Sunday, September 5, 2010

Biofuel from Algae

Producing biodiesel from algae has been touted as the most efficient way to make biodiesel fuel. The advantage being that the land requirement for growing the biodiesel is very small. Independent studies have demonstrated that algae is capable of producing 30 times more oil per acre than the current crops now utilized for the production of biofuels. Algae biofuel contains no sulfur, is non-toxic and highly biodegradable. Some species of algae are ideally suited to biodiesel production due to their high oil content, in excess of 50%, and extremely rapid growth rates.

Algae is considered one of the most promising options for future biofuel production. Algae require neither fresh water nor arable land for cultivation. It is estimated that if all of the fuel in the USA were replaced with algae biofuels, an area no larger than the state of Maryland would be required to produce it - making algae a much more efficient user of land than corn or soy ethanol, for example.

Energy company PetroSun's algae-to-biofuel facility in Rio Hondo, Texas farm consists of 1,100 acres of saltwater ponds, of which all but 20 acres will be dedicated to producing biofuel from algae. The other 20 acres will be used to develop an experimental jet fuel. The facility is expected to produce some 4.4 million gallons of algal oil, plus 110 million pounds of biomass a year.
Microalgae can outperform the current feedstocks utilized for conversion to biodiesel and ethanol, yet do not impact the consumable food markets or fresh water resources.

According to the company's press release, PetroSun is working on plans to establish algae farms and algal oil extraction plants in several US states, as well as in Mexico, Brazil and Australia during 2008.

New development is green fuel’s production is using waste carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants to grow the algae.CO2 from coal burning absorbed by algae rather then sending carbon emissions up the smokestack, the CO2 is used to grow algae, which then can be harvested and used as biomass for re-firing in the plant or converted into liquid biofuels for transport. Renewable Energy World estimates that two million tons of algae would be required to capture one million tons of CO2.

Approximately 3 million tons of CO2 emissions per year, each would have to generate 6 million tons of algae to absorb it all. Given the production stats for the first commercial algae plant this might be possible.

While algae biofuels offer much promise, is expansion of them which is enabled by the continued deployment and expansion of one of the most polluting forms of energy ever deployed really a good idea?

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