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Climate Apocalypse

This talk by Dan Miller presents compelling evidence for the looming climate apocalypse. We are on a path to global catastrophe. In talking about a crisis of Biblical scale, Miller gives us cause to think about the reality of the four horsemen of the apocalypse - famine, plague, war and death. These horses are now being saddled by a silent and invisible gas that is just under 400 parts per million in the atmosphere - carbon dioxide.

Slides from Dan Miller's talk are at climateplace.org/file/Slides_files/A%20 ... 0).key.pdf
The full lecture is at fora.tv/2009/08/18/A_REALLY_Inconvenien ... _Dan_Mille and a summary is at http://climateplace.org/file/Summary.html.

I strongly encourage everyone to watch this talk, which is a most lucid short explanation of the reality of our global predicament.

Miller explains that humans have evolved to react to threats which are visible, familiar, accepted, simple, hostile and direct. Climate change is none of these, so we have a learned helplessness in the face of it. Business as usual will cause extinction of humanity.

My view is that geo-engineering through large scale ocean based algae production is the only realistic way to prevent catastrophic climate change. Tax changes and personal behavior change are irrelevant. A systemic transformation of the global economy with breakthrough technology is the only thing that will make a difference. I explain my ideas here.

The real psychological impasse in the climate debate is that action is seen as modern and left wing, while inaction is seen as traditional and right wing. While climate debate remains beholden to these traditional political categories, with their links to the legacy of conflict between socialism and capitalism, there is no chance of effective action occurring. Climate response has to be a purely free enterprise capitalist initiative, aiming to make extremely large profit from saving the world. Socialism is out of kilter with real human incentives and motivations, and is just about big government and stagnation. While climate response remains linked to socialist groups such as green parties it has no chance of success.

Addressing climate has nothing to do with building a popular movement, it is about defining a vision for action and leadership through innovative technology and gaining investment to apply workable solutions.

