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Power Science

Newest Energy Source — Pond Scum 289

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the slippery-when-wet dept.
An anonymous reader writes to tell us that several start up companies include one from MIT are looking at using (both natural and engineered) algae as source of bio-fuel. Since algae grows quickly and absorbs green house gases. From the article "Soybeans can give you 50 to 60 gallons of oil an acre compared to 75 to 125 gallons for canola, but algae is almost limitless because it grows so fast, so potentially you could get 10,000 gallons per acre."
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Newest Energy Source — Pond Scum

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  • even so (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:25PM (#17381894)
    my wife is still going to insist i clean up the pond out back
  • by roguerez (319598) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:26PM (#17381908) Homepage
    A Look Back at the
    U.S. Department of Energy's
    Aquatic Species Program:
    Biodiesel from Algae

    http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/fy98/24190.pdf [nrel.gov]
    • by Scarblac (122480) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:38PM (#17382046) Homepage

      Very interesting, thanks!

      From a quick scan - "Even with aggressive assumptions about biological productivity, we project costs for biodiesel which are two times higher than current petroleum diesel fuel costs".

      If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs, especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

      • by careysub (976506) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:08PM (#17382310)

        From a quick scan - "Even with aggressive assumptions about biological productivity, we project costs for biodiesel which are two times higher than current petroleum diesel fuel costs".

        If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs, especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

        Indeed so! The 2006 inflation adjusted price in 1998 was $18 a barrel, last I checked it was three and half times this right now. In fact the average inflation adjusted price over the last 33 years is about double the 1998 price.

        If the DOE algae biodiesel cost estimate is correct then it has already been on average a break-even technology for a third of a century.

        Both the total world production of oil and the production of oil available for export are peaking about right now. This has been predicted for years: http://www.energybulletin.net/147.html [energybulletin.net] and current studies verify this.

        Thus the cost of oil is not likely to experience any significant downward trend from now on, ever.

        The original article's production estimates are a bit suspect though. The 20,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre they give as the upper range of production is 47 g/square meter a day. The DOE gives a maximum annual production of 50 g/square meter of algae (not biodiesel) a day.

        Still, the technology looks really good.

      • by jmorris42 (1458) * <`jmorris' `at' `beau.org'> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:31PM (#17382514)
        > If that was in 1998, then at should be very feasible with current petrol costs,

        Only if you can burn the product in current systems, otherwise you have to factor in the conversion costs. And you have to assume oil prices will still be insane when your production makes it online. I'd bet on oil remaining high for a while personally, not sure how many billions I'd bet though.

        > especially taking into account the added value of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

        How moronic do they make Greens these days? Yea that pond scum will absorb a lot of CO2... and release it right back when you burn it for fuel. So it is carbon neutral unless you plan to compact the algae into bricks and bury it. Of course neutral still beats burning dead dinosaurs who fixed their carbon millions of years ago.

        Stories like this are why I don't worry about running out of oil or about global warming. Anytime the system begins to get unbalanced it forces a correction through the free market, and it works even faster and better when the government stays the hell out of things and allows nature to take its course. As oil becomes more expensive, potential replacements that used to be discarded as uncompetitive start looking viable. Once one gets established the intense competition that drove the cost of oil production down will make the new thing cheap and plentiful.
        • Uhhh... (Score:2, Informative)

          by Watson Ladd (955755)
          Newsflash:The Government imposes the carbon market on companies. Otherwise pollution is what economists call an Externality [wikipedia.org]. Free markets fail whenever externalities exist. So the free market is incapable of solving Global Warming without Government.
          • Re:Uhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @10:51PM (#17383746) Homepage
            Free markets fail whenever externalities exist. So the free market is incapable of solving Global Warming without Government.

            You might want to actually read the article you posted in your own link. Free markets do not just fail whenever externalities exist. If that were true, capitalism itself would have failed by now. Negative externalities do tend to create "less socially optimal" situations, but that doesn't mean that market forces can't correct for them, either. I agree, however, that it seems unlikely that corporate enterprise is likely to spontaneously create a solution for global warming.

          • Re:Uhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by radtea (464814) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @11:50PM (#17384074)
            So the free market is incapable of solving Global Warming without Government.

            What is this "the" free market of which you speak?

            All markets are made by laws, and laws are made by governments. There is no "the" free market, any more than there is "the" internal combustion engine. Markets are machines, made by human beings to solve human problems. Laws made by governments are the mechanism by which we define markets. There are no markets in nature; without governments, there are no markets at all.

