A little more on algae

Grin, while working away on the third segment about Abqaiq I noticed that the cellulosic ethanol post was getting a fair few comments on the use of algae. Having been directed to a recent radio talk on the subject, with a slightly different twist, I thought I would pass it on. It is here, under the 7/21/06 transmission date. (Sorry I am not technically literate enough to give the actual audio stream or podcast URL).

With a postulated 2+ barrels/acre/day of product (if I do the arithmetic right) even if the acres are "special" makes it sound as though it might be a somewhat intriguing approach.

UPDATE: Well I guess I hadn't better laugh about this, but what the broadcast was about related to the benefits of growing the algae in the unused sections of old mines, and in cross-cuts, where the climate can be easily controlled, and the infrastructure (walls, roof etc) are already in place. It resolves some of the issues that were a problem in New Mexico, and allows the use of the third dimension (height) in the creation of the reactors - hence the high level of productivity, and it does not conflict with land-use requirements, etc etc. Ah, well!

What the heck is this "grin" shit?  Aren't you guys supposed to be posing as serious analysts?  Is this an IRC channel?  

And you wonder why people don't take you seriously.

Well it was just that I was admitting to playing hookey, rather than diligently working on the post that I had promised.

The tone of my post was way out of line.  Sorry.

It's just that you used the same expression twice in an earlier article and I lost it for a second.


It certainly is a very relaxed style.  But if there is no intent to reach a wide main stream audience, not a problem.

For the record, I'm not to be taken seriously. (As if there was any danger of that).

No worries - the grins in the earlier post were because I was confessing to having deliberately been a little obscure with my first post. But, having spoken in public in front of audiences of all sizes and for many reasons I have developed a style that works for me. And yes, in my other life, I do, on occasion, interface with a main stream audience.  But I'm glad you're here. Enjoy the debate!
Ugh!! Blush. Very magnanimous of you.  Thanks. It's been one of those days.  :-)
It is probably the same grin I get when I think of MagLev trains that were going to 'revolutionize' transportation when super-conductor magnets made frictionless mass transit obsequitous. Hopefully there will be some solution that won't end up being more than a back issue of Popular Science. :-)
Speaking of the maglev, I wonder how many people remember its predecessor, the Aerotrain...


I thought it was great. Much more economical. Not sure why the aerotrain was abandoned for the maglev. I guess politicians like to fund pie-in-the-sky technologies instead of something simple.

Regarding your comment, we would need a little more fact based argument.  What do you consider "shit"?  Is it the biodiesel algae?  The actual information contained in the podcast?

It may be the 2 barrels/acre/day of production statement?

You know in order to not be considered an IRC channel, comments and critics need to be well stated also.  We need to be more fact based in our statements.  If you go to the cellulosic ethanol thread, you will see lots of questions and idea exchanged on the possibility of biodiesel from algae.

As for taking us seriously, It will be harder for me to take you seriously if you cannot articulate something more accuratly.  Credibility is obtained trough good communication and comprehension.  For having good communication, real physical presence is needed.  Nevertheless, the kind of interaction in a blog allow for a certain amount of good communication, albeit less optimal, more efficient for reaching a large number of people. For attaining that kind of credibility, please write clearer messages and use better language.

You realize, of course, that if this works it's curtains for the oil companies, Hugo Chavez and the sheiks too?

I like the idea but after seeing little movement from the proponents at UNH I want to see more in the way of data, working examples, all the little caveats which factor into all real systems, etc.

You realize, of course, that if this works it's curtains for the oil companies, Hugo Chavez and the sheiks too?

Nonsense, no matter how cheap you can make the manufacturing oil from alge process it will never be as cheap as just finding in in the ground and pulling it out.

Even if that was true (if so, why were so many stripper wells shut down before prices shot up recently?), it still wouldn't prevent the producers' income from going down the crapper.
What the heck is this "grin" shit?  Aren't you guys supposed to be posing as serious analysts?

"supposed to be posing"

supposed to be posing

And you mean exactly what with such a statement?

accepted as true but doubtful: accepted, at least by some, as correct, real, or having a quality, but on slender or uncertain evidence

2 : to affect an attitude or character usually to deceive or impress

Are you doubting the acting ability of Heading Out  to be a serious analyst?

What was your point?

Hi Eric,

I think we both nailed him shut.  If it would have been in gheto street talk, it wouldnt have been better.

I didnt read or notice other useful comment from him, but I may have just missed them, who knows?

I've seen numbers ranging from 2,500 gallons/acre/year to 14,000 gal/acre/year with genetic improvements and lots of CO2 available.  Since ethanol is around 600/gallons/acre/year and requires arable land, I don't understand why are not looking at algae.

I fiew out to NREL last week and dug up many of the reports from the cancelled Aquatic Species program. Once I get thought the hundreds of pages, I'll post an update.

RealAudio stream or Podcast

We tend to think of oil as taking millions of years to produce.  What if we could make it in only a few hours, easily and cheaply?
Three big problems with algae:

  1.  Harvesting is much more difficult and energy intensive than most people realize.  I have had to deal with this issue in regards to wastewater pond effluent.

  2.  Random natural algae tend to start taking over from artificially seeded algae fairly rapidly unless the pond is covered, and covering ponds is a fortune.

  3.  Ponds often have to be lined to meet groundwater regulatory requirements, which adds quite a bit to costs.

However, I concede that with a great deal of research, algae ponds may eventually have a role in biofuels in select locations.  
drwater -

My only familiarity with the concept of fuel from algae is what I have read on the internet so far.  However, I do have quite a bit of background in wastewater treatment and sludge processing.  The three big problems with algae that you mention are exactly the same problems I think will be encountered.

I think it should be plainly evident that it's one thing to grow high-yield special-strain algae in a totally enclosed sterile lab reactor, but something else again to try it in a large open pond, which will eventually acquire its own ecology, an ecology that may not be favorable to the type of algae you want growing.

And covering even a small pond with a transparent roof is exceedingly expensive.

Still, I'd like to see more results by researchers in this field.

Addendum re algae:

Another consideration is the harvesting of the algae. Even though an algae-choked pond may look quite dense, I very much doubt if the algae concentration, in terms of percent solids dry weight, is much more than one percent. It is not easy to maintain sufficient dissolved oxygen by natural means if the algae concentration gets too high. Mechanical aeration can boost this, but that of course consumes energy.

So, I would image that the harvesting operation must include some sort of liquid/solid separating step(s) - possibly chemical flocculation and settling and/or belt filtration. Even with a good dewatering step, the best you are probably going to achieve is to get the solid concentration up to maybe 40%. If that is good enough for the oil extraction step, fine; but if it has to be drier then that, then we are talking about energy-intensive heat drying.

Does anybody here know exactly what operation is used to extract the oily material from the harvested algae?  Is it just physical pressing, or does the algae have to be cooked in some fashion? Any chemical reagents used?

Then there is the question: what to do with the organic residue that remains after the oil extaction step?

I don't think you would necessarily have to remove the algae plants & dry them.  You could just run the pond water through a high-shear mixer or or through an ultrasonic resonance chamber to break open most of the algal cells, then use an inclined plate phase separator to collect the oil spilling out of the cells.  Recycle the water back to the ponds, allowing the waste algal solids to settle.  Periodically drain ponds and use a bulldozer to scrape up the solids for fertilizer.  Design your algal facility to have a fairly wide latitude regarding pumping rate between stages, and use direct-drive wind-powered pumps to pump water from ponds to storage tank towers for processing.
Brother Kornhoer -

I would think that if you ran the  straight algae-containing water through a high-shear mixer or ultrasonic device, you are are liable to emuslify the oily fraction.  If so, then you are not going to remove it with a gravity plate separator unless you first put it through demulsification step, most likely involving some form of chemical treatment.

