Monday, October 26, 2009

Algae Farming

Years: 1978-present

WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, p.111

Algae have the ability to consume CO2 and turn it into biodiesel. A single acre of algae ponds can produce 15,000 gallons of biodiesel. GreenFuel has a full-scale algae fuel plant underway. Algae farming can offer many benefits, and one of these is that microalgae grow significantly faster than land crops used to make biodiesel. One acre of algae will produce between 5,000 and 20,000 gallons of oil that can be turned into biodiesel. The US Energy Department is reviving a massive project it abandoned in 1996 to produce algae gasoline on a large scale. The DoE abandoned the project because of the low oil price at the time, but it has recently teamed up with National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Chevron. Some insiders say that it will take ten years before commercially viable products will hit the market. Others say this is going to materialize in as little as two years from now. The reason for this massive difference in prediction time is due to the political climate. In one year’s time that landscape will be a lot clearer.

Algae, just like any other plant life, use carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This means that large-scale algae farming would not only create a biofuel that is environmentally friendly, but also, while the algae is growing, it would be cleaning the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing fresh oxygen.

Algae also contain nutrients that can provide a fertilizer that is environmentally friendly and rich in phosphorous and nitrogen. These nutrients can be extracted from the algae and make farming land crops much cleaner and less harmful to the earth.

Dow Chemmicals and Algenol Biofuels are building a demonstration plant that will use algae to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol. Or, the oxygen produced by the algae would be used to burn coal cleanly. The carbon dioxide exhaust released by the coal burning would be reused to feed algae.

Algenol grows algae in bioreactors, which are troughs covered with flexible plastic and filled with saltwater. The water is saturated with carbon dioxide, to encourage growth of the algae. The company has 40 bioreactors in Florida, and as part of the demonstration project plans 3,100 of them on a 24-acre site at Dow’s Freeport, Tex., site. Algenol and its partners are planning a demonstration plant that could produce 100,000 gallons a year.

PetroSun Biofuel’s 1,100 acre algae farms in Harlingen, Texas

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