            So to set "the free market" up as being in any way opposed to "Government" is to fundamentally fail to understand the nature of the relationship between the two. All markets are created by governments or quasi-government (i.e. violent) forces. They are shaped by various forms of regulation, including incorporation requirements, insurance requirements, and other things. "Free" markets are more-or-less free of overt governmental price-fixing and other direct political interference of the type Haliburton depends on. But there are many free markets of various types. And all of them depend on laws and therefore government for their existence and operation.
        • by misleb (129952) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:46PM (#17383060)
          Stories like this are why I don't worry about running out of oil or about global warming. Anytime the system begins to get unbalanced it forces a correction through the free market, and it works even faster and better when the government stays the hell out of things and allows nature to take its course.


          Ok, so lets say we don't run out of oil. Not only do we not run out of oil but it remains the most economically viable source of energy for some time to come. At what point does the "free market" then solve global warming? Seems to me that an unregulated free market would just keep on polluting until it is too late (or at least really bad).

          The only way to keep corporations from destroying the environment is to regulate them. Enforce environmental standards and fine the hell out of corporations when they violate. Sorry, but free markets don't work for everything.

          -matthew
        • by tepples (727027)

          Only if you can burn the product in current systems, otherwise you have to factor in the conversion costs.

          Biodiesel blends up to at least B30 burn just fine in almost all diesel vehicle engines made within the last decade, and most Volkswagen engines are warranted even for B100. (Sources [wikipedia.org]) Just make sure you taper up the biodiesel concentration and have a few fuel filters on hand when making the switch, as biodiesel really cleans out your vehicle's fuel lines. Conversion costs will factor themselves in; as the price of petrol goes up, and petrol vehicles wear out, people will replace their petrol vehicles wit

        • by cartman (18204) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @10:13PM (#17383524)
          Only if you can burn the product in current systems, otherwise you have to factor in the conversion costs. And you have to assume oil prices will still be insane when your production makes it online. I'd bet on oil remaining high for a while personally, not sure how many billions I'd bet though.

          Biodiesel blend (10% biodiesel) can be burned in current cars with no modification, and pure Biodiesel (100%) can be burned in current cars with slight modifications. Newer cars could be built to accept 100% biodiesel with very little additional cost (less than $30).

          Furthermore, the current gas stations and infrastructure could still be used.

          How moronic do they make Greens these days? Yea that pond scum will absorb a lot of CO2... and release it right back when you burn it for fuel. So it is carbon neutral unless you plan to compact the algae into bricks and bury it.

          No. Algal biodiesel is carbon neutral if you burn it, because burning it emits the same amount of carbon as was removed from the atmosphere by growing the algae. Algol biodisel would be carbon negative if you buried it, because that would be taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

          Stories like this are why I don't worry about running out of oil or about global warming. Anytime the system begins to get unbalanced it forces a correction through the free market, and it works even faster and better when the government stays the hell out of things and allows nature to take its course. As oil becomes more expensive, potential replacements that used to be discarded as uncompetitive start looking viable.

          We definitely don't have to worry about running out of oil. There are many alternatives which exist and which are practically inexhaustible and which become economical once gasoline is pricier than $4/gallon. $4/gallon would hardly spell the end of civilization. All of this crap about impending doom from oil exhaustion is so silly as not to merit further comment.

          However, the market would not correct global warming, because CO2 emission is an externality. In other words, the cost of destruction from carbon emission is not charged to the emitter and therefore is not included in corporate balance sheets. Thus, the market pays no attention to it. In this case, the most appropriate response is a minimal government intervention of replacing income taxes with carbon taxes. By doing so, the gov't would internalize the externality, thereby causing it to be included in corporate balance sheets. At that point, the market would resolve the problem without further intervention.

          The investors in algal biodiesel are probably assuming that the government will impose carbon taxes sometime soon. If the government did so, then biodiesel would be much cheaper (it could help coal plants reduce their taxes) and gasoline would be more expensive, thus biodiesel would suddenly become price-competitive.

    • by baldass_newbie (136609) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:49PM (#17382146) Homepage Journal
      Wow.
      This algae idea could grow on me.
    • by grimJester (890090) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:00PM (#17382242)
      An alternative approach: Hydrogen from algae [ucop.edu]. (PDF warning, scroll to page 4)

      Ah, dammit, the Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] is easier.
    • by aarku (151823) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:02PM (#17382260) Journal
      I found this conclusion interesting: "...we project costs for biodiesel which are two times higher than current petroleum diesel fuel costs." (Emphasis mine)

      So the price of gasoline in 1998, the year the paper was written, was around $1.25 per gallon. I'll pay $2.50 a gallon for algae fuel anyday.
      • by Rufus211 (221883)
        So the price of gasoline in 1998, the year the paper was written, was around $1.25 per gallon. I'll pay $2.50 a gallon for algae fuel anyday.

