Articles tagged with "algae"
A reader recently called my attention to a new and very interesting presentation from the Department of Energy’s Biomass Program:
The presentation explored the question of whether the U.S. government is spending money on the right technology pathways. Costs were presented for biofuel produced from pyrolysis, algae, Fischer-Tropsch (FT), and methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) routes.
I want to share several slides from the presentation to give an idea of what the DOE thinks about the costs for producing biofuels via the various pathways. The first slide below shows the projected cost of production of biofuels via MTG, pyrolysis, and FT for the “Nth Biorefinery Plant” — which is defined as the projected fuel cost after a number of plants have been built and the learning curve has been mastered.
While it may be way too early to declare a final winner in the race to find replacement renewable liquid fuels for the jet fuel and diesel that power so many of the vehicles in the world, there are some indications as to the technology that just might end up coming out ahead.
The results starting to appear also show that sometimes there is a disconnect between what the Government wants and considers possible, and the real world. The concern over climate change (not peak oil) led many governments around the world to mandate that propulsion fuels include a growing percentage generated from a renewable source. Six years ago I was in St Louis for the Renewable Energy Conference with its great emphasis on cellulosic ethanol. President Bush came to bless the endeavor, and much was made of it being the time to start building plants. A short while thereafter, I started looking into the generation of biodiesel from algae, and brought up the logical suggestion, to me, of growing it underground. (That idea still gains me the occasional pat on the head). Some of the early reviews of the technology were not good, but nevertheless, the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency began funding the development of algae, particularly as a source for jet fuel.
Time passed, and the development of the new fuels took quite different paths. In order to encourage the change to renewable fuels, the EPA mandated that motor fuel include 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2009, 250 million in 2010, and 500 million by 2013. (This is on the way to a target of around 2 mbd by 2022.) Some of the original companies to seize on this opportunity started out with too great an ambition. Range Fuels, after some $156 million of Government loans from the Bush Administration, closed its doors this past year, unable to make the product it had promised. When it became obvious that the initial targets would not be met the mandated volumes were lowered, so that this year, for example, the industry target is 8.5 million gallons. But still the Government will fine companies, for not using a fuel that doesn’t yet exist in the volumes needed to meet those quotas.
Posted by Robert Rapier on July 2, 2010 - 10:14am
Topic: Alternative energy
Tags: algae, biofuel, biomass, cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, next generation biofuels, us department of agriculture report [list all tags]
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just issued a report detailing the outlook and challenges of next generation biofuels. I provided some input during the drafting of the report, which hopefully was of some use. Here I select five pessimistic projections and five optimistic projections from the report.
Robert Rapier recently drew attention to the demise of GreenFuel Technologies, the company founded on ideas from MIT and Harvard and supported by millions of dollars in venture capital funding. One of the creative ideas that the company has was to located their plant at existing power stations so that the carbon dioxide generated in the flue gas could be fed into the bio-reactors holding the algae, with the gas also keeping the algae at an optimal growing temperature. It was a company that was in the vanguard of promoting the use of algae in both carbon dioxide collection and liquid fuels production.
The company, however, ran into problems in raising more money in the current climate, and with the technology. According to to a recent news report:
Getting the whole thing to run smoothly, though, was tougher than expected. GreenFuel could grow algae. The problem was controlling it. In 2007, a project to grow algae in an Arizona greenhouse went awry when the algae grew faster than they could be harvested and died off. The company also found its system would cost more than twice its target.
One of the considerable differences between the ongoing financial problems of the world, and the coming energy crisis lies in the nature of the commodity of concern. In the first case the problem focuses around money, though not really the physical and tangible cash that one uses less and less to pay for groceries, the rent, or the occasional book. The US has already transitioned to a point that more than half the time we use credit and debit cards to pay the bill. (The quote is from a year ago)
As debit card and credit card purchases become increasingly popular, check and cash payments continue to lose out. These traditional payment methods now account for less than half of all transactions, and a recent rule change by the Federal Reserve Board should tilt the balance even further away from paper transactions and toward plastic payments.
