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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions > Fuels & Renewable Energy

Biodiesel From Algae -- Alternative to Food Crops

Algae Biodiesel is an alternative fuel source that is a more sustainable source for biodiesel feedstock than food crops.

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Algae Biodiesel is an alternative fuel source that is being developed as a more sustainable source for biodiesel feedstock than food crops such as corn or soy. Algae also promises substantially more oil output efficiency than existing oilseed crops can provide.

Algae farms do not compete with food crops. Algae may be the only long-term feedstock solution for biodiesel production.

Many suitable high-lipid (oil) algae species have been cultivated and already exits to produce the First Generation of sustainable energy farms. Present available algae species can produce 4,000 gallons of oil per acre each year, which is 50 times greater than the oil yield from oilseed crops such as soybean or canola crops. Recent news stories have publish the fact that the world is already experiencing significant increases in food prices because oil crops compete with food crops (Reuters May 8, 2007 - "United Nations tackles sustainable bioenergy growth").

Algae Production Farms

There are only two main types of algae production systems in use:

A) Closed Photobioreactors

All attempts to use closed bioreactors for algae fuel crops have all failed. The failure of the closed bioreactors includes the $250 million dollar R&D program spent by Japan. Closed bioreactors are too costly, although they do have a place as a breeder facility (hatchery) for larger systems.

B) Open Pond Systems

The alternative system which is open ponds have had marginal success and are prone to multiple failures from many uncontrolled environmental conditions ranked in order: 1) Temperature and light variances - day and night, summer versus winter, etc.; 2) Infiltration from local algae into open ponds contaminating the cultured algae causing pond crashes; 3) Evaporation, wind blowing dust particles into ponds and rain causing changes in salinity and pH, which affect growth of algae.

Green Star Products -- A California Algae Pioneer

Green Star Products, Inc. located in San Diego, has completed Phase I of its 40,000 liter microalgae demonstration facility. The demonstration facility is located in Montana and is one of the largest demonstration facilities in the world.

Mr. LaStella of Green Star Products stated, "Experts agree that the major hurdles in production of algae are associated with the control of the mechanical and physical parameters of the growth environment for the algae and the high capital costs of construction of that environment."

Phase I objective in this project is to determine the ability of the GSPI Algae Process System to solve the daunting operational problems for microalgae production, which have plagued the algae production industry for years.

GSPI has developed the field expertise to build and operate the patent pending, proprietary Hybrid Algae Production System (HAPS), a cross between an open and closed pond system. The demonstration, prototype facility is located in Montana with an individual pond capacity of 40,000 liters, which can easily be scaled up to larger systems and acreage.

A Hybrid Algae Production System (HAPS) incorporates the controlled environment of the closed photobioreactors coupled with inexpensive construction technology to reduce the cost to a level very close to the open pond systems.

Temperature and light control are the two most important parameters identified by industry reports and must be accomplished at an effective low cost. The next important parameter to be controlled is salinity. Open ponds continually evaporate large quantities of water and leave salt behind. Each time this cycle is completed additional salt water is added. Salt content continually increases and adversely affects the growth of the algae and must eventually be disposed of and exchanged with new water and algae. GSPI's HAPS ponds do not evaporate the water and can maintain optimum salinity levels for long periods of time.

The industry hurdles are mainly associated with costs of construction of algae farms and process systems that can economically control the growth environment of the algae, which is the purpose of GSPI's Phase I demonstration algae facility.

DOE Industry Analysis

A report by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) states the following conclusions in relation to algae farms:

The DOE analyses indicate, "that significant potential land, water and CO2 resources exist to support this technology. Algae Biodiesel could easily supply several 'quads' of biodiesel - substantially more than existing oilseed crops could provide. Quad is short for 'quadrillion BTUs', which is a unit of energy representing 10 to the 15th level (1,000,000,000,000,000) BTUs of energy, which is also equivalent to approximately one billion gallons of fuel. This perspective led DOE to focus on the concept of immense algae farms."

The DOE also states, "Microalgae systems use far less water than traditional oilseed crops. Land is hardly a limitation. Two hundred thousand hectares (less than 0.1% of climatically suitable land areas in the U.S.) could produce one quad of fuel. Thus, though the technology faces many R&D hurdles before it can be practicable, it is clear that resource limitations are not an argument against the technology."

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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