Future Algae Fuels will need investment green
Payback/ROI on Algal Biofuel Production:
The Algae industry is full of promise- Algae grows in any sort of water- potable or waste sources – either is fine with Algae.
And those little critters can be coaxed to excrete the fuel oil components in a most prodigious manner- from 2-20 times the rate as other biofuel sources such as ethanol, butanol, etc.
The problem is scale. It is taking quite a bit longer than expected to get these Algal Oil facilities up to speed.
The next several years will be crucial for this fledgling industry- as one player, Sapphire energy, seems to have pulled ahead in this race, and will be bringing a 1.5 million gallon/year plant online sometime in 2014.
The nice thing about Algal fuels? The process soaks up Co2 while making oil and oil related products- so that it’s pretty much a C02 wash when used as a fuel; No new energy carbon dug up from under the earth, burned, and introduced to the atmosphere.
Second- and third-generation biofuels grown from algae and other single-celled organisms are “absolutely hands-down the most exciting thing going on in bioenergy,” says Lane of Biofuels Digest. The single-celled photosynthesizer produces a little sack of fat so it can float on top of a body of water. Its prehistoric ancestors were the world’s original source of hydrocarbons, making it more similar to petroleum than corn or palm oil or jatropha.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fuels Development funded the obscure Aquatic Species program to develop fuels from algae from 1978 to 1996, but the real action has come in the past few years, as scientists like Mayfield at UC San Diego have started to apply techniques from pharmaceuticals research to breed algae that grow faster, produce maximum amounts of oil, and are disease resistant and easier to harvest
Recently, as the price of oil has fallen, Algal firms have been creating new products
“…biofuel companies like Solazyme, Heliae, and Cellana also have moved to broaden their line of products to address additional markets in food, cosmetics, and industrial chemicals…”
Will Algal fuels be part of the energy mix once oil prices have stabilized? Perhaps. According to the Department of Energy, production is up, logistics issues are being worked, and production is being scaled up.
Here is an Energy Department Video which illustrates the Algae to fuel manufacturing process: