BIOFUELS: THE ALGAE GENERATION
Will there be ample reward for the fuel source that replaces petroleum? The global petrochemical industry is presently valued at $2.8 trillion.
Third-generation biofuel may earn the reward. Unlike the AGROfuels and nonfood crop biofuels preceding it in the search for a renewable liquid fuel, third generation biofuel made from algae is abundant, does not requires cultivable land, recycles the water it requires, is thousands of times as productive and, unlike the plant crops, can be refined into all the same things as petroleum, including jet airplane fuel. Bonus: It consumes the greenhouse gases spewed by dirty coal and gas plants.
For more on algae and jet fuel, see Jet Fuel from Microalgal Lipids from the National Renewable Energy Labs.
Sapphire Energy has announced it can produce 91-octane gasoline from algae and expects to produce 10,000 barrels of algae crude/year in 3-5 years.
Kristina Burow, investor in Sapphire, Arch Venture Partners: “We have this vision of what Sapphire can be . . . creating the equivalent of an oil field out of the desert or nonagricultural land that once it is built has an infinite supply of oil and you know exactly what you are getting…Close your eyes and think about what this could be…”
Congress’s Bush administration-inspired effort to incentivize the development of second generation biofuels failed to provide for third generation algae-derived fuels. The next Congress may need to revisit that part of the bill. (If November turns out the way it is now looking like it will turn out, Congress will be revisiting the entire bill. Plan to vote, early and often.)
From Sapphire Energy - click to enlarge
Industry looks past corn for sources of ethanol
Terri Somers, June 17, 2008 (San Diego Union Tribune)
Sapphire Energy; Verenium; Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)
Corn ethanol and other first generation AGROfuels have proven at best a mixed blessing. Second generation biofuels derived from nonfood crops have been more difficult to bring to market than expected. Third generation biofuels from algae are coming fast with few drawbacks and a variety of advantages over their biofuel predecessors.
click to enlarge
- 2006: $2.6 billion of venture capital invested
- The 2007 energy bill mandates the production of 36 billion gallons of fuel from renewable sources by 2022, 16 billion from cellulosic sources.
- Sapphire Energy is based in San Diego, CA.
- Verenium is based in Cambridge, MA. A verenium plant in Jennings, LA, may prove enzymes derived from termites are effective at turning cellulosic plantmaterials into a practical biofuel source.
- BIO’s International Convention was held in San Diego.
- There is little reasonable debate left in favor of corn ethanol except from farmers who profit from it due to federal government subsidies. It requires too much land, too much water, petrochemical fertizers and produces less energy than it requires.
- Verenium is a promising second generation developer of cellulosic biofuels. It is attempting find formulas to get sugars from plant cellulose but the formulas are elusive because that is not what plant cellulose evolved to do.
- Ceres (Thousand Oaks, CA) and Mendal Energy (Hayward, CA) are developing switch grass.
- DuPont and BP are working on biobutanol, derived from plants and gasoline. Gevo (Pasadena, CA) is developing biobutanol from E. Coli bacteria.
- The biggest problem with first and second generation biofuels is that they take land and water that is likely to be needed to feed the earth’s growing population.
- Research suggests energy can be derived more efficiently from plants and other biomass if they are processed into biogas and used to make electricity.
- Sapphire Energy claims it can produce 91-octane gasoline from algae.
It is the ability of algae to consume CO2 that is driving current research. (click to enlarge)
- Brent Erickson, executive vice president, BIO Industrial & Environmental Section: “The first kerosene distilled from oil was used in 1853 to replace whale oil to light American homes…It took 125 years for the oil industry to develop oil refineries to be what they are today – highly complex and technologically advanced enough to take a barrel of oil and turn it into myriad products…We need to think about biofuels in the same light: Ethanol from corn is just the beginning. The second-and third-generation biofuels are coming.”
- Steve Kay, dean, division of Biological Sciences/University of California San Diego: “There are 6.5 billion people on this planet now and the population is expected to be 9 billion in another 45 years…We are going to have to double our food production between now and then. And we are going to need more farmland to do it.”
- Steve Briggs, professor of biology, UCSD: “From the middle of the country west, there's simply not enough water to grow the plants needed for these fuels…While it will help meet the growing demand for fuel in the short term, it's just not going to be a sufficiently sustainable solution.”
- Briggs, founder/advisory board member, Sapphire Energy: “Algae has an advantage because it can be produced in really crummy environments, like desert, using saline aquifers or wastewater, sunshine and carbon dioxide. And it grows fast – 10 to 50 times faster than plants…”