Furthermore, high-shear mixing is very energy intensive, due to the fact that the required mixing energy very rapidly increases with mixer volume. So, if you have a large flow rate going through the mixing step, it could get expensive real fast.

I haven't read anywhere about what is the prefered method of extracting the oily material from the algae.

If you can get the solids fraction high enough to use a process like thermochemical conversion on the cake, you could produce hydrocarbons directly.
Good points about emulsions and the energy involved in high-shear mixing.  It does look like commercially available de-emulsification equipment is around, however, that uses oileophilic mesh filters to separate emulsions down to the 1 micron oil droplet size - no continuous chemical inputs needed.  I bet you could use oileophilic membranes as well, so this may not be as energy-intensive as it seems at first glance.

Also, I found this neat retrospective on DOE's algal-biodiesel research.  Two interesting points made - first, start with native species of algae that colonize your pond, and experiment with nutrient deprivation and/or breeding/genetic engineering on them to increase oil production, rather than try to adapt your lab culture to the outdoors.  Second, some of the research was on green algae.  This includes the kinds of algae that form colonies - the clumps you find in stagnant ponds.  If you can use a species that forms macro-sized clumps, harvesting would be vastly simpler & less energy intensive than sewage-sludge separation, where you're dealing with a sludge of micro-sized groups of cells.  As far as I can see, you could simply filter it out, drain it, and press the oil out.

Why would you want to bubble oxygen? Algae produce oxygen.
JoulesBurn -

I know algae produce oxygen (at least during photosynthesis), but what about the respiration period during hours of darkness?  I'm not saying you would or should use mechanical aeration, but if the algae concentration gets too high, I suspect there might be mass transfer problems that might require some physical mixing.  Not sure - just speculating.

This issue was worked out ten years ago. They even calculated the speed of the pumping to maximize lipid production and minimize power use.
realist -

Well, that's good.

Do you know what is the proposed method in some of these schemes for extracting the oily material from the algae?

Here is a start:

Shelef, G. (1984b) "Marine microalgae separation and harvesting." Proceedings of the April
1984 Principal Investigators' Meeting, Aquatic Species Program, Solar Energy Research
Institute, Golden, Colorado, SERI/CP-231-2341, pp. 206-224.

Shelef, G.A.; Sukenik, A.; Green, M. (1984a) "Microalgae harvesting and processing: A
literature review." Report to the Solar Energy Research Institute, Golden, Colorado, SERI/STR-

Shelef, G.; Sukenik, A.; Sandbank, E. (1985) "Separation and harvesting of microalgae from
saline media." Proceedings of the March 1985 Principal Investigators' Meeting, Aquatic Species
Program, Solar Energy Research Institute, Golden, Colorado, SERI/CP-231-2700, pp. 244-270.

Benemann, J.R.; Goebel, R.P.; Weissman, J.C.; Augenstein, D.C. (1982a) "Microalgae as a
source of liquid fuels." Proceedings of the June 1982 SERI Biomass Program Principal
Investigators' Review Meeting, Aquatic Species Program Reports, Solar Energy Research
Institute, Golden, Colorado, SERI/CP-231-1808, pp. 1-16.

Benemann, J.R.; Goebel, R.P.; Weissman, J.C.; Augenstein, D.C. (1983) "Production of liquid
fuels and chemicals by microalgae." Proceedings of the March 1983 Principal Investigators
Meeting, Aquatic Species Program, Solar Energy Research Institute, Golden, Colorado,
SERI/CP-231-1946, pp. 19-32.

Weissman, J.C. (1984) "Cultivation of microalgae for liquid fuels." Proceedings of the April
1984 Principal Investigators' Meeting, Aquatic Species Program, Solar Energy Research
Institute, Golden, Colorado, SERI/CP-231-2341, pp.132-149.

Weissman, J.C.; Goebel, R.P. (1985) "Design, fabrication, and operation of innovative
microalgae culture experiments using open ponds." Final Report, Subcontract XK-3-03135, Solar
Energy Research Institute, Golden, Colorado.

Weissman, J.C.; Goebel, R.P. (1985) "Production of liquid fuels and chemicals by microalgae."
Proceedings of the March 1985 Principal Investigators' Meeting, Aquatic Species Program,
Solar Energy Research Institute, Golden Colorado, SERI/CP-231-2700, pp.141-161.

Weissman, J.C.; Goebel, R.P. (1987) "Design and analysis of pond systems for the purpose of
producing fuels." Report to the Solar Energy Research Institute, Golden, Colorado

Weissman, J.C.; Goebel, R.P. (1987) "Factors affecting the photosynthetic yield of microalgae."
FY 1986 Aquatic Species Program Annual Report, Solar Energy Research Institute, Golden,
Colorado, SERI/SP-231-3071, pp. 139-168.

Weissman, J.C.; Goebel, R.P.; Benemann, J.R. (1988) "Photobioreactor design: comparison of
open ponds and tubular reactors." Bioeng. Biotech. 31:336-344.

realist -

Thanks for the references.

I will try to check some of these out the next time I'm at the local university library.

You obviously have quite a bit of familiarity with the subject.  Have you ever did any work in this area?

I currently work in human biology but I'm seriously considering moving to microbiology. Research in this area is going to become very important in the next 5-10 years and studying algae is quite a bit easier than the humans. It is impossible to do genetics on humans in the US, so you need to establish collaborations with the Europeans. It is all very complicated.

We are in a race against the peak oil clock and we need to focus our research dollars where they are most needed.

I will take a look to them as well.

Being more informed on this is the first step that I will have to go trough.

Is the UNH group doing a good job?  Is it also a good place to start reading?

You seem to have read a lot, can you tell what are the main issue?

Thanks a lot for the info!

Is the UNH group doing a good job?  Is it also a good place to start reading?

I think it's a great place to start reading. I spoke with Michael Briggs there about a year ago, and he gave me some useful information. I am not sure exactly what they are doing, though, at this point. It would be nice to know if they are testing various strains of algae and turning it into diesel, but that isn't apparent from the material I have read on their site.

I suggest you read some papers on the subject. You are just adding confusion to the discussion with incorrect statement.
realist -

Can you point me to any such papers that discuss the actual method(s) used for extracting the oily material from the algae?

see my earlier post
Why is harvest so expensive?  Can't you just skim off the top?
GreenEngineer -

I think you might be picturing algae physically similar to seaweed. It's not.  It is typically a dispersed growth of very small clumps of oganisms that don't even settle very well, much less be amenable to skimming.

It appears to me that there are some serious (but not necessarily insurmountable) material handling considerations that need to be sorted out before algae can go full scale commercial.

A raceway pond with a movable overhead bar featuring a skimmer and an agitator seems to be preferred.

Algae encompasses quite a bit of different taxonomical areas - including 'seaweed.'  It's not even confined to one kingdom - simple marine plants and some protists qualify for the title.

I was envisioning micro-algae, not macro plants like seaweed.  But I had envisioned them acting like pond scum, floating to the surface of a pond where they could be skimmed.

Obviously that wouldn't work in a bioreactor.  Still, it's basically just a filtration problem: run the water through a screen, and scrape the screen periodically.  That's not rocket science.  What am I missing here?

