Who needs it?
The cost of oil is costing millions of drivers a fortune. In the US alone, two-thirds of the oil in use is for transportation. There are more than 4.8 million automobiles on the road that includes diesel cars, pickups, and SUVs according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The good thing about diesel engines is that they could run on biodiesel with little or no modification at all! This beats having to buy a new electric powered car or some other costly new environmentally friendly car. (Diesel Technology Forum)
What is it?
Algae Biodiesel is a fuel source that can be used in all sorts of transportation such cars, motorcycles, jet plane, and etc. Biodiesel can be made from the fats that are extracted or taken out of algae and mixed with ethanol at various concentration levels. Algae biodiesel is considered to be a promising source of fuel because there are many species containing high concentrations of oil that could be extracted, processed, and refined into fuel. Algae are really abundant and easy to grow because all they require is Carbon dioxide with little sunlight, and as a byproduct they release oxygen, which counteracts the Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other various causes. (Squatriglia)
What are its advantages?
Algae biodiesel and just biodiesel in general can be used in diesel engines with little or no modification to the engine. This means that those who already have diesel engine cars can save not just money on oil, but on having to buy a new car. Algae can be grown in almost any place because all it requires is carbon dioxide, little sunlight, and water, so this eliminates the need for fertile land, which can be used for growing food. Algae grow and multiply rapidly because it has a high surface area to volume ratio. It emits a lot less carbon compound gases that contribute to global warming when burned and is an infinite source of fuel. (Haag & Cornell)
What are its disadvantages?
Algae Biodiesel will still emit Carbon dioxide into our air supply, but it releases a lot less than petroleum and gasoline, but this is not a problem since algae photosynthesizes and as a result we get oxygen, which counteracts the Carbon dioxide production. The knowledge for growing algae is out there and the supplies needed are fairly simple to get, but is costly and growing it requires just about the right environmental conditions to get satisfying results. Such conditions include having the water at just the right temperature, having the carbon dioxide level high enough, and making sure the algae is not intruded or attacked by others species so there is no competition. Biodiesel generates 9 percent less power than petroleum diesel, but it is not a significant drop because most drivers will not notice a difference. Not all types of algae can be used for producing biodiesel, but don't worry there are over 100,000 strains of micro algae that can be used, with some more efficient than others. It is up to researchers to find which one are best. Each strain of algae has various ratios of three main types of molecule: oils, carbohydrates, and proteins. The starches can be separated and fermented into ethanol with carbohydrates and oils. Animal feeds can be made from proteins. (Haag & Cornell & Online Biodiesel)
Where is it needed?
The U.S. is very dependent on foreign oil and spends billions of dollars on foreign oil every year. The U.S. does not have to throw away all that money on foreign oil, when it can invest in this new promising fuel source that has already proven capable beyond all expectations. There has been a car that ran successfully using Algae Biodiesel; A Mercedes Benz C320 straight off the showroom (More Information on “First Car Driven on Algae Biodiesel”). Biodiesel can be used in just about any diesel engine car because it can be mixed with ethanol and/or petroleum oil at different concentrations. The engine will operate with little or no modification by using biodiesel. Biodiesel can be used globally for all our oil needs, not only for transportation, and can be a promising source for poor countries. (Briggs)
When is it needed?
Earth only has so much fossil fuel left. Fossil fuel is basically algae that has been fossilized and buried under layers and layers of Earth for millions of years. So doesn’t it make sense to get oil directly from algae? In under a hundred years, we have used almost half of all the oil supply that took hundreds of millions of years to form. People have continued to argue amongst each other on how much oil we really have left to use. Some say we only have 50 years worth of oil left, while the more hopefuls predict we have another 100 years before "fossil oil becomes as scarce as common sense." In conclusion, we can say that there is only a small amount left for a few decades to come. (Oilgae)
Why we should use it?
Algae Biodiesel is very important, not just now that gasoline and petroleum prices are high and scarce because it can contribute to solving global crisis such as air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels. By doing so we can slow down the process of global warming. Algae Biodiesel is the only alternative energy source capable of replacing all the petroleum in the entire U.S. and when we run out of fossil fuels in about 50 years, give or take a decade or two, algae will still be here. Algae biodiesel is needed for a cleaner environment because it takes the hazardous Carbon dioxide and in return give us oxygen. Algae Biodiesel is the best alternative to petroleum diesel because most of the engines will work nicely with biodiesel with very little or no modification of installing new parts or systems to the car. With biodiesel your car will get better mileage. Biodiesel is economically beneficial because it will save you a tremendous amount of money. Biodiesel is a renewable resource because algae can be grown over and over again and is not finite like petroleum diesel. As long as we have sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide then we have algae. Biodiesel cares about the environment because it pollutes a lot less than petroleum diesel. According to studies, there has been a significant decrease in hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide when biodiesel is used in diesel engines. Biodiesel made from vegetable oils or animal fat supports agricultural industries because this need for crops like canola, corn, and soy will open up new markets for agricultural industries. However, if all we do were to grow these crops for biodiesel we would greatly displace our food supply that is why our main focus here is on algae, which requires very little land because it can yield about 10,000 gallons of oil per acre! Biodiesel reduces our dependency on finite resources such as petroleum diesel and gasoline and large fuel companies because it means that these companies would have less domination on other smaller countries. This will help create a more balanced world. Biodiesel is better for the engine’s well being because biodiesel increases the lubricity, how smooth it operates, of the engine, thus increasing the engine's life. (Oilgae & Online Biodiesel)
How did the idea of Biodiesel made from algae developed?
The Office of Fuels Development funded the "Aquatic Species Program" under the National Renewable Energy laboratory, a division of the Department of Energy, from 1978 to 1996. The objective was to find out which algae could yield the most oil or fats. Then the algae could be grown for that specific reason and can be a mass produced biodiesel fuel. The research started as an undertaking using rapidly growing algae to get rid of carbon dioxide that was being emitted from coal power plants. After being aware of the high concentration of oil in the algae, the project's aim swiftly changed to growing algae for another reason, making biodiesel. (Diesel Technology Forum)
How efficient is it?
Algae are very efficient in yielding oil. No other feedstock has the potential to produce enough oil to replace petroleum diesel entirely, but algae. Algae are the only capable alternative to replacing all our supply of petroleum and gasoline. It would take a rather large amount of land available to produce an acceptable amount of biodiesel from growing soybean, palm, or other crops and for some countries, it would mean dedicating all of their available land to grow these crops for biodiesel production. It would take about 140 billion gallons of biodiesel to replace all the petroleum in the US, which means it would require almost three billion acres of fertile land to produce enough biodiesel from growing soybeans and over a billion with canola. Unfortunately the US only has about 434 million acres of land for crop in the whole U.S. In contrast, growing enough algae to replace all the petroleum fuel would only require about 10 million acres of land, or about one percent in the US for both farming and grazing. Algae can double its size in one night unlike other crops and it can also be harvested day in day out. Algae is so efficient in yielding oil that 50 percent of its body weight is made up of oil. Palm trees are currently the largest producer of biodiesel and they only yield about 20 percent of their weight in oil. Soy produces 50 gallons, canola produces 150 gallons, and palm produces 650 gallons of oil per acre per year. Algae are so efficient that it can produce more than 10,000 gallons per acre per year or more! (Oilgae & Haag & Svoboda)
How do we make it possible?
There are three things we have to consider before Algae Biodiesel can be produced for the world to use. How much biodiesel is needed to replace all the petroleum diesel and gasoline currently being used by the U.S. every year? How could we grow all the feedstock necessary to produce enough biodiesel? How much would it all cost?
How much biodiesel do we need?
First we have to figure out how much biodiesel it would take to replace the entire petroleum diesel currently being used each year for transportation. According to the Department of Energy's statistics, the U.S. uses about 60 billion gallons of petroleum diesel and 120 billion gallons of gasoline per year. Spark-ignition engines that operate on gasoline are 40 percent less efficient than diesel engines that run on petroleum. Now that we know this, we can replace 120 billion gallons of gasoline with 78 billion gallons of diesel because gasoline engines are 35 percent less efficient than diesel engines. We would multiply 120 billion by 65 to get 78 billion gallons. Now we add 78 billion gallons of petroleum that we replaced with gasoline with 60 billion gallons of diesel already used every year and we get 138 billion gallons. We are not done yet because we also have to take into account how efficient biodiesel is than petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is 5-8 percent less energy productive than petroleum diesel, but it has greater lubricity and higher fuel efficiency of about 2 percent less than petroleum diesel. So we would add on 2 percent more petroleum diesel, which gives us a total of 140.8 billion gallons of petroleum diesel we can replace with algae biodiesel. (Briggs)
How to make large-scale production?