        The price of gasoline and the price of oil it comes from are related, but not directly. A huge percentage of what you pay at the pump goes to taxes.

        A better comparison would be to crude prices (as some posters above have done), and it's still competative.
    • Something that should be kept in mind is that new technologies have emerged since then that could enable us to grow and process biofuels more efficiently. (Slashdot featured an article some time ago that featured a credit card sized biodeisel reactor that could be assembled with other such units into a stack to process large volumes of fuel efficiently.) Given all the past and present research into biofuels and the apparent growing demand for it, it might not be such a bad idea to find a way to make this co
    • The problem with algae as a biodiesel source is that algae have a very low oil content. The oil from soybeans and cannola is extracted almost directly, while any substantial percentage of the fuel value of algae in the form of oil would have to be synthesized at high cost. To simply extract oil from algae we would have to re-engineer algae to produce more oils, and even then, the gross biomass to oil ratio would likely be quite high.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xs650 (741277)
        The remaining biomass should be considered a feature rather than a bug. Most dried bio-mass has an energy content of about 4,000 BTU/lb, about the same as wood and roughly 1/2 that of coal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Your Pal Dave (33229)
        Depends upon the algae. Diatoms are 40% oil.
    • I think a lot of the original research was done here - http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/ [unh.edu]

      • I've talked to those guys, they've already gone as far as they can with small scale tests. They're ready to try a production test.

        Just can't understand why it's taking so long to get behind this idea. At least the few million it would take to do production testing.

    • The technology in this article about MIT research has been slashdotted at least one other time in the last 12-24 months. See, for example: http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/01/1 1/1718256 [slashdot.org]
  • by Kid Zero (4866) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:28PM (#17381940) Homepage Journal
    Next they'll be finding a use for lawyers!

    (Oh yeah, I'm burning for that one! :D)
    • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:37PM (#17382032) Journal
      Actually, they have found a use for Lawyers ... as source of nutrients for Pond Scum.
      • Last one I used ended up poisioning my entire crop.
        Not reccomended. They are only good bu putting them in a courtroom and tapping the hot exhaust gas from objections and closing arguments.
        -nB
      • It's like "Processed Cheese Food" : It's not cheese, it's the food that cheese eats.
    • There was a study that found due to their excessive sliminess you could get a million barrels per acre of lawyers but a group of lawyers sued to surpress the report. They also filed for endangered species protection to prevent Lawyers from being converted to biodiesel but the courts countered with the fact that they breed faster than rabbits so there's no risk of running out of lawyers anytime soon.
  • I just scraped off all of the algae from the walls of my neglected fish tank. I should have saved it. :)

  • by MrTester (860336) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:30PM (#17381964)
    How excellent is this!!!

    Now I can move my fish tank next to my PC, I never have to clean the damned thing, and I have un interupted power source for my computer!

    This is the best discovery EVER!
  • They should look into making retaining ponds and doing this in the ocean. Not only is freshwater in short supply most of the earths surface is salt water.
    • Are the algae they are having success with compatible with salt water? Or are any salt water algae suitable for producing biofuel?

      • by OpenGLFan (56206)
        It would definitely be nice to find out, as then we could kill two birds [slashdot.org] with one stone, if we could harvest the algae that's creating the dead zone off Oregon's coast.

        Imagine it: energy suppliers and environmentalists agreeing with each other; dogs and cats, living together; mass hysteria!

      • by cartman (18204) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:22PM (#17382424)
        Are the algae they are having success with compatible with salt water? Or are any salt water algae suitable for producing biofuel?

        Yes. The fastest-growing and oiliest algae are diatoms, which are saltwater microscopic organisms.

        One of the major advantages of biofuel from algae, is that it grows quickly in saltwater ponds in hot areas like New Mexico. As a result, no fresh water or farmland is wasted. Also the land wasn't being used for anything else. Also, algal fuel is carbon-neutral (it sucks up as much CO2 as is released by burning it) so it doesn't contribute to global warming.

        • Sounds pretty ideal.

          Now if they'd just design and sell (or someone would design open source plans for) a backyard unit where you could grow a percentage of your own fuel.