All you need is an agitator to cause a little hydroturbulence,because:
A) floating sun-loving microalgae in the absence of predators will tend to form a film on the top 10cm of the pond
B) the top of that layer tends to be dead from overexposure to the sun

Skimmers should be viable.  So should filters:


I have been posting random comments about algae on TOD for a while, I am glad to see a thread finally took off.

I also believe it is the only possible alternative for petroleum for liquid fuels. (Of course, that doesn't mean we should stop all conservation, etc)It would be tough to calculate a EROEI without having a known system, but I'd bet it would be pleanty high if the right system were employed.

An unused piece of land [bigger than] the size of New Jersey is avaiable in the USA.  It also has lots of sunshine and access to lots of needed saltwater.  It's called the Sonoran desert in Arizona etc, with 120000 mostly empty square miles.

If we can solve a couple of engineering problems it would probably get us over the hump.  Keeping the desired strain of algae growing doesn't require covered ponds, just an artificial river with a beginning and an end.  Spike it with known good algae at the beginning, and harvest gobs at the end, recycling the water.  Even the stuff left after the oil is removed could be fermented into Butanol.  I think the secret will be to have a series of tanks full of different microorganisms each taking the previous stuff and attacking the previous organisms, then fermenting the result. Tada... out comes biodiesel and butanol and fertilizer.

By the way, does anybody know if biodiesel can be catalytically cracked into something like gasoline?

By the way, does anybody know if biodiesel can be catalytically cracked into something like gasoline?

It can, but it would be far better if we took measures to increase penetration of diesel vehicles in this country. You will take a substantial energy penalty by cracking to gasoline.

I often find myself marveling at the ubiquitous four cylinder diesel mini trucks from Toyota and Nissan. Their status in the "rest of the world" (read NOT USA) is legendary.
These tenacious little beasts serve as the lingua-franca for transportation in the African bush, the Australian outback, they work as troop carriers for terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan, they do the work of larger counterparts in most of Eastern Europe and they are celebrated as the four wheel drive of choice in South America.
One would think that duty as grocery getter in American suburbia would be a foregone conclusion and a comparitively cushy job for the little monsters.
Curiously they are wholly absent from the American vehicle formulary.
So is any American equivalent and also any small and efficient diesel option in compact American sedans.
I find it hard to believe that the American vehicle buying public cannot be marketed in a manner which would help them identify the attractiveness of a small and efficient diesel option on a wide variety of vehicles and find myself wondering if "other market forces" might not be at work to keep them sealed off from the American consumer consciousness instead...or am I merely a paranoid?
I guess that the area figure is only meant to picture the not so large area needed to do it.

I think that building a pond that large is kind of a waste of time.  It's better to think of something decentralized.  That way any part of any country are less vulnerable of a centralized glitch.

Also I think that algae grow only in the first 4 inches of water depth.  Thats why some pilot projects use bioreactor (i.e. clear plastic or glass tubes) growing the algae.

When in tubing the problem become an engineering problem.

But it would be fun to go with all the buldozers to build a canal for bringing seawater in the sonoran desert.

Random natural algae tend to start taking over from artificially seeded algae fairly rapidly...

That's the one I had heard about. It is not surprising. I had suspected that your first bullet point was also a problem, but had seen nothing to verify that.

I am bullish on biodiesel, but I suspect that there are some pretty challenging problems that aren't getting much attention. I liked the analysis by the UNH Biodiesel Group that showed what it would take to run our society on biodiesel, but if it was as easy as that we would probably be scaling up as fast as we could.  

In terms of harvesting there are several methods:

  • 1. Sedementation
  • 2. Use of flocculants (clumping agents)
  • 3. Filtering
    This is an engineering problem and deciding how to do it cheaply depends on many factors but it is not a show stopper.

    I agree that covering ponds is not practical but coming up with a species that will outcompete other forms could be solved in a number of different ways.

  • 1. Genetic engineering
  • 2. seeding the ponds with dense culture
  • 3. controlling the environment to turn on lipid production at a later stage.

    These problems are simpler than the problems facing the ethanol crowd.

  • Realist,

    Harvesting is an engineering problem, but it is a more difficult one than you might think.  Joule had some good comments on this.  Sedimentation is difficult because algae floats well.  If the pond (or other vessel) is kept gently agitated throughout, green algae will tend to be selected over blue-green algae and you can get some separation using sedimentation (see work by Oswald at UC Berkeley). Dissolved air flotation and filtration together with polymer flocculants are also used to separate algae from water, but it takes a lot more effort, energy, and chemicals than one might expect.  Microfiltration keeps getting better and may become practical for the process.

    If growing algae for biodiesel does become practical, you will see it first in conjunction with wastewater treatment where the nutrients are free and there is a lot of value to the treatment aspects of the process.

    It has been seen already, in New Zealand.

    I would love to see a follow-up story, with some more details on the technical aspects of this... any TODers in NZ who can go out to the plant in Marlborough?

    Gah.  Microfilters for the flowrates being discussed would take the GDP of Brazil to buy.  I'm not sure that most people realize that with throughput this large your equipment choices are between cement ponds and cement ponds with attachments.
    TJ -

    I couldn't have put it any better myself!

    I think there is a tendency on the part of the theoretical, researchy types to be rather cavalier about what these various separation and processing steps will look like in large-scale commercial practice: "Oh, that's just an engineering problem."

    As you and I understand well, when you start getting up into very large flowrates, you can't get overly fancy with the processing equipment (unless you have something like NASA's budget).

    I'm just starting to familiarlize myself with the state-of-the-art of making algae biodiesel, so perhaps these problems have already been worked out, but I tend to be somewhat skeptical, as most of the work looks like academic type research.  

    Physically, most algae appears to be quite slimy and sticky, the perfect characteristics for rapidly clogging filters.

     And as pointed out earlier, gas bubbles associated with the exchange of gases between the algae and water will create settling problems (and from my own experience in water treatment, it doesn't take much in the way of bubbles to wreck the performance of a clarifier). As such, perhaps it would be better to go with the bubbles rather than fight them and use some form of dissolved air floation. (?) Still, what you get off of a DAF unit will still be quite wet.

    I also have a hard time visualizing extracting the oily fraction from this mass of wet gloop simply by pressing (lab equipment doesn't scale up very well). These aren't sunflower seeds, you know, and regardless of how good the dewatering is, there is still going to be a considerable amount of water remaining, so some sort of phase separation step might be needed.  

    Well, I'm still trying to find out how this is supposed to be done on a large scale, but no one around here seems to be able to supply that info. Must do some more digging.

    I was thinking of something different:

    clear, cheap "waterbeds" of growing algae, connected with swimming pool technology.

    Roll them out in the desert, pump in sea water and algae.

    You now have a closed system and can keep out undesirable species.

    Shouldn't be that expensive, right?   A barrel of oil can make a fair number of plastic bags and it would be a good use thereof.

    The dewatering part could be a large obstacle.  Gravity draining the water off the algae and allowing it to sun dry has one problem I know of, one huge smell. Mechanical then the EROEI takes a dive.
    Why would ERoEI go down just from smell? Imagine a lipo doc using the sucked-out fat and making biodiesel (lipodiesel) out of it, then putting it in a Lear Jet. Doing so will have whatever ERoEI but it'll smell like burning bodies. Great for a German lipo doc to "drive" that jet over Skokie. The smell will remind the Jewish residents of the Holocaust.

