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Algae Fuel

Algae Fuel

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Published by: phoebus101 on Jul 06, 2009
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Algae fuel
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Algae fuel
, also called
algal fuel
third-generation biofuel
 is abiofuelfromalgae. High oil prices, competing demands between foods andother biofuel sources and theworld food crisishaveignited interest inalgaculture(farming algae) formakingvegetable oil,biodiesel,bioethanol, biogasoline, biomethanol,biobutanoland other biofuels.Among algal fuels' attractive characteristics:they do not affectfresh waterresources,
can beproduced using ocean andwastewater, and arebiodegradableand relatively harmless to theenvironment if spilled.
Algae cost more per poundyet can yield over 30 times more energy per acre thanother, second-generation biofuel crops.
Onebiofuels company has claimed that algae can producemore oil in an area the size of a two car garage than afootball field of soybeans,because almost the entirealgal organism can use sunlight to produce lipids, oroil.
TheUnited States Department of Energyestimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleumfuel in the United States, it would require 15,000square miles(40,000square kilometers), which is a few thousand square miles larger thanMaryland.
This isless than 1/7th the area of cornharvested in the UnitedStates in 2000.
 The production of biofuels from algae is thought to helpstabilize the concentration of carbon dioxide in theatmosphere at the present level rather than reducing itto a more “healthy” level. During photosynthesis, algaeand other photosynthetic organisms capture carbondioxide and sunlight and convert it into oxygen andbiomass. The rate at which this happens can be up to99%, which was shown by Weissman and Tillett (1992)in large-scale open-pond systems.As of 2008, such fuels remain too expensive to replaceother commercially available fuels, with the cost of various algae species typically between US$5–10 perKg.
But several companies and governmentagencies are funding efforts to reduce capital andoperating costs and make algae oil productioncommercially viable.
[edit] History
Further information:Aquatic Species Program The 
launched in 1978. TheU.S.research program, funded by theU.S. DoE, was tasked with investigating the use of algae for theproduction of energy. The program initially focusedefforts on the production of hydrogen,however, shiftedprimary research to studying oil production in 1982.From 1982 through its culmination, the majority of theprogram research was focused on the production of transportation fuels, notablybiodiesel,from algae. In1995, as part of the over-all efforts to lower budgetdemands, the DoE decided to end the program.Research stopped in 1996 and staff began compilingtheir research for publication. In July 1998, the DoEpublished the report"A Look Back at the U.S.Department of Energy's Aquatic Species Program:Biodiesel from Algae"
.In 2008, Time MagazinevotedIsaac Berzinone of the world's most influential persons for his ability to turn adream of an oil-free future into a reality throughGreenFuel, founded in Boston in 2001.
[edit] Factors
Dry algae factor is thepercentageof algae cells inrelation with the media where it is cultured, e.g. if thedry algae factor is 50%, one would need 2 kg of wetalgae (algae in the media) to get 1 kg of algae cells.Lipid factor is the percentage of vegoil in relation withthe algae cells needed to get it, i.e. if the algae lipidfactor is 40%, one would need 2.5 kg of algae cells toget 1 kg of oil.
[edit] Yield
 Yields (gallons of oil per acre per year) cover a vastrange from 5,000 to 150,000. If all aspects of thecultivation are controlled - temperature, CO
levels,sunlight and nutrients (including carbohydrates as afood source), then extremely high yields can beobtained. Such variation can make calculations onwhich to base 'fuel the world' scenarios very difficult.For example, Glen Kertz of Valcent Productshttp://www.valcent.net,claims that "algae can produce100,000 gallons of oil per acre" per year. This relies ongrowing the algae in an entirely closed loop system.More recently, Valcent have claimed 150,000 gallonsmay be possible 
; their most recent actual reportedyields were 33,000 gallons per acre per year
. Thisamounts to 21,153,000 gallons per square mile peryear
* 641
. In 2007, the U.Sconsumed 20,680,000 barrels/day of petroleum
. That is 3.17E11 gallons/year
* 42
. Thus, with theproduction capabilities of Valcent, it would only require15,000 square miles
* 1
/ 21,153,000
of land to completely displace petroleum use in theU.S.Current projections, however, do not take into accountthe energy losses due to converting the algae lipidsinto fuels. These chemical processes are most likelyinefficient, as most are.