In order for a large-scale production of biodiesel, we first have to grow the feedstock, and turn them into biodiesel. Among the best plants that photosynthesize are various types of algae. The only source of feedstock that can be grown to replace petroleum diesel entirely is algae because it can yield an unbelievable amount of oil per acre. How much land would it take to produce enough biodiesel to replace petroleum? All the algae needed to produce 140.8 billion gallons of biodiesel could be grown on a desert landscape covering 15,000 square miles or 9.5 million acres. That is about one percent of the total land area that is being used for growing crops and used as grazing land for farm animals. The algae can be grown anywhere throughout the country. (Briggs)
How much would it cost for all this to happen?
"The operating costs including power consumption, labor, chemicals, and fixed capital costs (taxes, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and return on investment) worked out to $12,000 per hectare. That would equate to $46.2 billion per year for all the algae farms, to yield all the oil feedstock necessary for the entire country. Compare that to the $100-150 billion the US spends each year just on purchasing crude oil from foreign countries, with all of that money leaving the US economy." (Briggs)
First car driven on algae biodiesel
At the Sundance Film Festival the first Algae Biodiesel car, a Mercedes Benz C320 straight off the showroom, was driven on Soladiesel. A California biotech firm in hopes of proving that Algae Biodiesel really does work came up with the idea of driving around in a Mercedes Benz 320 powered by Algae Biodiesel. They also want to prove that Algae Biodiesel is going to be the fuel of the future. The company, Solayzyme, in Park City, Utah says that the car will be the first "real-world" car to run on algae biodiesel. Solayzme says that they are not involved with the company, Mercedes, and that Algae Biodiesel will work in any diesel engine car in almost any climate.
Companies working on algae biodiesel
There are lots of people who want to mass produce biodiesel, and companies have begin putting everything on the line for these tiny, little green plants; algae. One of these companies started as a garage experiment by Jim Sears using plastic bags as a reactor and algae as a feedstock. This seemed foolish to soybean farmers, but the experiment proved a success and today Sear's company, Solix Biofuels, founded in April 2006 is located in Fort Collins, Colorado with hopes of striking it rich in the near future with algae using a closed-tank bioreactor approach. Colorado State University’s Engine and Energy Conversion Laboratory back the company and the company will begin constructing a large-scale bioreactor near New Belgium Brewery where the algae can feed on the amount of Carbon dioxide produced during a beer making process. (Haag & Fehrenbacher)
Green Fuel Technologies Corp.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, GreenFuel Technologies is focusing on growing algae that can give high results of both biodiesel and ethanol. The company has already chosen its "pilot" plant that will have initial production of 8000 gallons of biodiesel and 5000 gallons of ethanol per acre of algae. GreenFuel's vice-president, Cary Bullock, is thinking of "how to grow algae fast enough and cheap enough that it makes sense economically. That's not easy to do." The current CEO of GreenFuel Technologies is Simon UpFill-Brown. The firm has compromised on building its first fuel plant in Europe worth $92 million. The firm has switched CEOs and closed down a greenhouse in Arizona and realized how expensive their algae tech was. This fuel plant in Europe will be very good for the firm. The firm uses the algae bioreactor systems they build that controls the intake of sunlight and nutrients in containers and uses recycled Carbon dioxide to nourish the algae. (Haag & Fehrenbacher)
The company, known as PetroSun, will begin its commercial operation of converting algae to biodiesel beginning on April 1st, 2008. The company is located in Rio Hondo, Texas and will be predicted to produce an estimated 4.4 million gallons of algae oil on a couple of saltwater ponds covering 1,100 acres. Also, about 110 million pounds of biomass will be produced as well. The CEO of PetroSun, Gordon Leblanc, Jr. says "Our business model has been focused on proving the commercial feasibility of the firms' algae-to-biofuels technology during the past eighteen months. Whether we have arrived at this point in time by a superior technological approach, sheer luck or a redneck can-do attitude, the fact remains that micro-algae can outperform the current feed-stocks utilized for conversion to biodiesel and ethanol, yet do not impact the consumable food markets or fresh water resources."(Cornell)
This firm is about 5 years old and is located in South San Francisco. Solazyme has a different approach on finding algae strains that will yield better results of fat by using synthetic and genetic engineering to manipulate algal strains for better results. They grow their algae in fermentation tanks with the absence of sunlight and giving it sugar. They are dealing with Chevron: a big oil company. Also, they are involved with Imperium Renewables: Another biodiesel making company. (Fehrenbacher)
Other prominent companies and partnerships working on algae
Blue Marble Energy
Mighty Algae Biofuels
CEHMM Biodiesel Project
Valcent’s Vertigro Technology
Kai BioEnergy Corp.
(Oilgae and Fehrenbacher)