Is Algae Biofuel Ready to Take Off?

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The Mexican government is funding an initiative to demonstrate industrial algae production to find out how viable it is for use in large-scale jet fuels production.

“Manhattan Project”, as the initiative has been dubbed, has recruited OriginOil, a California-based company that works to make algae competitive with petroleum.

“We are excited to support Mexico’s ‘Manhattan Project’ to produce 1% of the nation’s jet fuel from algae in less than five years,” said Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO.

The project will be operated by Ensenada-based Genesis Ventures with funding from The National Council for Science and Technology for the first site, which will be used as a model for other projects to be co-located with large CO2 sources.

Ensenada’s Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education will be involved with the project because of its “team of world-class researchers, sophisticated laboratory equipment, and bench-scale algae cultivation infrastructure.” Besides, Ensenada offers a suitable environment for algae growth, with abundant sunlight and access to seawater.

Algae researchers from the University of Baja California will also collaborate on the project.

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  1. Great news. I hope it will push the algae-biofuels sector forward. Complementary partners, a motivating name (“Manhattan Project”) and most important a vision!

    Would be interesting to know, which algae species they will use for the jet fuel!? I heard that fuel out of algae is supposed to be a bit lighter than the fossil kerosene. I also know from the German Lufthansa that they try biofuels in aicrafts at the moment, but they are made out of the oil of the Jatropha curacas.

    Thanks for the news.

  2. I agree, so great to hear! I think we are on the verge of a revolution in biofuels and materials due to algae.

    Algae can be made into a variety of biofuels, including biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen, and biogas. To add to the conversation, here are some pros and cons to algae as fuel:

    PROS:

    Algae grows in all directions

    Single celled, no superstructure required for algae (roots, trunks, leaves)

    Growth: 140 days for land crops; algae is year round, mature in 1-2 days

    Algae weathers extreme conditions, is resistant to drought, wind, rain

    Grow 30-100 x more oil per acre than corn or soybeans

    No sulfur, non toxic, biodegradable

    Can mix with existing fuels in existing vehicles

    Can also produce bioplastics, medicine, nutrition, feed, fertilizer, more

    Can absorb CO2 and other pollutants from power and cement plants, fossil fuel refining, fermentation based industries, ethanol production, etc

    CONS:

    Scale – difficulty replicating lab results into larger volume of production

    Growing – using open ponds are easily contaminated, PBR’s (photobioreactors) can be expensive

    Processing – challenges to harvesting & extracting oil

    Carbon Capture – is it really feasible? Can the algae keep up with the output, and what about during the night when algae is not active? Can the waste be reliably transferred into the algae? Are the right growing conditions and enough land there to cultivate the algae? (“to fully use the emissions from a 50 MWe natural gas fired power plant land would require 2200 acres of algae.”) Additional nutrients are required, such as N, P, or K, which must be added in precise amounts and typically come from chemicals like ammonia or nitrate and phosphorous. Taking into consideration all of the processing, is there a net capture of CO2? Also, capturing the emissions it is not true sequestration, as it will be burned again as fuel.

    Differing results from strains, environmental conditions, growing systems

    If chemicals are used to extract oil or process fuel, exhaust can be toxic

    Environmental Concerns – in scaled cultivation, especially of GM (genetically modified) algae – what if it seriously disrupts the ecosystem?

    To learn how to make algae biofuels, check out:

    Algae to Biodiesel: http://www.organicmechanic.com/algae-to-biodiesel/

    Algae to Ethanol: http://www.organicmechanic.com/algae-ethanol/

    For a look at the broad range of goods possible from algae and considerations for how to scale them up into entrepreneurial pursuits, check out Algae Business:

    http://www.organicmechanic.com/algae-business/

    Let me know if there are any questions about algae, or equipment to cultivate and use biofuels! Organic Mechanic provides green solutions for electricity, transportation, and agriculture.

    Best,

    Chris

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