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An Interview with Prof.Ben Amotz- an algae expert of Seambiotic 34

Seambiotic, which is based out of Israel is an algae fuel company which grows algae in about eight shallow pools, covering about a quarter-acre which are filled with the same seawater used to cool the power plant.

A small percentage of gases are siphoned off from the
power plant flue and are channeled directly into
the algae ponds.

Here goes the interview of Prof. Ben Amotz, in the 2nd Algae World Europe Conversations. Prof Ben is the Chief Scientific advisor of Seambiotic with 30 years of experience in algae research.

Prof. Ben Amotz, you are one of the foremost phychologists in the world, and after 30 years of research, what do you think is the most attractive attribute of algae?

Algae by definition are related to the plant order, but in comparison to ?higher plants?, algae have 11 classes. Nevertheless, we have very little information about these classes relative to the higher plants. In the industry, we refer to it as the ?unexploited potential? of Algae.

I believe that Algae can provide many new products spanning medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and nutritional applications, over and above Algae and higher plant based products available today.

In your view, which of the latest innovations and developments in algae sector are exciting and relevant?

In Algae we don?t have such ?breakthrough developments?, we have grown quite slowly. Algae were grown mainly in the Far East (Japan and Taiwan) in the 50s, and it has been a slow process in development due to the difficulties to grow and harvest.

While innovations have been slow, they have been steady. Almost every year we get some new information or product from Algae, but there is no ?breakthrough?, like someone finding diamonds in Algae!

Seambiotic is the first company in the world to use flue gas from coal burning power stations for algae cultivation. Can you please tell us more about the production model?

The cost of producing Algae is quite high mainly because Algae uses carbon dioxide and fresh/sea water, which are quite expensive. After working so many years with Algae production for beta-carotene, we looked for alternatives to reduce the cost of production.

Today, we are able to use the waste of power plants. They include waste seawater used for cooling the turbines, and scrubbed flue gas emissions, which are clean enough for the growth of algae. Our model, which is new, uses the waste of the power plant, namely the seawater and the carbon dioxide to grow algae, thus saving a lot of money.

Why did Seambiotic choose open-pond cultivation system?

As of today, after 70 years of cultivation of algae, almost 100% of the commercial production of Algae is done in open ponds, and the issue of contamination is simply not true. It is possible to grow very concentrated biomass (clean like any agricultural product), without contamination. If we look at it from an agricultural point of view, the open pond also allows for better cultivation, fertilization, light concentration etc.

Of course, algae cultivation has to use land, but projects are often situated in land, like desert areas and marine areas, which is not used for agriculture, is cheap and found all over the world. That is the reason why almost all commercial Algae plants today use open pond production.

You have mentioned in a previous article that Israel doesn?t have enough land to support truly commercial-scale algae production. Where do you think is ideal?

Well Israel doesn?t have enough land to grow algae for biofuels because then we?ll need a lot of land. But Israel has enough land to grow Algae for high value products, in the order of 10 Ha facilities.

For Biofuels, we need hundreds or thousands of hectares of land, in areas where there is plenty of sun, easy access to seawater and large parcels arid land. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Baja California, Iran, Brazil and Australia come to mind.

What are other important factors to consider when choosing the location for a project?

The major factor for choosing the location of the site are concentration of Solar Radiation, access to Seawater, and Land availability, which is not used for urban or agricultural use, arid land with very low value and near seawater so it can be used for Algae cultivation.

We understand Seambiotic and NASA are collaborating in algae research, can you please tell us more about this project, and the progress so far.

NASA?s collaboration with Seambiotic came with the idea to use NASA?s aerodynamic expertise, and convert that to hydrodynamics. With the open pond system, we use water flow, and in principle, the hydrodynamics of water flow is very similar to aerodynamics. So NASA came with the idea that if we improve our hydrodynamics (water movement) we can significantly improve the productivity of our algae.

Preliminary experiments with NASA?s technology and design, I can confirm that it is actually true. The simple idea to improve the flow and mixing, we can increase the productivity of algae quite significantly.

What are the future plans for Seambiotic?

Seambiotic is constructing a 10 Ha plant in Israel, to produce fine chemicals, not for biofuels. We also recently signed a JV agreement with an electric power plant in China (one of the biggest power producers in the country), and we are currently constructing large-scale facilities for commercial algae cultivation in Yantai, China. This is the first time China & Israel are pursuing a joint venture in Algae production.

What do you make of the recent spike in interest for algal biofuel? Are there any misconceptions that concern you or even affect your work?

Algae biofuels gained popularity over the past few years because of oil price increases, and the search for green, alternative energy. Since there are concerns over insufficient food, the industry was not able to use higher plants, so the attention moved to Algae. Assuming that Algae does not use agricultural land and fresh water, and delivers the high enough levels of photosynthetic efficiencies, it will be viable to use Algae for biofuels and other uses.

How soon do you think we will see algae-based fuel in the market? And what are the main challenges that must be overcome for large-scale commercialisation?

It?s quite difficult to say how soon we?re going to see algae from biofuels in the market, but I know what the major limitations are!

The major limitations are actually the costs- both the cost of constructing the facilities, and the cost of production. As of today, the cost of production is quite high, so either the price of oil has to exceed $100/barrel, or the cost of producing algae has to fall below $100/barrel. When this happens, then we have a very good chance of using algae lipids to manufacture biofuels. So in my opinion it is all a matter of economics.
Video :
Wed July 14 2010 11:04:33 AM by Sumukhi biofuels  |  emissions  |  carbon capture  |  algae 2986 views

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