          My house sits on 1.1 acres. I love to use 10% of that (a little more if required) to grow a large portion of my own fuel.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pegasus (13291)
      There were some experiments (even mentioned on /.) that came up with the lack of the iron in the seawater as the limiting factor for algae growth in the seas. IIRC they seeded a small area in the sea with some iron oxyde solution or something and watched it turn green in a couple of hours.
      • by mangu (126918)
        they seeded a small area in the sea with some iron oxyde solution or something and watched it turn green in a couple of hours


        Incidentally, that has been suggested as a mean to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, seed the ocean with iron and let the algae that grow sink to the depths.

      • Is that all they observed? Iron II Hydroxide is green :)
    • by timeOday (582209)
      Potable fresh water is indeed in short supply. But we do have an excess of poo-filled "fresh" water, so much that we have special treatment facilities to knock it down a few notches before dumping it out into the ocean. Algae probably loves poo, not to mention fertilizer and most of the other junk we put into water. Maybe we could use our waste water for growing scum.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Not only is freshwater in short supply

            You know there have been HUGE advances in desalinization recently, don't you?
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:37PM (#17382020)
    Generate electricity for these:

    http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/ [phoenixmotorcars.com]

    or these:
    http://www.teslamotors.com/ [teslamotors.com]

    And everything else. Then you don't have to bugger about expending energy processing it the stuff into biofuels.

     
    • by garcia (6573)
      Then you don't have to bugger about expending energy processing it the stuff into biofuels.

      You know, "bugger" shouldn't be used in the same sentence as "expending energy". I certainly don't even want to think about algae in conjunction with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wrook (134116)
      Man... I just went to the Tesla motors site and they claim an efficiency of 110 Wh/km. That means only 11 kWh/100 km. In my neck of the woods that's just about $1.10 Cdn / 100 km (heh heh... in the summer I guess ;-) ).

      But that completely *buries* my VW diesel Golf which clocks in at nearly $5 / 100 km....

      I had absolutely *no* idea how cheaply you could potentially run an electric vehicle... Now to wait until they cost less than $100,000 USD...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Colin Smith (2679)
        It gets better.

        An electric vehicle has almost no moving parts. There's the bearings, the motor, brakes and that's about it. There are no valves, no cams, no crank, no pistons, no piston rings, no spark plugs, no distributor, no air filters, no oil, etc etc to service every 10,000 miles. They don't even really need a gearbox. Basically it should just run and run and run as long as the battery lasts, and the Altair Nano lithium titanate battery is rated for thousands of charges, ~25 years.

        So you have bugger
  • Dirty Jobs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:39PM (#17382052) Homepage

    There was something a bit like this on Dirty Jobs as I remember. It was a research project that took the output of a power plant (a portion of it) and ran it though tubes of algae that would filter it and remove CO2 and grow, then they could burn the algae afterwards. That way they could get the "free" energy (from the sun that the algae was storing) plus is was carbon neutral if implemented on a large scale.

    We just have to be careful that while we enslave the algae, they don't know it's happening so they don't start an uprising. I don't want a very thin layer of mad green goo covering everything.

    • >> We just have to be careful that while we enslave the algae, they
      >> don't know it's happening so they don't start an uprising.

      Obviously, one would construct a virtual reality to keep them occupied. At first, you might try to construct a virtual paradise but eventually they would get suspicious and revolt. So the second virtual reality would be more like they are used to, but maybe there would be one algae, let's call him Geo, who can feel that this virtual algae reality isn't quite right. Ev
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:45PM (#17382106)
    potentially you could get 10,000 gallons per acre.

    We are having a failure to think fourth dimensionally here. Time, folks, time! 10K gal. how often?. Yes it might be in the TFA, but that's no reason to omit it from the summary.

    • Agreed I for one welcome our pond scum overlords..........
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DigitalRaptor (815681)
      Just once.

      The algae actually produces the fuel as it bores it's way to the center of the earth. Then you have to start over again with a different acre.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I did a bit of research on this sort of thing. Apparently that 10K or more gallons per-hectare - not acre, according to everything else I've read so far - is achieved yearly.

      Kind of impressive, considering how small a chunk of land that is.
    • by StikyPad (445176) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:37PM (#17382566) Homepage
      Actually, that would be third-dimension, since acres are two dimensional units.

      Anyway, duckweed [wikipedia.org] doubles its biomass in 10 days [wildlife-g...ing.org.uk]. It's one of, if not the fastest growing plant known (which explains why it's such a pest in our backyard pond). However, since algae need not remain on the surface, the water could be agitated to perhaps increase the usable volume in which the algae grows. That probably wouldn't work for duckweed which a) floats very well, and b) has a sort of floating root which would cause problems. But if it grows faster, it might not matter -- assuming it's usable in the first place.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Time, folks, time! 10K gal. how often?

            Depending on environmental conditions, algae can grow pretty damned quick - a matter of a few weeks! Obviously it works better in the tropics ;)
  • Uhm..Yield rates. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The Living Fractal (162153) <banantarr&hotmail,com> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:59PM (#17382230) Homepage
    The article talks pretty high of this algae. Acres upon acres of biodiesel creating algae for all!

    It seems pretty biased to me. No mention of the energy required to run the biodiesel plants. No mention of exactly how long each yield cycle takes. I mean, great, 10k gallons of biodiesel (even up to 20k) per acre.. per how long? It's a measure of time I thought? So why are you giving me these one-dimensional 'rates'. Sounds pretty skim on the details.

    And let's talk about acres. I'd rather cover an acre of desert with solar panels than an acre of land in more moderate climates. And now I get led into the question of solar vs. algae. The algae gets its energy from photosynthesis. Great. But can an acre of algae really compete with an acre of the highest efficiency solar cells -- again, over time? Which one wins in the end?

    Look, I'm not saying I disagree, I think it's great people are pursuing alternate forms of fuel. But if you're going to write an article and call it news the least you could do is play devil's advocate along side fanboy. Give me some compare and contrast, some pros and cons. That's all I want!

    TLF
    • Re:Uhm..Yield rates. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mangu (126918) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:18PM (#17382390)
      But can an acre of algae really compete with an acre of the highest efficiency solar cells -- again, over time? Which one wins in the end?


      Considering that the algae aren't black and reflect a lot of the sunlight, I would guess the solar cells win. But how about the total cost? You are considering only land cost, if the algae are less efficient, more area will be needed for them. However, algae are self-manufacturing, solar cell must be produced in a factory from a number of different machines and raw materials. And, of course, there is still another factor: solar cells produce electricity that can be used immediately, algae need some sort of processing to generate useful energy.


      All in all, I'm pretty sure algae would be cheaper in our current technology level. Certainly more efficient manufacturing processes for solar cells will be developed in the future, but for now I'd be willing to bet that the total cost for generating energy is lower for algae than for solar cells.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A company 'Changing World Technologies' got a lot of attention a few years ago by announcing that they could convert garbage to oil. They set up their processing plant next to a plant that processes turkeys so they could use the waste turkey guts. For the last few years they have been going to reach plant capacity "real soon".

    Converting biological material to fuel hasn't become an economically sustainable technology yet in spite of the number of people working on the problem. I'll believe that algae can
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Martin Blank (154261)
      The plant has been running for a couple of years now, producing 400+ barrels per day of diesel fuel and heating oil, running through some 300 tons of turkey and egg waste and pig fat daily.
  • A lot more than oil (Score:5, Informative)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:04PM (#17382280) Homepage Journal
    The value of algae farming is a lot more than mere fuel oil. Algae is at the base of the food chain. If we're going to take responsibility for support of human populations whether terrestrial or beyond earth -- algae will be very crucial.

    There is a great need to increase world-wide carrying capacity without impacting high biodiversity ecosystems such as the Brazilian rainforests or continental shelf fisheries [i-sis.org.uk], and that reduces greenhouse phenomena. There may be an economic option that uses sea water pumped to desert areas powered by the fact that ground level temperatures are much higher than temperatures at high altitudes. Indeed, it would dump greenhouse heat to space for its power while producing biodiesel, electricity, fish, fresh water, salt and real estate -- all in quantities demanded by developed-world populations -- without adding to, and possibly even sequestering, greenhouse gases.

    Proposals for solar updraft tower [wikipedia.org]s have typically assumed that they would be single use structures: solar to electricity via heat differentials between high altitude air and ground level greenhouse-enclosed air. The resulting system has marginal economic value.

    Something which would further enhance the value of the solar updraft tower power structure is to use the greenhouse area for algae ponds to add biodiesel, water, fish and salt production to the production of electricity normally envisioned.

    Doing so brings the proposal from marginally viable to viable, with a net present value, primarily from live fish production, of $3.5 billion per system, thereby allowing for far higher capitalization and/or return on investment.

    Let's start with just the value of algae biodiesel:

    The greenhouse area required per solar updraft tower of [wired.com] is huge:

    (pi * (5km/2)^2) ? hectares
    = 1963.49 hectares

    producing peak at peak 200MW via a 1km tall tower.

    We now add to this the production of algae biodiesel:

    The UNH estimate [unh.edu] for algae biodiesel production is 1 quad per 200,000 hectares. Let's assume only half of the area of the solar updraft tower greenhouse would be available for production at any time (the other half would be used for ponds that buffered heat for the inner ponds, produce fish, provide additional evaporative surface for desalination and provide recreation for residential areas at the outer rim).

    That gives us:

    (1963.49/2)hectares/tower;200000hectares/quad ? towers/quad
    = 203.719 towers/quad

    Or about 200 towers per quad of biodiesel.

    We can now calculate the biodiesel per tower:

    7.2gallon/1e6btu;200tower/quad ? gallon/tower
    = 3.5998E+07 gallon/tower

    or about 35M gallons of biodiesel per year per tower.

    At $2/gallon for wholesale diesel, this yields $70M biodiesel revenue per year.

    Now for electrical revenue:

    At an average rate of sold production only 1/2 (100MW) of peak capacity (200MW), electrical production per tower per year, is:

    100MW;year ? GWh
    = 876 GWh

    At $30/MWh wholesale [doe.gov]:

    100MW;year;30$/MWh ? $
    = 2.628E+07 $

    or about $25M electrical revenue per year.

    Interestingly, the biodiesel revenue is nearly 3 times the electrical revenue of a solar updraft tower!

    200*200MW or 40GW electrical peak capacity is produced per quad of biodiesel.

    Further that same UNH document estimates 19 quads to replace all transportation fuel in the US or 3800 towers, which would also produce 3800*200MW or 760GW or .76TW of electricity.

    Current winter capacity in the US i [doe.gov]

    • by adpe (805723)
      Awesome, thanks for putting some numbers into this. Since about the only things which I trust are bare numbers, this helps me a lot developing my opinion. Thanks.
    • by Rinikusu (28164)
      Just another addition to what you're saying:

      We're already dumping tons of unused fertilizers/pesticides/etc into the ocean from our major rivers. The runoff is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and other areas, creating giant "dead zones" from the rapid algal blooms and dieoffs that's destroying reef-building, etc. WOuldn't it be nice to be able to create large "algal farms" that would take the divereted river water, strain out a majority of the wastes, and then harvest the algae for energy (or even food)?
    • by chroma (33185)
      I missed an important number in your post: the cost of the large tract of land that this will sit on.
  • Already doing it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xybot (707278) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:05PM (#17382288)
    Been there, done that [scoop.co.nz]. Next you'll be telling us the the first controlled flight [nzedge.com] took place in America.
  • Uh (Score:2, Funny)

    by ch-chuck (9622)
    Doesn't every friggin plant on earth absorb 'greenhouse gases', i.e., co2, and emits o2 ???

    The misguided attempt to reduce co2 is actually a secret war on our little green friends. They hate plants!!

    • Agreed, and the comment is especially irrelevant because the purpose of the algae is to produce fuel, and when that fuel is used the same greenhouse gases will be released straight back into the atmosphere.

  • Surprising numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by edwardpickman (965122) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:18PM (#17382380)
    If the 100,000 barrels per acre is even close to accurate there's more than enough hog waste to produce what biodiesel we need. I single factory farm could provide enough for hundreds of acres of algae ponds. Nitrogen is miracle grow for algae so farm waste could be the new middle east. I'd read about this process years ago but the numbers seem much better than I could have imagined.
  • by ibn_khaldun (814417) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:24PM (#17382450)
    TFA seems remarkably unconcerned about the fact that dense concentrations of algae require a continuous supply of water, which is not required for soybeans, canola, etc. Add to this the proposal that these algae farms are going to be in the desert -- an environment not noted for concentrations of water -- and one wonders how all of this is going to work on a large scale. Perhaps we could scumify [technical term...] a few of the more notorious human-engineered desert lakes -- Mead, Powell, Nasser, Chad, and there are probably others -- but one isn't going to immediately make Death Valley or the Gobi into the Saudi Arabia of scum-fed biofuels.
    • by Zobeid (314469) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:42PM (#17382592)
      It doesn't need fresh water, you can grow algae in sea water -- something our world still has no shortage of. So. . . Do we know any countries with warm and sunny deserts adjacent to the coast? I can think of a few. Hmm. . . Saudi Arabia just might end up becoming the Saudi Arabia of biofuels!

      It might also be possible to put your facilities onto floating platforms offshore. There's lots of possibilities.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by maeka (518272)

        It doesn't need fresh water, you can grow algae in sea water -- something our world still has no shortage of.