    But the ERoEI of the process remains the same as the lipo doc burns it in his Gulfstream 5 business jet. (similar to the "Gitmo Express" jet) Politically, it can be a problem only if he "drives" it in the wrong areas. Apart from lipodiesel (and misuse of jets fuelled with it) there should be no political problems with algae-diesel except for lobbyists. The sugar lobbyists already have us getting fattened, seemingly for a slaughter.

    For the conspiracy fans, has the Gitmo Express plane been "souped up" as a hot-rod Gulfstream 5? Doubling engine power should just push that gem supersonic. That would make it fun for a pilot to "drive" it!

    Sorry, I'm trying to get me head around a few of the postings here. Always interested to here the derivation behind some statements:
    • You say harvesting is difficult and expensive. My understanding is that algae elements are 1-2mm in size. Surely a relatively coarse mesh filter on a moving conveyer is sufficient to extract the particles and present them for further processing? After all, the question is not to remove all, just enough for a constant volume to be maintained. Where is the difficulty and cost? Drying is no more complex than squeezing or laying out for the sun to dry?

    • You say covering costs a fortune. However provided you employ glowplates we are talking about volume, not surface area. A single, thin sheet of polyurethane is enough to separate inside from outside, and that certainly does not cost a fortune. Why should the economics of a covered, deep, pond be any worse than any other internal cultivation? Cultivation that continues perfectly OK on today's cost base.

    • You say lining of a pond against groundwater is expensive, but we are talking about less expense than lining a pond in a garden. Why should this be expensive?
    I'm interested to understand why you think this type of engineering is any worse than transporting tanker fulls of crude around the globe, then passing it through complex distillation engineering?

    If we are talking about turning out barrels of a very valuable and sort after resource, what exact elements of the process are going to make it unacceptable? To me it sounds very plausible.

    More than just arable land, but fresh water.

    Many algae live in brackish or salt water.

    Algae, especially genetically modified variants, are one of the "most unknown unknowns", as a certain Mister Rumsfeld might say.

    I've written about algae a couple of times on my site (links below), but I think that the most accurate thing anyone can say about the technology right now is that it looks very promising and will likely see broad use, in one form or another.  (The first link below points to a article with some particularly intriguing results.)



    I gave it a shot in Pond Scum or Planet Savers?

    Thanks a lot, thats the kind of information I wanted to get the hands on.

    Now I kow the basics look good and altough the pond of algae might stinck, the technology does not :)

    I will try to take a good look at UNH group and other experiment done up until 1996 from the renewable fuel laboratory.

    Our province did inject 60 million in ethanol and cellulosic ethanol research and development.  Biodiesel from algae might be able to get some funding trough this.

    I also know the producer of a widely listen science program in Quebec.  They are making a special on biofuels but mainly on ethanol and cellulosic ethanol.  We will see what it give.  

    Anyway thanks a lot!

    From my article:

    ... theoretically, if you created an algae bioreactor twice the size of New Jersey, you could supply the entire petroleum needs of the US...

    Go for it! I mean, c'mon, do we really need  New Jersey--and, ahhh, some adjacent areas-- ?

    Just kidding! Really, I think it's got some promise. I'm simply happy for any post that does not mention ethanol. Some have said that I'm easily satisfied but it's not true.    = HO's grin for supposed experts and posers like us.

    I'm simply happy for any post that does not mention ethanol.

    <Beavis voice>Heh, heh. You said ethanol. Heh, heh.</Beavis voice>

    Yeah, I was not unaware of what I was said. As you know, I would like to move on. We might try to replace

    Go Yellow!


    Pond Scum

    No offense ever intended...


    I've been telling people that I want to be a scum farmer. We think alike.

    So if ~half of the algae by mass is used for liquid fuel production, what happens to the rest, which is rich in carbon and nitrogen?  Seems like a great thing to return to soil unless it's also enriched in heavy metals. In any case, it doesn't sound less realistic than other forms of carbon sequestration, and you get NOx cleanup in the process.
    August 17, 2006-08-17
    Comments on Oil and Natural Gas (ng) Prices

    Oil and natural gas prices have been retreating rapidly in the last couple of days. People then tend to think that the energy crisis is over. In fact, it is just the opposite.

    8/17/06 intraday ng Sept. delivery is $6.67mcf, and Jan./07 is $11.1 mcf. So five months forward, the price is 66% higher than the spot price.

    If I were a ng producer, I would shut my productions and sell short on Jan. 07 contract. If I had ng strorage facilities, I wouldn't rent it out, bur rather buy spot and store it and sell short on Jan. 07 contract. Could you tell me any other business that could bring me a 66% return in less thank half a year and rist free?

    It is assumed that every able entity who can do the abitrary did it. That is a huge short selling pressure and the market obsorts it.

    Ng market is now crying out for energy crisis. The market asks for ng conservation, build up more storage more exploration and speed up LNG terminal.

    Oil price is dropping too. Gasoline retrets the most, WTI crude follows. At least since 2004, every time crude rally is accompanied by crack spread rally. (3-2-1 crack spread formula is a proxy for margins achieved by USGC cracking refineries.) Now crack spred is going down. So is gasoline price.  Because American driving season is over, the government agencies pridict that retail gas price will drop further.

    By the same token, in the last couple of years, as long as gasoline price is high, even it's only perception in traders' minds, the gas demand in US is going higher. The WTI price will be bid up. In November 2004 WTI & Opec basket price spread is $9 premium WTI. In December 2005 $9, Feb. 06 $9. Yesterday WTI over Opec is only $3.6.

    But gasoline and heating oil are relatively domestic markets. WTI crude market is something not. Just like the London metal exchange which set copper, tin lead's international price. But British people use very little of them. WTI traders will adjust their attitude gradually.

    Let's see what is going to unfold. Either Opec is willing and able to flood the market with oil, or a peak oil implies crude rally without US gasoline company.

    It's already happening here in New Zealand:

    "It is believed to be the world's first commercial production of bio-diesel from "wild" algae outside the laboratory - and the company expects to be producing at the rate of at least one million litres of the fuel each year from Blenheim (sewage) by April."

    Blenheim has a population of about 35,000.

    That would be pretty wild, let's hope the April version of the story is as bold.
    Yes, a million litres would be more than enough to fuel the vehicles of the local infrastructure (Fire, Police, Refuse Collection, etc.) which would reduce the burden on local council rate-payers.

    Again, just another silver BB.

    I'd like to humbly suggest the possibility of utilizing algae to convert Fischer-Tropsch plant emissions to bio-diesel as the best peak oil mitigation technology I've come across so far.  Can an expert here tell me if this is possible.  It seems that one of the problems with Fischer-Tropsch was never scalability or feasability but the very high CO2 emmissions.  Now with GreenFuel's CO2+Algae to bio-diesel possibilities, this weakness may become a strength.
    I'd like to humbly suggest the possibility of utilizing algae to convert Fischer-Tropsch plant emissions to bio-diesel as the best peak oil mitigation technology I've come across so far.  Can an expert here tell me if this is possible.

    Yes, it's possible. Professor Berzin at MIT is piloting a trial in which power plant emissions are scrubbed through tubes of algae. I discussed this, as well as reasons biodiesel should be our alternative fuel of choice, at:

    Biodiesel: King of Alternative Fuels

    There is no reason Berzin's concept couldn't be applied to FT plant emissions.