Fri July 01 2011 03:03:41 PM by RobertTulip Dan Miller  |  algae  |  apocalypse

Potential for algae to transform the world economy

Potential for algae to transform the world economy
Robert Tulip

1. The world economy relies on the movement of carbon from the earth’s crust into the atmosphere as its main source of energy. Burning of fossil fuel is unsustainable for two reasons: peak oil and climate change. Algae biofuel is the only realistic option to fix these problems on global scale.
2. Oil extraction rates have already passed their peak, with new reserves not adequate to supply growing demand. It is essential for political and economic stability that new bulk liquid fuel sources are established well in advance of any supply crisis. 
3. The climate change impact of carbon emissions is more controversial, but the fact is that CO2 emission rates are increasing, not decreasing, in order to power economic growth for an expanding world population. NASA scientists say that if most of the carbon now in the crust was shifted to the atmosphere, Earth would become like Venus, a CO2 hothouse where life would be impossible. Just shifting a fraction of existing carbon into the air is already causing upheaval in global climate. The accelerating rate of emissions under business as usual means that climate change will become even more rapid until a systemic solution is implemented using new technology.
4. In response to these twin problems, peak oil and climate change, biofuel has been proposed as a means to supply sustainable energy. The first generation of biofuel, ethanol from grain, actually produces more net emissions than fossil fuel, while also displacing food crops and driving up food prices. The need is for a new generation of biofuel, a source of abundant liquid fuel that can be produced using renewable natural energy sources, that does not compete with food production for land, and that is rapidly scalable, simple to operate and good for the environment. Algae is the only crop that meets all these needs.
5. Transformation of the world economy to sustainable energy production from algae requires development of innovative new technology. The most promising method for bulk fuel production from algae is likely to emerge from the work of the US National Aeronautical and Space Administration, NASA, in their OMEGA Project - Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae.
6. Dr. Jonathan Trent, chief scientist for OMEGA, recently explained the status of the project (link). OMEGA plans to grow algae by pumping wastewater from sewage plants into floating fabric bags located in sheltered coastal bays. OMEGA has identified San Francisco Bay as an optimal test site, with readily available nutrient supply adjacent to suitable pilot locations, as well as abundant human capital in the innovation hub of Silicon Valley.
7. Sewage contains high levels of nutrients, and can be treated offshore in floating farms to produce algae and fresh water, instead of just dumping the treated waste at sea. Dr. Trent has shown that once the sewage is fully converted to algae, it can be simply processed to thick slush by putting it in a floating bag of a material that allows fresh water to escape by osmosis into the surrounding sea while retaining the algae cells in the bag. The concentrated algae is then a valuable commercial bulk commodity.
8. Algae cells are mostly made of oil, protein and carbohydrate. A number of methods are now in development to extract the oil, which in preferred species is about half the mass of the cell. Algae oil can easily be converted to diesel fuel for use in transport and heating using the same methods now in operation in biofuel plants. The remainder of the algae biomass can be used for fertilizer, food and fibre. The aim is to produce abundant low cost commodities that will enrich the world and put the global economy on to an ecologically sustainable path. 
9. Algae, growing in shallow warm seas, was the original source for the fossil deposits of petroleum in the earth’s crust. Algae farms can replicate this original natural production process in a fraction of the time, at commercially competitive cost, and in a way that will be good for the environment, the climate and the world economy. 
10. The OMEGA method mixes the algae with nutrient and CO2 inside a floating bag using wave energy. The nutrient source water and CO2 can be pumped in and out using tidal power. The entire operation needs no fossil fuel at all, as it uses natural sources and produces its own operational energy by converting sunlight into algae.
11. If CO2 is pumped into the base of the algae farm together with nutrients, and drizzled up through the algated water, the CO2 will provide buoyancy for the farm and create a cultured environment to maximize productivity.
12. Algae produced from sewage will not survive in the open ocean as it will die on contact with salt water. This provides an initial guarantee against environmental damage. Any spilled algae will be eaten by fish. 
13. The OMEGA pilot will examine risks such as shipping, lightning and storm. It appears these are readily solved. Signage can separate farms from shipping lanes, ability to patch any torn fabric can repair lightning damage, and ability to sink the entire system simply by expelling CO2 from the base can protect against rough weather. The ocean is still just below the surface. 
14. Considering the potential to expand from the San Francisco OMEGA pilot project, one feasible plan is the co-location of electricity stations with coastal algae farms and sewage plants, with all the CO2 from the power plant going into the algae production, and the algae being dried and used as fuel in a closed loop with zero emissions. This was proposed on land by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the 1970s, but the project was shelved due to lack of interest from the petrochemical industry.
15. If all the emissions from power plants, mines, cement factories and the like were piped into algae farms, the rise in global CO2 level could be stabilized and even reversed. Algae, produced in this way, can replace the need for geological sequestration of C02. The best way to sequester carbon is to use it as a valuable commodity to grow algae in bags at sea. 
16. My estimate is that all fossil fuel could be replaced by algae grown on 0.1% of the world ocean, 500,000 square kilometers. Optimal initial locations include pilot sites such as San Francisco Bay, and other sheltered shallow warm waters such as in the Gulf of Mexico and the northern coast of Australia. Just one mining project in Australia, the Gorgon Gas Project on Barrow Island, proposes to produce three million tons of CO2 each year as a byproduct. Instead of pumping it below ground as worthless waste, algae farms can use this CO2 as a resource for energy production. 
17. In heavily polluted industrial environments such as in China, pumping of power station emissions into algae farms could rapidly reduce air pollution. Such pumping can be entirely powered by tidal energy in coastal locations. Concentrated CO2 from inland locations can be barged down rivers in fabric balloons to coastal algae farms.
18. Another excellent potential test site is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef is now at high risk from climate change due to warming ocean water temperature killing the coral. Algae farms located near the reef can contain all the heat from the sun in the surface layer, providing local cooling of ocean water beneath them, reducing the overall temperature of the reef water, protecting the coral, processing phosphorus from agricultural runoff, and providing a sustainable food source for fish.
19. The OMEGA pilot project in San Francisco offers the opportunity to consider even more productive large scale methods, such as salt water algae that draws its nutrient by tidal power from the deep rich water 500 meters below the surface. Strains of salt water algae can be produced that will dominate within the cultured farm environment but will not grow in the open ocean. 
20. Tidal energy for pumping can mimic the upwelling of deep cold ocean currents that are now the nutrient source for the world’s richest fish grounds. Eaten by fish, the algae product from an offshore farm will rapidly increase the protein biomass of the surrounding ocean, providing a major boost to food production and protecting fish stocks.
21. Plant husbandry methods can achieve high yielding strains. If an algae farm has multiple parallel tracks along which water flows, the output can be tested for desired criteria, and the most productive batch can be used to seed the system, to outcompete wild strains and maximize yield. If CO2 is pumped into the water in the farm, new algae varieties will rapidly evolve that will grow well in the cultured environment, but will not survive in the open sea. My view is that such plant husbandry techniques are preferable to genetic engineering, and that all research and development should be highly precautionary regarding any risks. My estimate is that an initial yield goal of one cubic meter of oil per hectare per day can rapidly be multiplied many times over through intensive research and development.
22. Algae provides the only realistic way to actually drive down atmospheric CO2 levels by replacing current energy sources at global scale. Focus on technological innovation is far better than existing proposed climate response methods that concentrate on tax reform. While it is likely that government subsidy would speed up the establishment of a large scale commercial algae production industry, my assessment is that the methods described here should be commercially competitive against fossil fuels on current market prices, and even more so when the environmental damage of fossil fuels is considered. 
23. There is no point in climate schemes that do not use market forces to transform the global economy away from its short term addiction to fossil fuels. Production of fuel, fertilizer, fibre and food from algae will rapidly address fuel security and food security. Resources are needed to expand current pilot projects. Equity investment will be highly profitable and socially responsible, establishing a sustainable new industry that will fix some of the biggest problems facing the world.
Fri May 06 2011 10:03:58 PM by RobertTulip 54 ocean  |  OMEGA  |  NASA  |  algae biofuel  |  climate change