As a result, for the vast majority of us who do not keep our money in the mattress, financial solvency and insolvency is defined by electronic statements about the nature of our accounts, without there being a pile of gold sitting in the bank to define it. And, when the banks and other companies holding such accounts get into trouble, loans can and have been arranged for them, that are similarly electronic transactions, without large trucks pulling up at either Fort Knox, where 147.3 million ounces currently sit, or to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, that holds about 216 million ounces. Rather the transactions occur electronically, and there is relatively little need for the physical presence of the cash.
Contrast that with the realities of an energy crisis. We cannot heat our homes with the promises of oil, or the electronic transfer of ownership of fragments of a tanker load making its way from Ras Tanura to the Gulf ports. We need the physical presence of the oil, natural gas or wood that we will consume. When we run out, we need to get some more.
Posted by Gail the Actuary on August 22, 2008 - 10:43am
Tags: algae, algal biodiesel, bio, biodiesel, biofuel, biotechnology industry organization, cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, original [list all tags]
A few days ago I participated in a conference call (recording available here) about biofuels with an organization called Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). In this article, I will discuss some things I found interesting, including a new technique for making biodiesel that involves feeding biomass to algae.
The call had three speakers. The first, Jim McMillan of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory gave an overview of the current US biofuel situation. According to him, a lot of current interest is in cellulosic ethanol, since corn ethanol doesn't scale up very well. At this point, the cost of cellulosic ethanol seems to be double or more that of corn ethanol. The economics are still being clarified by demonstration projects. Until there is some sort of climate legislation that raises the price of carbon, it will be difficult to overcome the price gap.
As an opening warning, today I am going to write a piece of fiction. Not that it suggests that I am trying to emulate James Kunstler, nor is it going to have the drama of the Science fiction/Fantasy by authors such as David Weber, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Jim Butcher that, to pick but three I avidly devour. No what I want to do is to try and explain is why it takes new ideas about 20-years to go from idea to significant market impact. I thought it might be amusing to do this by following a totally fictitious idea *cough* from concept to impact level to show some of the barriers to progress. Dixie Lee Ray once tried to do this in explaining why, even if cold temperature fusion worked, it could not be an instant contributor to the national energy supply. Unfortunately I have lost that reference and so you are stuck with this, should you choose to read it.
Let’s begin by saying that our protagonists are three faculty members: you, a young female electrical engineer called Angela, me, a somewhat old plant biologist called Burt, and Charlie, a medium career nuclear engineer. We are having a beer after classes end and I comment that in some work I was doing in Russia on birch trees I had noticed that one of the ponds on site had a thin oily scum on it. I’d brought samples back for testing and it seems as though the cause was algae, in the water, that was weeping a lipid. We all troop back to the lab for a look, and on top of the little reactor that I have built there is this thin film, but the water below is quite muddy and turbid, and this has been sitting there for quite a while. You suggest cleaning up the layers with a little applied electrical potential, and Charlie suggests a little radiation might weaken the algal cell wall and increase yield.
Back at the beginning of January I changed cars, and now drive a Camry Hybrid. It came with the usual displays for mpg, where the power was flowing and such, and for a month I played with looking at the different displays and then, as with most new toys, started to ignore them. However, pulling into the garage one night just over a month ago, I switched off the engine and a little “Excellent” appeared in a hitherto un-noticed final display on the dash. Now how do I confess this? Since then my driving habits have changed - more than I would freely admit - by the wish to be praised by a machine. The commute home is under three miles, and in somewhat hilly country so this requires a little effort on my part, but more often than not I now get that little glow of satisfaction from such a sign as I enter the house, generating a feeling that I am doing my part.
Well, not completely, and in terms of the greater scheme of things not even at any level of significance. The problem that we are coming to face is much larger, and more imminent than can be solved with simple small measures. Yet by touting the gains in efficiency through use of hybrid cars, or the growth rates of the solar and wind industries, one can convey to the general public that there is a considerable amount of technical progress being made in solving what “short term inconvenience” we might face as this “peak oil thingee” comes to pass and we have to live through it. The scale of the problem is glossed over, and the inadequacy of currently proposed solutions in their impact on the overall size of the problem is lost in the debate over issues that may be resolved with additional investment and time.