    Now, we have two silver BBs. :) It seems that if we solve the PO problem, it'll be a shotgun shell with a load of silver birdshot, not a silver bullet. With powerplants, the boilers have forced-draft blowers on the boilers, causing them to pressurise a little, like a car's turbocharger. This has the advantage of having pre-pressurised powerplant exhaust to bubble through the algae tubes. The F-T process probably uses forced draft blowers on the reactor, so you get the same pre-pressurised "exhaust".

    What's good is that powerplants and F-T are continuous-burn allowing for exhaust with less carbon monoxide than car exhaust. But there is some to scrub from the exhaust. Also, you'll need a good sulfur scrubber becuse coal is sour. Then, there's mercury in the exhaust. On the upside, you could "breed" algae with a small pilot plant to tolerate the pollutants until you won't need the giant cat converters. Also, natural algae wouldn't be so tolerant!

    Capital and operations costs are still very high-- $6 billion or more construction costs for a plant of 80,000 barrels/day capacity. That money won't flow unless investors are certain that the oil price will stay high.
    So we spend an enormous amount on capital construction to produce biodiesel, which can only be used by a very small percentage of the existing auto fleet. Using the biodiesel to displace petroleum-based diesel has an unknown effect on our total petroleum consumption -- unless you can crack crude to produce more gasoline and little or no diesel. The energy efficiency of the overall process -- sunlight to biodiesel -- does not seem to be well understood; the sunlight to transportation end-use is guaranteed to be rather horribly inefficient, though, as the biodiesel will be run through an ICE.

    The more time I spend listening to proposed solutions, the more I am convinced by Alan and the Engineer-Poet that electrification is the right way out. We already know that the source to wheel efficiency will be better than anything that runs through an ICE. We already know that we can capture large amounts of energy from wind, and probably from other solar sources. Direct-carbon fuel cells show promise for allowing use of biomass at much higher efficiencies. We already have a ubiquitous distribution network that, at least assuming off-peak charging, is capable of delivering electricity in sufficient quantities to the end user. Money spent to subsidize electrification at this point will not be made obsolete if any one research source for greener electricity fails to pan out.

    Silver BBs.  Maybe biodiesel tractors on the farms, and electric cars in the cities ...
    And biodiesel can always be used in the airliners, trucks, trains, and ships. And it can be used as heating oil. There would be a pretty good sized market - especially with our tendency to waste diesel in our war machines.
    You guys continue to talk about peak oil as if it were a technical issue.
    Ah yeah, I would classify Hubbert's work as technical.
    And Hubbert's solution was? (yes, I'm baiting you - so I'll answer. His solution was nuclear power. Of course, he lived before 3-mile island, Chernobyl and the build up of nuclear waste.

    You can come up with all the technical solutions you want (e.g. harvesting asteroids), but unless you come up with the human / social means to get these adopted you are just indulging in an exercise of mental masturbation. (And no, I do not consider "the market" to be a suitable answer - anyone who believes we have a free market is deluding themselves.

    The broken link in your argument is from Hubbert's peak to a scale of production decline.

    It's hand waving to talk about the solutions to a problem of unspecified scale.

    It is you (and those discussing with you) that were talking about solutions. I was not. Indeed, that was my point. You have identified a technical problem (peak oil) and have gone off looking for technical solutions. This approach does not give consideration to the possibility that the technical problem itself is the product of something else. Peak oil is not a problem in a vacuum.

    Indeed, from the most simplistic of positions, peak oil would be meaningless if we did not use oil at all. Of course, its not this simple, but it does suggest a direction for thinking.

    Consider a metaphor. You are sitting up reading late one evening. It is dark outside, but you have a good reading lamp at your side. Suddenly the room goes dark (and silent). What you are doing is going to the light switch and flipping it on and off to try to get the light back on. Or perhaps, trying other light switches to at least get some light on. Perhaps what you should do is look out a window and see if the neighbors lights are on, or the street light or whatever. Perhaps the problem is bigger than simply getting some light so you can continue reading.

    At the risk of incurring some wrath around here, I have to say I agree wholeheartedly.  I'm an engineer at heart, and I've spent the last couple of years trying to find out what the technical solutions to this problem might be.  The conclusion I have come to is that if we end up with a post-peak decline of greater than two or three percent, there simply aren't any.

    Now that doesn't mean we should stop looking for them, but it sure as hell hints that we should be looking for anwers elsewhere than in energy technologies.

    As far as I can tell, the real problem is that there are (or soon will be) enough of us to overrun or even exhaust the world's resource sources and waste sinks.  That means that population reduction is the only leverage point we have in the medium to long term.  Unfortunately we need a short-term solution, and would prefer one that's both realistic and not too painful.

    If it's a given that we are within a few years of the start of the production decline, then if the decline turns out to be over 3% IMO we're hooped.

    At 3% it would still talk 20+ years for production to fall to half it's peak value.  20 years strikes me as a long time to make adjustments, especially when compared to the cardinal example, the mobilization for WWII.
    You're hanging a lot on a sentence that has a "maybe" in it.

    The reason I put that 'maybe' in there of course is that I don't know the outcome, but can smack ideas around with the best of them.

    The thing you won't see me do though, is guarantee either a path, or an outcome.

    (I consder your post to not really apply for that reason.)

    So who's been hurt from 3 mile island and commercial nuclear waste?

    Another Chernobyl isn't going to happen.

    Consider that a heat wave killed 35,000 people and just one hurricane, 2,000, and ruined a city. (and a previous one in central america kileld 10 times more)

    If global warming were but 10% responsible for those....

    The best is the enemy of the good.  Ignoring a good interim solution which will work for 200 years (fission) and requiring that we solve everything with technology and social reorganization which is very far from practicality will, in the real world, result in much more dirty coal to replace oil consumption.  

    Count on it.  

    You've missed the point - you are still looking at it as a technical solution. The biggest impediment to nuclear energy is the himan factor - attitudes against, mismanagement, human error and poor policy. Technically, we are capable of building a colony on Mars - doesn't mean its going to happen or that if we tried it would be successful.
    I think you underestimate the desire of modern humans to have electricity and the conveniences it hails.  With other cheaper (albeit dirtier) solutions that did not present the looming doomsday radioactive waste/fallout/meltdown problem the soft voice of our supposed concious was fine with coal/oil/gas/hydro power as our primary sources.

    When Oil/gas start to run low, and the rolling black outs are interupting my viewing of CSI, Law and Order, and American Idol, how inclined am I going to be in thinking "you know if we had them nukes burnin' hot I wouldn't be missin' my TV shows."

    Don't underestimate the power of the boob tube to overcome the supposed(and mostly exaggerated) evils of nukes.  Nukes are in my opinion a very clear short term answer for a large piece of this energy pie.

    No, I don't doubt that you are correct at all. I expect that there will be significant efforts to build nuclear plants. My point is simply that it isn't a question of whether or not it is possible. The real issues are human. What do you think might happen if one of the first of these "new" plants is rushed and a cooling tower cracks shortly after implementation. How soon do you think new ones would  be built ? Or would we decide that repealing clean air laws is a better way to get our power. These are the kinds of issues that will determine what our energy future is like, not what is the technically most feasible.
    The biggest impediment to nuclear energy is the himan factor - attitudes against, mismanagement, human error and poor policy.