Gives SA necessary for algae fuels to replace petroleum. This graph is based on several estimated parameters. The four parameters used were: (1)length of Valcent'sVAT's (2)height of Valcent's VAT's (3)ground surfacearea associated with each VAT and (4) efficiency of chemical conversions. The length was estimated to be10 ft, the height was estimated to be 15 ft, the surfacearea associated was estimated to be 5 squared ft, andthe chemical conversion efficiency was estimated to be30%. With these estimates, the best algae would stillrequire about 50,000 square miles; the worst wouldneed 305,000 square miles. In reality the totals wouldbe somewhere in between. Any changes in theseestimates can significantly affect the graph, especiallythe efficiency of chemical processes. Companiesshould be able to easily change the dimensions for theVAT's, but they must spend time increasing theefficiency of changing algal lipids into biofuels.
[edit] Fuels
 The vegoil algae product can then be harvested andconverted into biodiesel; the algae’scarbohydrate content can be fermented intobioethanolandbiobutanol.
[edit] Biodiesel
Currently most research into efficient algal-oilproduction is being done in the private sector, butpredictions from small scale production experimentsbear out that using algae to producebiodieselmay bethe only viable method by which to produce enoughautomotive fuel to replace current world dieselusage.
Microalgae have much faster growth-rates thanterrestrial crops. The per unit area yield of oil fromalgae is estimated to be from between 5,000 to 50,000gallons per acre, per year
(4.6 to 18.4 l/m
peryear); this is 7 to 30 times greater than the next bestcrop,Chinese tallow(699 gallons).
Studies show that algae can produce up to 60% of theirbiomass in the form of oil. Because the cells grow inaqueous suspension where they have more efficientaccess to water,CO2and dissolved nutrients,microalgae are capable of producing large amounts of biomass and usable oil in either high rate algal pondsor photobioreactors. This oil can then be turned intobiodieselwhich could be sold for use in automobiles. The more efficient this process becomes the larger theprofit that is turned by the company. Regionalproduction of microalgae and processing into biofuelswill provide economic benefits to rural communities.
[edit] Biobutanol
Main article:Butanol fuelButanol can be made fromalgaeordiatomsusing only a solar poweredbiorefinery. This fuel has an energydensity similar togasoline, and greater than that of eitherethanolormethanol. In most gasoline engines, butanol can be used in place of gasoline with nomodifications. In several tests, butanol consumption issimilar to that of gasoline, and when blended withgasoline, provides better performance and corrosionresistance than that of ethanol orE85
. The green waste left over from the algae oil extractioncan be used to produce butanol.
[edit] Biogasoline
Main article:BiogasolineBiogasoline can be produced from algae.
[edit] Methane
 Through the use of algaculture grown organisms andcultures, variouspolymericmaterials can be brokendown intomethane.
[edit] SVO
 The algal-oil feedstock that is used to producebiodiesel can also be used for fuel directly as "StraightVegetable Oil", (SVO). The benefit of using the oil inthis manner is that it doesn't require the additionalenergy needed fortransesterification, (processing theoil with an alcohol and a catalyst to produce biodiesel). The drawback is that it does require modifications to anormal diesel engine. Transesterifiedbiodieselcan berun in an unmodified modern diesel engine, providedthe engine is designed to useultra-low sulfur diesel,which, as of 2006, is the new diesel fuel standard inthe United States.
[edit] Hydrocracking to traditionaltransport fuels
Main articles:Vegetable oil refiningandGreen crude Vegetable oil can be used as feedstock for anoilrefinerywhere methods likehydrocrackingor hydrogenationcan be used to transform the vegetableoil into standard fuels likegasolineanddiesel.
[edit] Jet Fuel
Rising jet fuel prices are putting severe pressure onairline companies,
 creating an incentive for algal jetfuel research. The International Air Transport
Association, for example, supports research,development & deployment of algal fuels. IATA’s goal isfor its members to be using 10% alternative fuels by2017.