        You can irrigate it with sea water once. When the water evaporates leaving the salts behind, you are in a bit of a pickle.
        Even with "fresh" water irrigation the accumulation of salts is going to be a very real issue.
        Another poster suggested growing the algae "indoors" to recycle the water. While this may solve the salt accumulation issue, it does dramatically increase the start-up costs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bush Pig (175019)
      The process requires dirty water, so it's just a matter of using the algae as part of your sewerage treatment.

    • If an algal plant was covered, as I assume it would be, evaporation would be eliminated. I read in a previous article that the current styles grow the algae in plastic tubes.
      So, while a large ammount of water would be required to fill it, very little water would be required maintaining the water levels. The plant to convert the concentrated algae to biodeisel would probably consume more water.
  • by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:27PM (#17382468)
    I think that it is worth noting that the 10,000 gallons per acre estimate assumes that the algae will have a gas feed from a coal power plant. It would be more apt to compare the tield of this process to direct generation of liquid fuel from coal since it's essentially generating it indirectly. Other questions unanswered by TFA: Are there enough coal plants in the country to support a total replacement of gasoline by this method? Does it affect the efficiency of the power plant? How long will our coal resources last if this were implemented on a large scale? What are the maintainence costs (hard to estimate from a test setup, but important to consider)?
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``I think that it is worth noting that the 10,000 gallons per acre estimate assumes that the algae will have a gas feed from a coal power plant.''

      How so? Couldn't the requisite gasses come from burning...algae?
  • by sphealey (2855) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:28PM (#17382490)
    I have been reading about biodiesel from algae for at least 5 years now. Sounds great: Closed carbon cycle. Free energy from sunlight. Happy friendly energy.

    My question is: where are the big oil companies? Why aren't they buying up huge tracts of land in southern Texas and Mexico and digging huge ponds? Why aren't the hiring algae biologists by the thousands? Building proof test algae refineries? Seems to me that if this were such a great idea ExxonMobil etc would be all over it like flies on algae (so to speak).

    Perhaps they are and it is all being kept secret. But as far as I can tell every article/web post/discussion of this process traces back to a single paper by a single biology professor with some basic input/output calculations and not much else. Which makes me a bit suspicious.

    sPh
    • supply/demand (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This is basic economics. Oil companies make more money with less work by keeping supplies low. Demand is always there, that isn't a problem at all, so they juke the market by not producing more oil. It's dogsquat simple in concept and makes them uberbillions every quarter. They don't want to work harder for less money per work unit. no one wants to do that really. Do you? Would you go out of yur way to put yourself out of a job? That's what you are thinking the oil companies should do, and guaranteed, most
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilviper (135110)
      My question is: where are the big oil companies? Why aren't they buying up huge tracts of land in southern Texas and Mexico and digging huge ponds?

      Lots of subsudies for oil and hydrogen. None for "algae biodiesel".
  • vastly overlooked (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lwiniarski (105158)
    I don't think people realize that how important this is. I converted my van to run on
    raw vegetable oil and have been quite happy with it. I can easily see this replacing
    mineral oils in a relatively short time. It is becoming more and more popular as
    diesel prices keep increasing.

    Biodiesel is basically chemically altered vegetable oil that reduces viscosity
    (transesterfication) but is not necessary if you modify your diesel to reduce the viscosity
    by heating the oil to around 200F.

    While electric cars are su
  • *yawn* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dolohov (114209) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:45PM (#17382620)
    I'm getting tired of all the "*gasp* New Source of BioFuel!" articles I keep seeing. Look, all sorts of life creates all sorts of things that burn. Some significant portions of our body chemistry are designed to oxidize. This isn't rocket sci -- er, brain surgery here.

    The real problems aren't a matter of finding something else we can burn, it's a matter of creating a supply chain and infrastructure to rival that of petroleum in terms of quantity, price, availability and reliability, and then of maintaining that long enough for our dumb-ass auto companies to produce decent vehicles which make use of the new fuel, in the styles and manner that will persuade consumers to buy and drive them. In other words, the real problem isn't scientific, it's a matter of economics, logistics, and public policy.

    Wake me when someone solves *that* one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by randallman (605329)
      >Wake me when someone solves *that* one.

      That's exactly what biodiesel solves. Why is this comment insightful? Biodiesel uses existing infrastructure and with a productive feedstock will "rival that of petroleum in terms of quantity, price, availability and reliability". The largest shortcoming at the moment is a productive feedstock, which algae may be.

      So this is exactly what you say it isn't.

      Randall
    • Re:*yawn* (bad mods) (Score:3, Informative)

      by evilviper (135110)

      it's a matter of creating a supply chain and infrastructure to rival that of petroleum in terms of quantity, price, availability and reliability, and then of maintaining that long enough for our dumb-ass auto companies to produce decent vehicles which make use of the new fuel,

      Done and Done.