    On my obnoxious days, I have been known to say to people who tell me that the engineers will find a solution to the energy problem: the engineers did, but you don't like it. It is possible to "burn" uranium-238 and thorium-232, and there are sufficient supplies of those for hundreds if not thousands of years. As to waste, 75 years ago the neutron was a theoretical concept; given even a modest research budget, I would be astounded if waste disposal was not a solved problem in another 75 years. Some days I predict that 75 years from now, we will be carting the waste out of Yucca Mountain so that we can clean it up and use it; that will be more efficient than mining new ore.

    If we can get the electricity that we need from other sources like wind and solar, I'm all for that. However, the choices for the next 20 years for base load capacity in the US appear to be coal and nuclear (and natural gas third if we can import large quantities cheaply). In practice, a vote for "not nuclear" is a vote for coal.

    Actually, if you have something like algal biodiesel the equation shifts far enough in favor of production that internal combustion might be a smart choice (least cost).  You'll still have a cleaner system if you rely mostly on electricity, though.
    You could sell the biodiesel to France or Germany, where about 45% of cars run on diesel. Or you could start building small diesel cars, it's not rocket science.
    And that number (45%) is growing rapidly.
    ... theoretically, if you created an algae bioreactor twice the size of New Jersey, you could supply the entire petroleum needs of the US...

    In the reports I've read it would take 15,000 sqaure miles to supply the needs of the US. This itself is very doubtful. 15,000 sqaure miles is about 35 billion square meters. Even if algae were 5 times more efficient than corn at turning sunlight into fuel, which is very unlikely, then that amount of land would only produce about one tenth of our current petroleum consumption.

    todblog -

    Sounds great!

    Theoretically, if you made a spaceship the size of Delaware, you could move the entire population of the US to Mars in a matter of years :-)

    I suppose we could turn Lake Erie into one big algae pond.

    You know, when I read the above post, and before I hit refresh to see your answer, I was thinking "why did we bother cleaning up Lake Erie if we just have to make it dirty again?"
    Or Lake Okeechobee in Florida, and Ponchtrain in Louisiana.
    From what I've read (caveat), algae can be a LOT more than 5 times as efficient as corn.  A year and something ago I must have found a UNH claim which I recorded as 5 billion BTU/ha/year or about 2 billion BTU/acre/year.  An acre of corn at 150 bu/ac and 392,000 BTU/bu is 58 million BTU, or about 1/30 as much; for yield of ethanol, multiply by about .55.
    A good thing to also note is that a car with a diesel engine will go further on a full tank, than the same car with a petrol (gasoline) engine.

    So a switch to diesel would actually reduce the amount of fuel we currently need.

    Thanks HO for making us aware of this podcast! I hope the 2 profs from U of M get their grant funding from EPA, as this experiment to use unused mines to grow algae in a controlled environment to maximize production sounds interesting albeit very capital intensive. I also thought that their proposal to engage all the different undergraduate engineering disciplines in the project was a great idea, if nothing more to get the students thinking about the issue.  Finally, I liked their humble admission that there is no magic bullet. I agree with the posted comments that electric is probably a better solution for cars. However, Odograph's comment about using biodiesel for farm tractors got me thinking. While you may be able to substitute human labor for market garden type agriculture, I don't think you can go back to horses to produce the large acreages of grain necessary to feed the world's population. So we need to be developing alternate means to produce the fuel for agricultural machinery.
    First you think about farming tractor,

    then you think that excavator might be fun also, then buldozers, then you get all kinds of machinery and building equipment using biodiesel.

    The car is dead, (you know, like in not to be living anymore)

    Trucking, buses, train, machinery are very much more usefull than cars.  

    So yes, biodiesel is a good solution and that's why I started to ask questions about it in the fibrocellulosic thread.

    You know, scientist, engeneer and other researcher are telling us that ethanol is not the way to go, so why even bothering talking about it.

    I wanted to shift the ethanol bashing posting to biodiesel studying posting.  Hence, I asked a lot of questions about it.  I dont know a lot about algae biodiesel, but for what I read today, it is much more worthy of attention than ethanol.

    If I were Vinod Khosla and wanting to make money on the next big thing, biodiesel algae would be part of my portfolio.

    If I were Vinod Khosla and wanting to make money on the next big thing, biodiesel algae would be part of my portfolio.

    I talked to him about that, because I agree with you. He said 1). It is still too much of a research project, and 2). It would require a higher penetration of diesel vehicles in the marketplace. Add those two up, and he concluded cellulosic ethanol was a better bet.

    I'll bet that #2 was more significant for him.

    P.S.  Loved the Beavis reference!

    A good thing to also note is that a car with a diesel engine will go further on a full tank, than the same car with a petrol (gasoline) engine.
    So a switch to diesel would actually reduce the amount of fuel we currently need.

    While biodiesel gets 40% greater efficiency than gasoline, it also has 20% less fuel value. If we assume that the net energy balance of gasoline is 11:1 and biodiesel 5:1, then not only is the efficeincy gain wiped out, it would actually require more biodiesel to replace the gasoline we currently use. Does anyone have any idea what the EROEI of biodiesel actually is?

    While biodiesel gets 40% greater efficiency than gasoline, it also has 20% less fuel value.

    Biodiesel numbers I have seen are 121,000 BTUs/gal, versus about 125,000 BTUs/gal for gasoline. Petroleum diesel is higher, at just under 140,000 BTUs/gal.

    Does anyone have any idea what the EROEI of biodiesel actually is?

    The claimed number for soybeans, I believe, is about 3/1. I believe Pimentel claimed it was less than 1/1 though.

    So, if the military switches to biodiesel from algae, the fighter jets will have about 3/4 the combat radius than with petrodiesel. And that airliner going to Sydney will have to stop in Hawaii to get a load of fuel.
    Where do you get your 3/4 figure from? 121k BTUs/ 125k BTUs =  ~ 97% not 75%.
    The claimed number for soybeans, I believe, is about 3/1

    Yes, confirmed at sources sited here. Rapeseed is less at about 2.8/1 but has about twice the yield per acre.

    My calcs show that 50% of US diesel consumption could be replaced with biodiesel with 38% of US ag land (rapeseed) or 65% (soybean). These are closed loop figures, ie assuming the energy inputs are from biodiesel.

    Open loop numbers, ie using fossil fuels/renewables as inputs are 25% and 45% respectively.

    I checked again the fuel value, and it 5-8% less than gasoline. Biodiesel is 35% more efficient than gasoline. However if the EROEI is as bad for algae as it is for soybeans, then the efficiency gain is more than wiped out.
    Why on earth are we comparing the EROEI of gasoline to any biofuel. The entire purpose of this blog is to deal with the "fact" that gasoline simply will simply not be one of the future options. It seems to me we need to do some reasonable examination of the feasibility to produce biofuels or other forms of replacement energy in a sustainable way. Corn from ethanol seems to be a non-sustainable approach. Some other biofuels may not be. My problem with Pimentals work is that he assumes worse case processes and then comes to worse case conclusions. For instance growing oil palm for biodiesel can produce over 1000 gallons per acre with input of fertilizer from nitrogen fixing trees and primarily hand labor ie. jobs, in a time of few jobs, with very few inputs that are not sustainable. How does this end up less than 1 to 1?
    By the way Robert Rapier , Hell of a good job there son. I was surprised at your accent and your apparent youth. For what it is worth I'm proud of you.
    Thanks for the compliment. Although I live in Montana, I am from the south, hence the accent. And I might not be as young as you think. I am 39, but still occasionally get carded when I buy beer. At this point, I think they are just trying to humor me when they do that. :-)
     If they use mines for algae production, how do they plan to get sunlight to the algae?
    Oilman Bob,
    In the podcast they offered 2 ways to do it. First using solar photovoltaics to produce electricity to power electric lighting that is in the red blue spectrum to enhance the algae growth.  The other way was to somehow pipe the light underground using collectors and mirrors. They argued that mines allow controlled temperature which avoids inhibiting algal growth from too much heat or light. They also argued that many mines have room heights up to 30 feet which allows them to grow the algae in clear tubes increasing the per acre volume of production. The tube idea sounds similar to what that professor from MIT is proposing for growing algae using power plant CO2 emissions. At this point it is just an EPA grant proposal for an experimental test bed in a mine owned by the University, not something that is ready to commercialize. They admit that there are a lot of issues they will have to work out.
    The mastery of clean, efficient turbodiesels in the 90's has really made biodiesel much more practical than ethanol - it's a drop-in replacement in most diesel engines, the chemical transesterification process, using readily available (and fully recoverable) hexane, is a hundred times easier than fermentation.

