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Algae Fuel News from Biomass Magazine Apr 2010 Issue Posted by Parkavi on Wed April 07 2010 03:29:17 AM 2

The April 2010 issue of Biomass Magazine released three interesting articles related to algae fuels.
1. Open Ponds Versus Closed Bioreactors by Anna Austin
2. Biofuels or Bust by Lisa Gibson
3. Great Green Hope: The Corporate Love Affair with Algae by Todd Taylor

These articles provide enormous insights on the algae fuel domain. I am providing below a short summary of these articles:

1. Open pond Versus Closed Bioreactors - This article compares the merits and demerits of open algae cultivation systems with those of closed systems like bioreactors. Some companies like Bodega Algae and Origin oil prefer to grow algae in closed photobioreactors whereas, some companies like bioalgene are keen on growing algae in open systems. Despite the fact that open ponds are cheap, companies use closed systems to avoid contamination and to have a proper control over the cultivation environment. This article clearly highlights the need for inexpensive photobioreactor systems for growing algae.

2. Biofuels or Bust - It is true that algae have enormous potential as a fuel source, but the technology for large scale commercialization is still not clear. Riggs Eckelberry, president and CEO of California-based OriginOil Inc., suggests growing of algae next to wastewater treatment plant as one viable option for large scale commercialization. According to him, the three major problems with large scale algae cultivation are:
i. Cell density
ii. Quality of oil, and
iii. Oil extraction
Having these three as major barriers, Riggs visualizes algae fuel commercialization to be within 5 - 7 years.

3. Great Green Hope: The Corporate Love Affair with Algae - Most of the attention has been focused on algae biofuels as a replacement for fossil fuel. The companies are also interested in the other high-value products like chemicals, feed, nutraceuticals and food industries, as the production of algae-derived products may be simpler than fuels and the markets may also be readily accessible. The article features companies like Mars Symbioscience Inc., Cargill Inc., which are actively exploring non-fuel products from algae.

Why algae fuels not commercialized yet? Posted by Parkavi on Fri April 02 2010 04:06:34 AM 10

I read a research abstract recently published - Proponents of microalgae biofuel technologies often claim that the world demand of liquid fuels, about 5 trillion liters per year, could be supplied by microalgae cultivated on only a few tens of millions of hectares. This perspective reviews this subject and points out that such projections are greatly exaggerated, because

(1) The productivities achieved in large-scale commercial microalgae production systems, operated year-round, do not surpass those of irrigated tropical crops.

(2) Cultivating, harvesting and processing microalgae solely for the production of biofuels is simply too expensive using current or prospective technology; and

3) Currently available (limited) data suggest that the energy balance of algal biofuels is very poor. Thus, microalgal biofuels are no panacea for depleting oil or global warming, and are unlikely to save the internal combustion machine.

On reading this abstract, It appears that algae fuels cannot be commercialized before ten years from now. But I believe that the current research trends could address these problems to some extent.

For the first point on yield, algae are single celled, and can multiply very fast. The rate of biomass produced is eventually higher. Unlike land crops which are harvested once in a period of 3 months or six months, algae can double its biomass every hour making it harvestable daily.

It is indeed true that the cost of cultivation and harvesting is not cost competitive. But the current research on process integration (integrating various processes such as harvesting and extraction of oil into a single step process) and research on production of high value chemicals as by products can overcome this problem to some extent.

Energy balance is still not clear due to various processes employed in each step of the product conversion. May be I should read up a bit more on this aspect of algae fuels.