      Ethanol can INSTANTLY replace 30% of gasoline, and Biodiesel can INSTANTLY replace 20% of petroleum diesel.

      Same infrastructure (dump it in the petroleum fuels, pipelines, trucks, pumps, etc.).

      Exactly the same vehicles, si

  • Algae, like any other bio-mass, is mostly water. I expect that drying the algae would be a huge problem. You can't feed soggy green slime directly into a power station - not if you want to keep the fire burning anyway...
    • by nietsch (112711)
      Yes you are right, most processes would need to totally dry the influx yadda yadda yadda. man I need to sleep not argue on /.
      sorry to interupt you, it really was a nice argument I had prepared.
  • Since when do we measure energy in gallons? Useless measurements are... useless.

    CAPTCHA: Babyish
  • The real Algae story (Score:4, Informative)

    by drwho (4190) on Thursday December 28, 2006 @04:18AM (#17385318) Homepage Journal
    I got tired of reading a lot of the BS posts here, and it's late, so I am just going to post what I know and hope that I am not duplicating too much of what has already been said.

    Oil from Algae has great potential. Contrary to what one poster said, there are strains of algae that produce a very large amount of oil. Up to 70% of the dry weight, but more likely around 40%. My favorite algae is Botryococcus braunii [wikipedia.org] because it creates Alkanes, which can be used directly as fuel or transformed into the chemical equivalent of the petroleum fuels we know and love - i.e. Octane, Kerosene, etc. This happens without the inefficiency inherent in the production of biodiesel.

    It is true that the carbon so sequestered is again released into the atmosphere. This is unfortunate, but not as much of a problem as it seems at first glance. While the 'low hanging fruit' in terms of surplus CO2 is such industrial processes as fermenting of wine and coal-fired power plants, the secondary source of CO2 can be from everyday air - or air that's not as good as everyday, such as that in polluted cities. There is also the potential of creating an algae bioreactor inside an automobile's exhaust system. That's pretty far off in the future with what we've got right now, but possible.

    The current state of the industry in algal fuel oil production is one of confusion. There are snake-oil salesmen (no pun intended) making wild claims about their proprietary, secret systems which are incredible (in the bad meaning of the word). These do not stand up to scientific scrutiny but seem to make headlines and sucker in some angel capital (or at least try to). Not all startups are frauds, however. There is some good progress being made by companies like Greenfuels Technologies. But there is a spectre haunting the market: the ghost of the coal-sands projects of the 1970s which spent billions of dollars without producing tangible returns. These were canceled during the Reagan era when gasoline became cheap again. People seem to have short memories. What would happen a company which produces these expensive fuels if the bottom drops out of the petroleum market? They'd quickly go bust. This is because there is not yet enough government incentives making it possible to compete with temporarily cheap petroleum. What is needed is thoughtful, large scale action by major governments around the world to develop the best alternative energy systems, be they wind, biofuels, even nuclear. For instance, the first thing needed is a moratorium on transportation fuel taxes, guaranteed for a period of time - say ten years. This means not only the removal of federal taxes on these fuels, but the prohibition of state and local taxes on them. Next, there needs to be encouragement for distribution of alternative fuels, such as local licensing boards requiring a certain proportion of fuel pumps to be alternative. There needs to be pressure put on the operators of large fleets of vehicles to utilize the fuels and vehicles for them, and incentives to make their refueling depots available for use by the public.

    I could go into some of the technical details regarding the ideas I have on how to make various fuels in an economically viable manner. However, Slashdot isn't the place to go on at (even further) length. If you're interested in this type of stuff, there are several forums, such as Bio-Diesel Now [biodieselnow.com], which I post on and encourage others to get involved with as well. Even so, as much as I'd like my ideas to be adopted, I'd also like some money for my inventions, so I am holding some thoughts back until I meet the right people to work with.

    It's a shame that GreenFuels Technologies is right in the middle of the type of things I'd like to do in the algal fuels industry, and their offices are in the same city as me, but they seem to have no use for a computer techie as myself who would like to try his hand at a new industry (my inquiries about jo

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cybpunks3 (612218)
      Oil was probably once algae. The problem with bio oil is the rate at which nature produces oil products is not high enough to substitute for the rate of extraction of oil and gas. So it's really a problem of demand, not supply. The demand is caused by industrialization and population growth. As long as the human population increases, technology will have to get more and more exotic for the planet to be able to sustain us, and most other lifeforms will probably go extinct without our direct protection.

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