Offshore Membrane for Growing Algae (NASA OMEGA Project)

Info on NASA Omega: 
http://lunarscience.arc.nasa.gov/articles/omega OFFSHORE MEMBRANE ENCLOSURE FOR GROWING ALGAE (OMEGA)
NLSI talks with Jonathan Trent about the OMEGA project as it relates to NASA and the moon
Picture of lipids from Botryococcus Braunii http://lunarscience.arc.nasa.gov/images/402.png
NASA scientists have proposed an ingenious and remarkably resourceful process to produce ?clean energy? biofuels, that cleans waste water, removes carbon dioxide from the air, retains important nutrients, and does not compete with agriculture for land or freshwater. As a clean energy alternative, NASA invented a bioreactor that is an Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae (OMEGA), an algae photo-bioreactor that grows algae in municipal wastewater to produce biofuel and a variety of other products.

NASA plans to refine and integrate the technology into biorefineries to produce renewable energy products, including diesel and jet fuel.

OMEGA Project Overview Video: The NLSI recorded this video of PI Jonathan Trent presenting the OMEGA project at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field California. You can view the video by double clicking on the image above or you can download the file directly to your computer here. [324.2 MB .mp4 file; 0:58:10 run time]

The OMEGA system consists of large plastic bags with inserts of forward-osmosis membranes that grow freshwater algae in processed wastewater by photosynthesis. Using energy from the sun, the algae absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and nutrients from the wastewater to produce biomass and oxygen. As the algae grow, the nutrients are contained in the enclosures, while the cleansed freshwater is released into the surrounding ocean through the forward-osmosis membranes.

?The OMEGA technology has transformational powers. It can convert sewage and carbon dioxide into abundant and inexpensive fuels,? said Matthew Atwood, president and founder of Algae Systems. ?The technology is simple and scalable enough to create an inexpensive, local energy supply that also creates jobs to sustain it.?

When deployed in contaminated and ?dead zone? coastal areas, this system may help remediate these zones by removing and utilizing the nutrients that cause them. The forward-osmosis membranes use relatively small amounts of external energy compared to the conventional methods of harvesting algae, which have an energy intensive de-watering process.

Potential benefits include oil production from the harvested algae, and conversion of municipal wastewater into clean water before it is released into the ocean. After the oil is extracted from the algae, the algal remains can be used to make fertilizer, animal feed, cosmetics, or other valuable products. This successful spinoff of NASA-derived technology will help support the commercial development of a new algae-based biofuels industry and wastewater treatment.

?The reason why algae are so interesting is because some of them produce lots of oil,? said Jonathan Trent, the lead research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. ?In fact, most of the oil we are now getting out of the ground comes from algae that lived millions of years ago. Algae are still the best source of oil we know.?

Algae are similar to other plants in that they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, and use phosphates, nitrogen, and trace elements to grow and flourish. Unlike many plants, they produce fatty, lipid cells loaded with oil that can be used as fuel.

?The inspiration I had was to use offshore membrane enclosures to grow algae. We?re going to deploy a large plastic bag in the ocean, and fill it with sewage. The algae use sewage to grow, and in the process of growing they clean up the sewage,? said Trent.

It is a simple, but elegant concept. The bag will be made of semi-permeable membranes that allow fresh water to flow out into the ocean, while retaining the algae and nutrients. The membranes are called ?forward-osmosis membranes.? NASA is testing these membranes for recycling dirty water on future long-duration space missions. They are normal membranes that allow the water to run one way. With salt water on the outside and fresh water on the inside, the membrane prevents the salt from diluting the fresh water. It?s a natural process, where large amounts of fresh water flow into the sea.

Floating on the ocean?s surface, the inexpensive plastic bags will be collecting solar energy as the algae inside produce oxygen by photosynthesis. The algae will feed on the nutrients in the sewage, growing rich, fatty cells. Through osmosis, the bag will absorb carbon dioxide from the air, and release oxygen and fresh water. The temperature will be controlled by the heat capacity of the ocean, and the ocean?s waves will keep the system mixed and active.

When the process is completed, biofuels will be made and sewage will be processed. For the first time, harmful sewage will no longer be dumped into the ocean. The algae and nutrients will be contained and collected in a bag. Not only will oil be produced, but nutrients will no longer be lost to the sea. According to Trent, the system ideally is fail proof. Even if the bag leaks, it won?t contaminate the local environment. The enclosed fresh water algae will die in the ocean.

The bags are expected to last two years, and will be recycled afterwards. The plastic material may be used as plastic mulch, or possibly as a solid amendment in fields to retain moisture.

When astronauts go into space, they must bring everything they need to survive. Living quarters on a spaceship require careful planning and management of limited resources.
?We have to remember,? Trent said, quoting Marshall McLuhan: ?we are not passengers on spaceship Earth, we are the crew.?

Teague Soderman of the NASA Lunar Science Institute had the opportunity to talk with Trent about the OMEGA project in the context of NASA space exploration. Listen to a short audio podcast here [11:53 min? 120 MB .wav file].

For more information about OMEGA, visit:

Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff
Source: NASA 
Wed September 22 2010 08:29:22 PM by RobertTulip 55 NASA  |  OMEGA  |  Algae biofuel

Does Expanding Biofuel Production Make Sense?

New World Bank Research Paper

The expansion makes sense in some, but not all, cases, according to a new working paper by Govinda Timilsina and Ashish Shrestha of the World Bank. The case is strongest in countries with a surplus of unused land and a developed biofuel industry. Second-generation biofuels, such as ethanol made from cellulosic biomass, may offer more economic and environmental benefits in the future. But they are facing serious technical and economic hurdles right now and would still compete with the food supply for available land. Already, a hot debate has focused on what impact expanded biofuel production had on the 2007-2008 global food crisis. Estimates of the impact vary greatly, but it's clear that biofuel production contributed to higher food prices. In addition, an expansion of biofuel production would reduce greenhouse gas emissions if it doesn't involve converting carbon-rich forests to cropland. Otherwise, any large-scale expansion of biofuels would cause a net increase of greenhouse gas emissions for many years.
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5364


"The use of microalgae for biodiesel production appears to be a very promising future technology (Christi, 2008) since 80% or more of the dry weight of algae biomass, compared to 5% for some food crops, may be retrieved as oil for some species (Christi, 2007). They also create little pressure on arable land because they can be cultivated in a wide variety of conditions, even in salt water and water from polluted aquifers (GBEP, 2008)."

"While micro-algae is projected as a future source for biodiesel, production cost is still extremely high, in the range of US$2 to US$22 per liter (Pate and Hightower, 2008). Making algae a viable commercial option will require further improvements in genetic and metabolic engineering to produce higher yielding and hardier strains. Although economies of scale in production could lower the cost, it is challenging to increase the yield to a level that ensures micro-algae based biodiesel is competitive with other biodiesel technologies. Nevertheless, the feasibility of biodiesel production from micro-algae can be expedited if large-scale production facilities can be integrated with other processes, such as wastewater treatment and utilization of carbon dioxide from power plants (USAID, 2009)."

Wed September 22 2010 05:00:20 AM by RobertTulip 5 Algae biofuel  |  World Bank

Adam Smith and Economies of Scale for Algae Production

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 39 Adam Smith  |  pin factory  |  Algae biofuel  |  ocean  |  global warming

What can we realistically expect re global warming

From http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/106405-What-can-we-realistically-expect-re-global-warming?p=1774441#post1774441

OP question: "Given that there is no prospect of a political settlement over global warming, can we expect civilisation to end by 2100? Will science find a way to make the world liveable? Will the worst case scenario be the best fit scenario, or will the results be more mild then we expected?"

My comment: "A political settlement may not be the key factor. The Kyoto Protocol did not even slow the increase of emissions, and was more about being seen to respond than actually delivering anything to mitigate climate change. Similar criticism applies to the Copenhagen conference.