On January 8, 2009,Continental Airlinesran the firsttest for the first flight of an algae-fueled jet. The testwas done using a twin-engine commercial jetconsuming a 50/50 blend of biofuel and normal aircraftfuel. It was the first flight by a U.S. carrier to use analternative fuel source on this specific type of aircraft. The flight from Houston's Bush International Airportcompleted a circuit over the Gulf of Mexico. The pilotson-board, executed a series of tests at 38,000 ft(11.6km), including a mid-flight engine shutdown.Larry Kellner, chief executive of Continental Airlines, saidthey had tested a drop-in fuel which meant that nomodification to the engine was required. The fuel waspraised for having a low flash point and sufficiently lowfreezing point, issues that have been problematic forother bio-fuels.
[edit] Algae cultivation
Algae can produce 15-300 times more oil per acre thanconventional crops, such as rapeseed, palms,soybeans, or jatropha, and they have a harvestingcycle of 1-10 days, which permits several harvests in avery short time frame, increasing the total yield (Chisti2007). Algae can also be grown on land that is notsuitable for other established crops, for instance, aridland, land with excessively saline soil, and drought-stricken land. This minimizes the issue of taking awaypieces of land from the cultivation of food crops(Schenk et al. 2008). They can grow 20 to 30 times faster than food crops.
Not only does algae produce biofuel, it also helps withreducing CO2 emissions. Algae, like other fuels,releases carbon dioxide when it is burned. Fortunately,Algae takes in CO2 and replaces it with Oxygen duringthe process of photosynthesis. Ultimately, its netemissions are zero because the CO2 released inburning is the same amount that was absorbed initially. The hard part about algae production is growing thealgae in a controlled way and harvesting it efficiently.
[edit] PhotoBioreactors
Most companies pursuing algae as a source of biofuelsare pumping nutrient-ladenwater through plastic tubes(called "bioreactors" ) that are exposed to sunlight (andso calledphotobioreactorsorPBR). Running a PBR is more difficult than an openpond, andmore costly.Algae can also grow on marginal lands, such as indesertareas where the groundwater is saline, ratherthan utilise fresh water.
 The difficulties in efficient biodiesel production fromalgae lie in finding an algal strain with a highlipid content and fast growth rate that isn't too difficult toharvest, and a cost-effective cultivation system (i.e.,type of photobioreactor) that is best suited to thatstrain. There is also a need to provide concentratedCO2 to turbocharge the production.
[edit] Closed Loop System
Another obstacle preventing widespread massproduction of algae for biofuel production has been theequipment and structures needed to begin growingalgae in large quantities. Maximum use of existingagriculture processes and hardware is the goal.
In a closed system (not exposed to open air) there isnot the problem of contamination by other organismsblown in by the air. The problem for a closed system isfinding a cheap source of sterilecarbon dioxide(CO
).Several experimenters have found the CO
from asmokestack works well for growing algae.
  To beeconomical, some experts think that algae farming forbiofuels will have to be done next to power plants,where they can also help soak up the pollution.
[edit] Open Pond
Open-pond systems for the most part have been givenup for the cultivation of algae with high-oil content.
Many believe that a major flaw of theAquatic SpeciesProgramwas the decision to focus their effortsexclusively on open-ponds; this makes the entire effortdependent upon the hardianess of the strain chosen,requiring it to be unnecessarily resilient in order towithstand wide swings in temperature and pH, andcompetition from invasive algae and bacteria. Opensystems using a monoculture are also vulnerable toviral infection. The energy that a high-oil strain investsinto the production of oil is energy that is not investedinto the production of proteins or carbohydrates,usually resulting in the species being less hardy, orhaving a slower growth rate. Algal species with a loweroil content, not having to divert their energies awayfrom growth, have an easier time in the harsherconditions of an open system.Some open sewage ponds trial production has beendone inMarlborough, New Zealand.
[edit] Algae Types
A feasibility study using marine microalgae in aphotobioreactor is being done by The InternationalResearch Consortium on Continental Margins at theInternational University Bremen.
Research into algae for the mass-production of oil ismainly focused onmicroalgae; organisms capable of photosynthesis that are less than 0.4 mm in diameter,including thediatomsandcyanobacteria; as opposed to macroalgae, e.g.seaweed.However, some researchis being done into using seaweeds for biofuels,probably due to the high availability of this resource.

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