The fun thing about conferences is that there are also sorts of individual lines that presenters say that could be pulled to the headline, and perhaps be more mischievous than helpful. I was thinking that today, when the opening speaker began with explaining why she couldn’t start her talk with a joke. Turns out that when she tried to Google “ethanol and Joke” all she got was pages of citations of “ethanol is a joke” or “ethanol is a big joke!” Conference, you say, speaker, you say, but I thought the ASPO Conference didn’t start until tomorrow?
Well yes, that’s true, but sometimes if you want to catch some of the developing stuff, or the stories that never make it to the National Meetings, you can learn a lot from smaller conferences, and so I came to Dubuque. Today is the first of two days on “The Impacts of Increased Bio-Fuel Production on the Midwest Landscape.” At a time when the current ethanol situation has been described as “the farmer’s version of the gold rush,” it was interesting to hear what is happening down at the farm level and in planning within the Midwest to look at answers to the looming problem. Some of the papers today discussed switchgrass, and algae, and biodiesel and how to effectively harvest the “crappiest wood” in the U.S. and turn it into useful energy. And in the discussions, in a town where the corn grows right up to the airport runways, there was a lot of realism in the discussions of water needs, and soil nutrition replacement and bottom line cost levels.
Posted by Stoneleigh on July 6, 2007 - 2:01am in The Oil Drum: Canada
Tags: algae, arctic, batteries, bear stearns, cds, china, climate change, consolidated debt obligation, electricity, hedge funds, natural gas drilling, oil sands, peak oil, pollution, soils, subprime mortgages [list all tags]
Today's headlines lead with coverage of the on-going crisis in the debt markets, and an explanation of the financial engineering underlying much of the global liquidity bubble. Debt ratings have not been adjusted to reflect current market conditions, meaning that 'asset' valuations are over-stated. No institution wants to force asset sales for fear of revealing just how much real valuations differ from nominal ones, but eventually such a sale will occur - with the potential to cause an abrupt repricing of a wide range of 'assets' (many of which will actualy be revealed to be essentially worthless). Leverage will magnify the losses, leading to a very serious financial crisis. One estimate (below) puts the potential losses, once assets are eventually marked to market, at 20 times the sum involved in the LTCM crisis in 1998 - so far, and getting worse by the day.
The Round-Up is also convering the Canadian energy scene, as well as environmental and international news, in that order. Oil companies leaving Venezuela and aiming for the oil sands are finding that all is not clear sailing, while China is entering the oil sands for the first time. Nunavut seeks control over future oil and gas revenues, Newfoundland and Labrador wants to bypass Quebec in selling electricity to the US, and the slow down in natural gas drilling is hurting frontier communities in Alberta and BC.
The near collapse of two Bear Stearns hedge funds has lifted the rock on our 21st century mutant capitalism, exposing the bugs beneath to a rare shock of naked light.
When creditors led by Merrill Lynch forced a fire-sale of assets, they inadvertently revealed that up to $2 trillion of debt linked to the crumbling US sub-prime and "Alt A" property market was falsely priced on books.
Even A-rated securities fetched just 85pc of face value. B-grades fell off a cliff. The banks halted the sale before "price discovery" set off a wider chain-reaction.
"It was a cover-up," says Charles Dumas, global strategist at Lombard Street Research. He believes the banks alone have $750bn in exposure. They may have to call in loans....
....Wobbles are turning to fear. Just $3bn of the $20bn junk bonds planned for issue last week were actually sold. Lenders are refusing "covenant-lite" deals for leveraged buy-outs, especially those with "toggles" that allow debtors to pay bills with fresh bonds. Carlyle, Arcelor, MISC, and US Food Services are all shelving plans to raise money. This is how a credit crunch starts.
"This is the big one: all investment portfolios will be shredded to ribbons," said Albert Edwards, from Dresdner Kleinwort.