    And algae is the only thing with an estimated yield in the necessary territory.  Soybean is a lot better yield than ethanol(+ positive ROI), but it's still shit - not big enough for any serious use, a total pork project bought with PR dollars by the soybean industry.  In Europe they use rapeseed[canola], around 3x the yield, and in India they have nut-producing bushes/trees that grow as toxic weeds, which happen to produce quite a lot of oil - jatropha and pongammia pinnata.  In the south pacific, coconuts are a prime source, but difficult to industrialize on small islands.

    Resources on the topic:

    The article that brought everyone to the topic, proposes turning a portion of the Sonora into an algal biodiesel farm.  While there are a few major holes in the cost analysis/feasability, it's the most realistic, least costly, easiest to implement full solution to gasoline I've seen.

    http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_yield.html  <-Algae is estimated at 5000-20000gallons/acre

    The reason we need more research is in actually achieving that 5k gal/acre with reasonable inputs in a cheap manner.  The only guy speaking personally of their success online is a frustrating 30-year algae farmer named Marc Cordozo of Ecogenics, over at the biodieselnow forums.  He's an algae farmer first, concentrates on non-fuel uses - he has has no desire to take on debt or investment for his research - and he sells seminars on algalculture, so he's not revealing 'too much' online.

    BTW, our Algae-Miner is ludicrous.  Solar collection grids are really expensive (particularly for glass fibers that can reach any distance underground), putting electric lights underground have builtin 20% efficiency at best.    We have plenty of empty land that's useless for agriculture that would work great with algalculture ponds (interspersed with windmills or solar thermal).  The mines assist a bit with temperature and PH, but that's not anything that a slightly deeper pond wouldn't solve at very low costs.  With mines, you introduce a new problem - co2.

    It's relatively easy to bubble co2 through plexiglass pipes under flourescent lighting in a completely artificial environment outside a coal plant - hell, it should be done in cladding on the cooling towers - twice the energy for your co2.  The problem is that it doesn't scale beyond that cooling tower.  It's amazingly expensive to do it in bulk from solar energy with these artificial means.

    That's why Aquatic Species focused on open ponds - constructing them can be done cheapo with plastic sheeting and fences.  Algae's specialty is self-replication at LOW costs - it's the only candidate for replacing the conveniance of hydrocarbons with current tech because the damn stuff just needs some fertilizer dumped in the ocean and it'll spread over several square miles naturally from the sun.

    Aquatic Species should be reopened (and super-funded) with the realization that $20/barrel oil ain't coming back, and we need all the options that we can get.

    Errata: Transesterification is not done with hexane, hexane catalyzes chemical extraction.  Transesterification requires an alchohol I believe.
    Just for interest, a Dow Jones article on biodiesel in Asia:

    SINGAPORE (Dow Jones)--Singapore's Advanced Holdings Ltd. (5IA.SG), a maker of process equipment for oil and gas and petrochemicals, said Friday its subsidiary Advanced Biofuel Technology has obtained approval from Malaysia's
    Ministry of International Trade and Industry to build a biodiesel plant in
    peninsular Malaysia.
      The plant, to be built in the coastal town of Kuantan in Pahang state, will have an annual production capacity of 100,000 metric tons and use crude palm oil or refined, bleached, deodorized palm oil as its main feedstock, according
    to a company statement.
      Advanced's managing director, Kar Wong, said the project "will serve as a reference or showcase plant for Advanced in our overall growth strategy to
    design and supply biodiesel process equipment."
      "(The) rapidly growing demand for biodiesel worldwide, including the Asia Pacific, will fuel the construction of many biodiesel plants in Asia. Advanced is well positioned to be a significant player in this growing market," Wong
      Advanced has identified several potential strategic partners and will make further announcements once a strategic partner is finalized, the company said,
    without elaborating further.

    Why not just get krill/algae from the oceans and burn it ?
    I mean whales seem to do well on krill.

    I found this.

    Krill oil is avialable comercially. And why can't we harvest algae from blooms.

    http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/story.html?id=a9aeac29-fbcb-46dd-96ca-839e09353435& amp;k=86257

    Some like this are so large they can be seen from space.

    It makes more sense to me then farming algae.

    Once upon a time we did.  It was called "whaling".

    Seriously the energy requirements for the dispersed algae will be very difficult.

    You can see them from space but their concentration is still very low in the water.

    There is a company - Oil Movements that claims to track the shipping of crude oil. Does anybody here use them?

    website is:


    Hmm, even I like algae, although most of my experience is limited to its yumminess as food (wakame, nori, dulse) and well, when you're a kid and it's a hot day, and you get an opportunity for a swim, who cares if the pond is bright green?
    I'm too slack to do the proper research but from memory the energy density of biodiesel was about 35 megajoules per litre vs 30 MJ/L for petrol. A BTU is about 0.1 MJ and a US gallon is about 3.8L. So the 125,000 BTU/gal seems right for gasoline but I've seen biodiesel ranked higher on several websites.

    The problem with biodiesel as jet fuel is the low gelling temperature which makes it unsuitable. If in future we use CTL for jet fuel all the more reason to get most electricity from nukes not coal. As for converting biodiesel to gasoline I don't know if the ester to alkane route is chemically cheap. Why would you want to?..biodiesel is a great fuel already, just permanently limited in supply.

    Correction, that's HIGH gelling temperature for biodiesel. In other words it should be well below water freezing temperature.
    Biodiesel is gelling a 4 celcius, according to wikipedia and other sources.

    It depends on what you make it from.  BD made from rapeseed oil has a lower gel point than from soy oil.  I haven't heard about algal oil, but it probably depends on the strain of algae.

    In any event your general point is still correct - I have doubts that BD will be of use in aviation because of the gel point.

    I dont think that the biodiesel can be viewed as an aircraft solution.

    I tend to find solutions for the simpler things, planes will have to wait.

    I guess that it's a good thing since we all wait too much in line when boarding, now it's up to the plane for waiting.


    Biodiesel mixes seem to do well for aviation fuel even up to
    60%. I'm sure we have not scoured the planet for oil producing plants with low gel point oils or a bit of GM works could significantly change the gel points.

    Finally heated fuel llines its a engineering problem.
    I'm not sure how easy it is to retrofit onto existing airplanes but I suspect its not hard to build a new airplane
    that ensures its fuel lines are heated. This would greatly increase the range of fuels that could be used regardless of the source. Regular old diesel could work for example in the jet engine. As far as I know jets are not that sensitive to the nature of the fuel anything pretty much works.

