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Adam Smith and Economies of Scale for Algae Production 39

Action at the individual level will not stop global warming. Only large scale intervention with economies of scale will have real impact. A good explanation of why this is so was foreshadowed by Adam Smith in The_Wealth_of_Nations with his example of a pin factory. Individuals can make pins in home based workshops, but coordinating their efforts in factories will result in far more efficient and effective production. Taking this insight into the modern context of new technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, we can see that home based algae farms could well be a useful way to treat domestic waste water and make useful products, but if we want to use algae to regulate the climate then we have to operate on a global scale. This will mean building algae farms at sea on a scale of many square kilometers. My rough calculation is that farms covering an area of 500,000 square kilometers, 0.1% of the world ocean, would be big enough to make a dent in emission trajectories while also producing a workable quick replacement for fossil fuel.

Tue September 07 2010 12:38:57 AM by RobertTulip Adam Smith  |  pin factory  |  Algae biofuel  |  ocean  |  global warming 3507 views

Comments - 5

  • Tue September 07 2010 12:52:12 AM

    From http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/106405-What-can-we-realistically-expect-re-global-warming?p=1787852#post1787852
    Originally Posted by parejkoj: "I'm just going by the thread title, and I'll take the assessments of scientific experts in the field as what constitutes realistic expectations. Hence the linked articles. Experts in marine ecology, oceanography, biogeochemistry, and other related fields have been talking about the dangers of coral bleaching for decades now. Actually, when it comes to coral bleaching, "everything dies" is not only a realistic expectation, but is happening in some reefs already. There have been many articles related to this in, e.g. Science and Nature. Reefs in some of the most heavily overfished regions of the world are likely to be heavily affected by warming and acidification induced bleaching, leaving them unable to rebound from fishing stresses. As an example, here's a prediction regarding the Great Barrier Reef: 100% mortality for a 3?C increase in the maximum 3-day averaged surface sea temperature. That's well within the IPCC's temperature projections for the "business as usual" scenario. Quoting from the conclusion of Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007 (which is well worth reading, in addition to the 18 June issue of Science that I discussed above)"

    The likely death of coral reefs is the sort of problem that shows why geo-engineering is such an urgent requirement. If we grow algae in large plastic pods, in locations such as sheltered shallow sandy areas between coral reefs, it may be possible to reduce local ocean water temperature rise and save the reefs from destruction. The produced algae can then be used for fuel, fish food and fertilizer to start to transform the world economy to a sustainable path.

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  • Emily wrote:
    Tue September 07 2010 04:01:53 AM

    Your first post was somewhat similar to what Narsi posted a day ago. It was talking about all news about algae is about bad algae !
    Algae blooms.

    It makes more sense to play along with nature than to tame nature.

    In no lab nor in pilot plants is man able to create algae blooms of large size. Atleast the potential.
    Such huge growth is what is important for growing algae as biomass or growing algae for oil or for that matter all commodity uses.

    So, trying to grow algae blooms or trying to befriend the blooms in the ocean, by making them with more lipids or making them easily harvestable, is a serious idea that many of us should pursue. Not just Robert Tulip.

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  • Krupali wrote:
    Wed September 08 2010 03:41:34 AM

    Two thirds of the earth is water ie ocean.
    If we can grow algae or find ways to hv more algae blooms in the ocean than now, say double, that means we will have double the oxygen and that should reduce the CO2 ppm ? May not be by half. But still a reduction in CO2 ppm is a great achievemnt.
    I agree with Robert Tulip who goes one step forward and says that we should harvest the blooms and use them as biomass/ or for biofuel. Great.

    Sounds like a great idea as it goes along with nature as Emily states.

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  • Duncan wrote:
    Wed September 08 2010 05:00:00 AM

    A massive phytoplankton bloom made up of millions of tiny, light-reflecting organisms growing in the sunlit surface waters of the Barents Sea. Such blooms peak every August in the Barents Sea.
    Robert Tulip should be happy to look at this awesome visual.

    In this natural-color image from August 31, 2010, the ocean?s canvas swirls with turquoise, teal, navy, and green, the abstract art of the natural world.

    The colors were painted by a massive phytoplankton bloom made up of millions of tiny, light-reflecting organisms growing in the sunlit surface waters of the Barents Sea. Such blooms peak every August in the Barents Sea.

    The variations in color are caused by different species and concentrations of phytoplankton. The bright blue colors are probably from coccolithophores, a type of phytoplankton that is coated in a chalky shell that reflects light, turning the ocean a milky turquoise.

    Coccolithophores dominate the Barents Sea in August. Shades of green are likely from diatoms, another type of phytoplankton. Diatoms usually dominate the Barents Sea earlier in the year, giving way to coccolithophores in the late summer. However, field measurements of previous August blooms have also turned up high concentrations of diatoms.

    The Barents Sea is a shallow sea sandwiched between the coastline of northern Russia and Scandinavia and the islands of Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, and Novaya Zemlya.

    Within the shallow basin, currents carrying warm, salty water from the Atlantic collide with currents carrying cold, fresher water from the Arctic. During the winter, strong winds drive the currents and mix the waters.

    When winter?s sea ice retreats and light returns in the spring, diatoms thrive, typically peaking in a large bloom in late May.

    The shift between diatoms and coccolithophores occurs as the Barents Sea changes during the summer months. Throughout summer, perpetual light falls on the waters, gradually warming the surface.

    Eventually, the ocean stratifies into layers, with warm water sitting on top of cooler water. The diatoms deplete most of the nutrients in the surface waters and stop growing. Coccolithophores, on the other hand, do well in warm, nutrient-depleted water with a lot of light.

    In the Barents Sea, these conditions are strongest in August.

    The shifting conditions and corresponding change in species lead to strikingly beautiful multicolored blooms such as this one. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA?s Aqua satellite acquired this image.



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  • Thu September 09 2010 08:23:10 AM

    What is needed is a combination photobioreactor-pond at sea. Looking at a critical path towards ocean based algae, the basic paradigm innovation is that fresh water in sealed plastic bags will float on salt water. This principle has not been used for any products as far as I know, but is a simple low-tech basis for potential innovation in a number of areas. Starting with small scale testing of fresh water bladders to transport drinking water over short distances through the ocean, which should be profitable in itself on the right routes, questions of cost and material and design can be appraised well before any large investment in algae production. The next step is to build prototype algae farms consisting just of plastic bags in sheltered shallow waters, pumping nutrient-rich water and CO2 in and then refining the algated soup. Pictures of how this might work using renewable energy are at http://rtulip.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Algae_Biofuel_Feedstock_System_Provisional_Patent.285191915.pdf and a paper I have co-written on how it might be done in China is at http://rtulip.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Strategic_path_for_the_development_of_microalgal_bio-diesel_in_China_-_August_2010.215180342.pdf . I have had some good feedback on this draft China paper but it has not been submitted for peer review as yet.

    I confess to being very optimistic, including on the ability of this method to be profitable without subsidy. Whether this is justified will be seen in due course. Algae biofuel is the next big thing.

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