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Interesting thoughts from Dennis Sharp, USA: email: [sharpdpss]@[Comcast].[net] (pl remove the  to get the email address)
First let me say that I am not a Phd in anything. I have spent my 31 year career in the high tech business where quality and quotas had to be met. I live in Fort Collins, Colrado. I've read the article about them in the July, 2007 issue of Popular Science and was intriqued but also dishartened by the lack of progress. At the time of the interview they had only made a few drops of oil in a beaker. It became obvious to me that these university types had no idea of how to set up a production line. More research and keep the grant money coming.
I know there has been 20 plus years of research into algae to oil and zippo results. How complicated can it be? Aren't brewers already using yeasts to make their beer? My point is: I don't think it is a matter of more research. I think it is a matter of putting the right people with the right expertise in the right place in the process. Yes, we need the researcher and we also need the production expert. We also need people who know nothing about what has gone before so that we can have their unbiased and new insights.
My first suggestion is to open an online competition with real money rewards and real job offers. Perhaps, the first hurdle is to have an open competion to define the skeleton of a production line. All details can be filled in with other competitons. What is needed is to give feedback to those who are giving suggestions. That, and the money, is what would be different from what this suggestion email is about. These two components is also what would give motivation to the respondents. contact me if you would like more details on how the competions would work.
Now, from a non biology guy, here are some detailed suggestions:
Algae should be grown in large polycarbonate cylinders placed inside large solar tubes. The mirror like inner surface of the solar tube will cast light up and down the polycarbonate cylinder to bath the algae. The top of the solar tube could be an iris lens on a half dome of clear plastic so the amount of light entering can be varied. There should be paddles placed within the inner cylinder so the algae can be stirred and the paddles should have holes in them so carbon dioxide can be pumped into the algae and water mixture. Sensors and monitors should be placed within both cylinders so that a computer program can be made to optimize the algae growth and to know when the numbers are sufficient to harvest. When the process can produce several hundred tons a day, the algae should be feedstock to the input of the thermal depolymerization process of a Changing World Technologies refinery.
Dennis’ next mail:
One more thing has been nagging at the back of my mind. I hear about the biologists trying to find the right species of algae that has the most fat content. I can see them with their flasks and beakers each with its own experiment inside.
I remember my study in chaos theory where the first lesson to be learned when facing an immensely complex problem is to try random as well as purposeful searches. That way you may find the attractor that the problem revolves around. A good example would be if you want to get married and are just starting to narrow your search from all the females in the world, it may be beneficial to go on some blind dates rather than just date one or two girls you know.
In regards to finding the right algae, I see it much more productive to start with the defined production container and then search for the algae. That is, define the algae's home first. At that point why not grow ten or a hundred algae together. Take a sample out when the viscosity tells you that something is thriving and look under the microscope to determine who thrived the most. Let natural selection help select the right species. My guess is that there will be many algae that will work.
Also, the search for the most fat content is only meaningful if you try to break the cell membranes and separate out the fat. Chemically you can then do a few steps to get the bio-diesel. If you feed the Changing World Technologies refinery, fat content is good, but not critical.
These suggestions are meant to speed up the process of algae picking research.
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About Oilgae - Oilgae - Oil & Biodiesel from Algae has a focus on Biodiesel production from algae while also discussing alternative energy in general. Algae present an exciting possibility as a feedstock for biodiesel, and when you realise that oil was originally formed from algae - among others - you think "Hey! Why not oil again from algae!"