    Its not rocket science :)

    I believe that because of the low reactivity of diesel fuel, it  will not work in a jet engine.  It has a very high pressure/temperature flashpoint, it's designed to explode when highly compressed.

    Piston engine aircraft could use diesel fine, but we switched to jets long ago for their weight/power.

    Mixed alchohols, on the other hand (more energy dense than ethanol), look like they'll work in a jet just fine.

    Jet A (the fuel that powers our big birds) is actually just a modified diesel.  The pressure in a tubine engine is very high.  Most turbines I have worked with allow all kinds of different fuels to be burned in them.  It is possible to burn gasoline, but usually this is limited to a set number of hours  for every 100 hours of use.  This allows ground crews to make mistakes without grounding the aircraft.  

    Light piston aircraft almost all use gasoline engines.  There are some diesels that have been approved and are in use, but only some.  AvGas 100LL is the fuel of choice.  Yes, small airplane engine still use lead.

    Correction appreciated :)

    Now for the starving children awareness-raising bit:

    One litre of edible oil / biodiesel contains approximately 9000 Calories, enough to survive on for 4.5 days / drive 20km in a Renault Twingo. A ton of edible oil / biodiesel contains 9 million Calories, enough to survive on for 12 years / drive 20000 km in a Renault Twingo.

    How many children in Africa ...

    `Food' for thought.

    Nezametnii Karl

    If Biodiesel from Algae is done in the deserts, then I don't see any impact on the shipments of food to Africa from this form of agriculture.

    The same however, cannot be said for Ethanol which is in direct competition for arable land against food stocks of corn, grain, etc.

    However, its no secret that the world's population is in overshoot.  Once the cost of moving food over long distances becomes prohibitive(mainly due to fuel costs), the shipments of food from bread baskets like the US, Ukraine, etc to areas with hostile environments for aggriculture are likely to cease regardless if those bread baskets have excess food supply or not.  There are various regions around the globe that are artificially overloaded with human population which are directly supported by the ease of which we can move things.  That ease, is about to disappear and along with it those populations.

    Expect to see great migrations, or localized dieoffs due to food shortages, or more accurately food shipment shortages.

    Africa had best become self-sufficient and expect to lose most if not all the charitable aid(not only food, but medicines, technology, military presences from UN actions) it is traditionally used to getting, because charity generally dries up when the givers are too busy fending for themselves.

    This seems to be already happening I don't have facts but just reading the new aid to Africa seems to have dropped substantially in the last few years. The general trend seems to have started after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Right now I think the cause is the EU is focused on internal issues and not really playing the role of a world power. And the US seems to be focused on SUV's/McMansions and the Iraq war.

    Asia has never done a significant amount of giving.

    I know this has been stated before, but I don't remember a definitive answer.

    Given the fact that liquid and gaseous fossil fuels are going up in price, never to come down again,   and that maybe 30% (?) of it is used in low quality stuff like space heating, why wouldn't the "natural market forces" cause a shift of costly liquids and gases from space heating to vehicle use, with the space heating being done by densified but not otherwise treated biomass?

    I do not get the rationale for all this chemical hocus-pocus to turn biomass into diesel, etc, when a simple switch of already available liquid and gas for biomass yields immediate $$$ returns.

    So. Why?  

    And don't tell me biomass is hard to do.  I have been using it for my space heating for decades- cheap, effective and easy.  And I just dump the ashes back on the ground.

    It would be nice to kill the subsidies and see what happens.  I'd guess that in colder climates some might trade a little inconvenience to reduce costs.
    You must be using a pellet stove.  

    I find my EPA woodstove a lot more work, but the "EROEI" is probably quite a bit higher, if one cuts his own cordwood.  

    My neighbours with their gas fireplaces and furnaces think I'm slightly unhinged, but my space heating costs (using NG) are down by 50%, and I only burn in the evenings and weekends...

    Unfortunately, it's not that cheap any more. Oil and natural gas prices have soared, so a lot of people thought it was smart to install a pellet stove. In some regions, pellets have become quite expensive...
    By fall of last year it was almost impossible to find a pellet stove in a retail store anywhere in North America.  I looked.  The demand for pelletized biomass is obviously growing, though limited largely to wood pellets at this time.  European demand is high.  We are shipping most pellets (from Canada, anyway) to Europe.  To date most pellet stoves will only burn wood (sawdust)pellets, but clearly this source is limited by the available sawdust.  Eventually, a new generation of multifuel pellet stoves/furnaces will replace the current generation of wood fuel stoves (http://www.pelletstove.com/).  Switchgrass is the leading candidate as EROEI can be as high as 20:1 (http://www.reap-canada.com/library.htm)

    Demand for solid fuel is likely to greatly boosted by large (gasification) furnaces (in use today in Europe) used for facility/district heating, water heating, and even some electicity generation.

    In this environment, ethanol from corn will remain a welfare project for agribusiness.

    During my summer vacation in the Alps I saw a lot of these district heating sawdust plants compared to two years ago. Especially in Bavaria, Austria and Northern Italy (South Tyrol) they appear to be very popular.

    And, I can confirm that the stoves have become hard to come by here as well.

    The German REN act, or EEG in German, makes it very profitable to use biomass for electricity generation as well, not to mention solar and wind. All the equipment is short in supply. The suppliers of these industries can hardly find staff any more.

    OK, so maybe the market is actually working- for a change- even with the subsidy distortions.

    I still find it amazing that so much clean biomass goes to the dump here in eastern USA.  I should think that pellet makers would look at that as free gold.

    I have bought pellets specified to have been made from lots of things other than sawdust- like for example, old dirty money.

    So, think of that! Old dirty money into clean new money (not spent on NG).

    I now eagerly await a flood of witticisms on dirty money cleaning. The mind boggles at the sheer mass of opportunity thus enabled- You are most welcome.

    The REN act is verified twice a year by an expert committee, and if the investments for a renewable technology gets cheaper, the subsidy (actually feed-in price) is reduced. So, everybody investing into renewables get a fair profit, but not too much. Subsidies for onshore wind are probably end 2015.

    That way, Germany's big market helps to make renewables cost-efficient long before the market would do so. Even some Chinese provinces and Japan have adopted the REN act, because it is very effective.

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if the US could do this!
    Why on earth are we comparing the EROEI of gasoline to any biofuel.

    The claim was made that 15,000 square miles could satisfy all the petroleum needs. In order to substantiate this, you need to know the EROEI of both gasoline and biodiesel. If you do this, you find that the claim is not at all realistic, even at 3000 gal/acre, which is itself not likely.

    "If you do this, you find that the claim is not at all realistic, even at 3000 gal/acre, which is itself not likely"

    How do you know? Did you do the calculations? If so, share them with us. If not I have to regard this as more unfounded negativism. Yergin in reverse.

    Re oilseeds on fuel vs food. Firstly I am astonished at the acreage converted to canola in recent times. In fact I've just planted a few acres myself and I might plant a patch of sunflower for comparison. An Australian TV farming program said 40% of canola was going to Europe to make diesel.

    It's not all about fuel. Oilseed rotations can improve soil nitrogen for later grain crops. Bees make honey from the flowers. The hay and meal left after oil extraction can be fed to cattle and maybe one day there will be a recipe for human consumption. You don't need a billion dollar refinery to make it. I think if population density were right huge areas of the world could have both food and a modest degree of mobility.