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Saturday, January 21, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SOLUTION FOR BIOFUELS?

On 28December2011 I had a posting on:


BIOFUEL TRENDS



in follow-up to a 2December2011 article on:


HOW ARE ALGAL BIOFUEL COMPANIES DOING?



If you clicked on one or both, you got the impression that things are looking gloomy for the reality of biofuels.  They just cost too much to produce, and oil will need to rise beyond $150/barrel for any of these next generation processes to successfully commercialize.

(Photo above from Free-Extras and to left from Wayfaring Travel Guide.)

I began algae to fuels R&D when I first joined the University of Hawaii in the early 1970's.  Thus, it has been about half a century since my first dabble at this option.  I've always felt that with genetic engineering and use of the open ocean, marine biomass plantations and algal farms were the key to liquid fuels for transport.  My posting of 9June2008:

THE FUTURE OF BIOFUELS



serialized my chapter on this subject from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.  Indicated was my discussion with the individual who was singularly responsible for decoding the genome:

Finally, J. Craig Venter remarked to me that he could cut fermentative biofuel costs by a third or more through his efforts. The field welcomes the use of the genome table, although he will need to contend with the range of biomass controversies.

I've long been intrigued in the promise he offered, as reported, also from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth:

ETERNAL LIFE (Part 22)



To quote:

J. Craig Venter—high school dropout, surfer, and Navy veteran of Viet Nam, who went on to gain a PhD from the University of California at San Diego and become head of Celeria Genomics, a private group that sequenced the human genome in a dead heat with the international, government-supported project...

Well, the January issue of Scientific American brings me up to date on his quest for fuels from algae, where he says simple algae, and some genetic engineering, may hold the key to our future.  Hmm...sounds familiar.  To summarize (my comments in italics):

  -  If you tried to replace all our transportation fuels in the country from corn, it would take three times the size of the continental USA.

  -  However, if from algae, it would "only" take the space of the State of Maryland (small golden colored state in the east).

  -  He has hopes that he can engineer an algae that can produce from ten to 100 times as much fuel.

  -  We need only carbon dioxide, sunlight and sea water.  (In the 1980's I chaired three annual workshops involving up to a hundred of the top scientists in the field to do just this.  There are three proceedings with the current thinking of those days.)

  -  This will need to be a ten-year plan.  (Don't believe those companies that announce they can produce algae biofuels for less than $3/gallon--$126/barrel--now.)

  -  There is no guarantee that we will succeed.

Now, this is a realistic set of wishes and hopes.  If anyone is to deliver on the promise of biofuels from algae, it will be J. Craig Venter. 

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The tracking map does not show this too well, but Cyclone Funso is now at 115 MPH, and will both strengthen and head for Mozambique.  However, just off the coast, models show the storm pulling back east, then south, away from land, only to head for another part of the country:


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