can be grown quickly, and the process of testing different strains of algae for their fuel-making potential can proceed more rapidly than with other biofuel crops.

One additional benefit of algae biofuels is their potential, and perhaps necessary contribution to industrial ecology. Yields improve with organic material like sewage and industrial waste, and with increased carbon dioxide, extracted, for example, from coal-fired power plant exhausts. Organic material also can come from the algae biomass residues after the energy rich lipids have been removed. Unlike the situation with highly-subsidized corn ethanol, algae need to be grown without the use of fertilizers if they are to become cost competitive.

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