Reducing annual global emissions from 30 billion tons to 25 billion tons would deliver maybe a few years before a dangerous tipping point is reached. Emission reduction of this scale is essentially pointless, merely slowing an impending crisis. The real question is whether and how energy supply can be transformed globally in a way that would push CO2 concentrations downward.

Regarding sceptic views on a tipping point, the issue is the extreme rapid geological speed of increase, not whether we can stoically imagine life continuing in a high CO2 atmosphere. Of course life could survive an experimental quadrupling of CO2, just as 5% of organisms survived the Permian catastrophe, but that is hardly an optimal model.

The OP asks "can science find a way to make the world liveable?" The task here is to find a way to stabilise and reduce CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Geological sequestration of CO2 is too expensive, and does not turn CO2 into a valuable commodity. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is more a way to achieve environmental goals under the guise of a climate objective. Nuclear power is a valuable stopgap, but will only deliver a fraction of the required change in energy system.

The question, assuming we desire to return the planet to a 250 ppm CO2 state, is whether there is any way to suck CO2 out of the air and sea on a scale approaching 50 billion tons per year, assuming we continue to emit 30 billion tons, and whether such change can be made politically attractive by being self-financing and ecologically beneficial.

As far as I can see, large scale algae production is the only feasible answer. If algae can fix 100 tons of CO2 per hectare per year, then algae farms covering one percent of the world ocean (ie five million square kilometres) will be needed to stabilise the world climate. Such farms would be more than ?bandaids on Gaia?, as they would produce a wide range of valuable commodities. Enough of the produced carbon could remain unburned, in the form of fertilizer, fish food, plastics and carbon blocks, to have material impact on climate stability. If we can work out how to build infrastructure such as roads and buildings out of carbon sourced from algae, we may be able to use a commercial market system to stabilise the world climate."
Fri August 13 2010 11:14:29 AM by RobertTulip 5 Algae biofuel  |  global warming  |  bautforum

Strategic path for the development of microalgal bio-diesel in China

Preliminary draft paper for comment

Abstract: The use of liquid fossil fuel is limited by the declining petroleum reserves in the earth's crust and the need to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide level. To supply energy for development in a low-emission economy, bio-energy is required. Guangxi Province can be a leader for China in biofuel. Guangxi already has the largest ethanol production plants in China, but substitution of biofuel for diesel is stalled. We propose that investment in microalgae should be the main energy focus, aiming at producing 500 million tons of bio-diesel per year to replace China's current fossil fuel use for liquid energy supply. Algae biofuel is likely to be the best and only practical source for energy security and stability in many market segments. Algae biofuel also has spillover benefits for climate, environment, economic growth and food supply. The Government of China should support algae biodiesel research and development on industrial scale.
Fri August 06 2010 12:28:27 AM by RobertTulip 14 climate  |  technology  |  energy  |  China  |  Algae biofuel

Algae Biofuel within the decade

On 25 May 1961, US President John Kennedy told Congress that America would put a man on the moon within the decade. Through vision and resources and ingenuity it happened.

Peak oil and global warming mean the world has to shift to algae biodiesel before 2020. With vision and resources and ingenuity the world can shift to a sustainable energy economy in five years.

Security of global energy and climate is more important than the moon shot. Sustainable energy is the basis of human global security. Algae is the only source of liquid fuel that can maintain economic activity on current projected scale.

Large scale algae production is essential to stabilise the climate and sequester carbon, and can do so through a sustainable market based solution, as long as governments take a lead as they did with the internet.

The USA has previously addressed large scale programs with the Manhattan Project, the Apollo Space Program, and the internet. A similarly large transformative and innovative program is needed for climate and energy security through algae biofuel.

Kennedy speech
http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical Resources/Archives/Reference Desk/Speeches/JFK/Urgent National Needs Page 4.htm

NASA Moon Speeches
Tue July 20 2010 12:42:59 AM by RobertTulip 1 Algae biofuel  |  energy security  |  peak oil  |  climate change

Ocean Based Algae Biofuel System

Dear friends, please see my proposals for new inventions to scale up algae production. My proposed system combines the best elements from raceway pond and photobioreactor designs, powered by sun, wave and tide. I would welcome assistance to patent and commercialise these ideas.


Provisional Patent Application Ocean Based Algae Biofuel Production System - R Tulip July 2009

Algae Biofuel Feedstock Proposal

Large Scale Ocean Based Algae Production System - Preliminary Concept Document R Tulip March 2009

Ocean Based Algae Production System Ancillary Devices
Fri March 19 2010 11:43:14 PM by RobertTulip 6