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Friday, May 29, 2015


With the price of oil at $60/barrel, biofuel development has stalled.  However, I still think some day there will be a commercial future of transport fuel from algae (that's pond scum to the left).  For example, Kiplinger's Biofuels Market Alert says:

The inputs for algae are simple: the single-celled organisms only need sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to grow. They can quadruple in biomass in just one day, and they help remove carbon from the air and nitrogen from wastewater, another environmental benefit. Some types of algae comprise more than 50 percent oil, and an average acre of algae grown today for pharmaceutical industries can produce 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of biodiesel each year. By comparison, an average acre of corn produces 420 gallons (1,600 liters) of ethanol per year, and an acre of soybeans yields just 70 gallons (265 liters) of biodiesel per year.

Douglas Henston, CEO of Solix Biofuels, a company that grows algae for biofuels, has estimated that replacing all current U.S. diesel fuel use with algae biodiesel would require using only about one half of 1 percent of the farmland in production today. Algae can also grow on marginal lands, such as in desert areas where the groundwater is saline.

I was involved with growing algae in a raceway forty years ago at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, put together a team charged with building a major R&D facility on Oahu, and a few years ago managed a comprehensive Department of Energy study on the cost of converting algae into biofuels.  As long as petroleum remains below $100/barrel, though, this option will remain non-competitive.

On the terrestrial front:

     Despite deforestation, the world is getting greener.

Yes, amazingly enough, with all the deforestation occurring in Brazil and Indonesia, it appears that China has initiated such a monumental tree-planting campaign (called the Great Green Wall--to remediate global warming and reduce dust) and the former Soviet states savannas and abandoned farmlands have expanded production because of higher rainfall, that there is more biomass now on Planet Earth.  Further, as global warming occurs, permafrost grounds are replaced by vegetation.  Tree lines also move north as the climate gets warmer.

According to Nature Climate Change, there has been a 4 billion tonne (a tonne is 2204.6 pounds) increase in biomass since 2003.  How significant is this?  Well, humanity has in that period emitted 60 billion tonnes of carbon from fossil fuel burning and cement production.

Thus, even though Mother Nature has found a way to combat global warming, the amount of Greenhouse gases we are releasing is overwhelming any kind of natural response.  Certainly, those algal blooms tormenting various locations are also contributing to the positive biomass balance.  

All we need to do is control this bio-growth, continue R&D and wait for oil to zoom past $150/barrel.  Renewable jet fuel from microorganisms has long been a high priority interest of mine.   Yes, as gloomy as was my posting yesterday, there yet might be algal biofuels or hydrogen in your future.

Tropical Storm Andres is just now about attaining hurricane strength, and latest projection shifts the path from mostly north to now towards Hawaii.  

However, the cooler waters will weaken Andres.


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