Micro Algae Farming
Treated as a curiosity by the press, informed scientists and researchers world-wide are projecting micro algae will be the most common source of our transportation fuel within the coming decade. Micro algae farms produce biomass which is then processed into biodiesel, biomethane or synthetic diesel. Large scale micro algae farms will play a role in the Green Energy portfolio of southern Nevada.
Algae – “seaweeds” in Latin – were the first plant-like organisms to evolve on Earth. They are photosynthetic, like land (terrestrial) plants. Some algae species are so rich in lipids (vegetable oil), the amount we can extract is nearly 100 times greater than the amount of oil that can be collected from an equal amount of terrestrial biodiesel feed stock such as soybeans. Algae does not require fertile farmlands so does not compete with the resources necessary to grow food and animal feed stocks.
The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory released this formal research paper on the theoretical maximum oil yields for micro algae in various climates. For the southwestern US states (Phoenix, AZ), they claim 38,000 gallons/acre/year is possible with a flat ground solution. With vertical photobioreactors (PBR), firms are already producing 14,000 gallons/acre/year and are projecting over 200,000 gallons/acre/year in the future. Even the practical operational estimate of 6,500 gallons/acre/year for the same region is impressive and inspiring considering bio oil from soybean crops generate only about 50 gallons/acre/year.
There are now 4 micro algae firms that are in production generating 14,000gallons/acre/year at about $2/gallon based on a petroleum refinery business model. Calculating at only 10,000 gallons/acre/year and producing enough transportation fuel to provide 100% of the fuel used by the US in 2009 (converting to the higher energy density of biodiesel) results in less than 12 million acres of land. Corn for ethanol is currently using 27 million acres of prime US farmland generating about 300 gallons/acre/year and biodiesel from soy was until recently, using over 20 million acres of farmland at 50 gallons/acre/year.
ETC Green is helping several land owners and businesses establish their stake in the transportation fuels industry of the future. While the complete production process of micro algae to biofuel for ground vehicles is not profitable enough to be attractive today, micro algae production companies earn far more revenue selling bio-oil and biodiesel to the aeronautical and pharmaceutical industries. There are various other target markets which are also profitable today for these algae farmers. ETC Green is establishing business relations, market share and infrastructure in this emerging industry for the future. We have followed the history of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Generation micro algae derived fuels (not be be confused with 1st and 2nd Generation biofuel feedstocks). Now we are in discussions and negotiations for the 3.5 Generation micro algae technologies and the level of excitement is peaking as this may be the first economically viable version targeting ground vehicle fuels.
Please consider that well funded private research and development firms have no motivation to publish their findings or present at symposiums. It is only common sense that a crop which can double its biomass more than once per day will generate far more biofuel than any of the terrestrial crops (jatropha, yellowhorn, palm, corn, switch grass, soybeans, etc.).
“There is no other resource that comes even close in magnitude to the potential for making oil,” John Sheehan, Energy Analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Popular Mechanics, March 29, 2007
Why is this micro algae to biofuels technology emerging at this time? Please consider that up until the year 2005, a total of less than $150M USD (adjusted for inflation) was invested to explore the possibility of using micro algae for transportation fuels. Since the beginning of 2006, $10.4B has been invested primarily in and by the private sector and the resulting radical technology advancements are now being implemented into production scale solutions. Bill Gates, several top venture capital firms, Exxon/Mobile, Chevron, Shell Oil, GM, Boeing, Unilever and a long list of other firms have made significant investments in micro algae sourced bio-oils and bio-fuels over the past 3 years.
The following table shows growth potential in gallons oil/acre/yr
1 gal oil = 1 gal of biodiesel
Photobioreactor = PBR
|Plant||Latin Name||Gallon Oil/Acre/Year
|Micro Algae||Algae||Flat(Pond/PBR): 6,500 practical
Vertical(PBR): 14,000 in prod
|Jatropha||Jatropha curcas||468 (desert) 1,600 (best)|
|Oil Palm||Elaeis guineensis||610|
|Macauba Palm||Acrocomia aculeata||461|
|Buriti Palm||Mauritia flexuosa||335|
|Brazil Nut||Bertholletia excelsa||245|
|Macadamia Nut||Macadamia terniflora||230|
|Babassu Palm||Orbignya martiana||188|
|Castor Bean||Ricinus communis||145|
|Gopher Plant||Euphorbia lathyris||137|
|Olive Tree||Olea europaea||124|
|Opium Poppy||Papaver somniferum||119|
|Tung Oil Tree||Aleurites fordii||93|
|Buffalo Gourd||Cucurbita foetidissima||81|
|Pumpkin Seed||Cucurbita pepo||55|
|Kenaf||Hibiscus cannabinus L.||28|
|Rubber Seed||Hevea brasiliensis||26|
|Cashew Nut||Anacardium occidentale||18|
|Corn||Zea mays||18 oil/348 ethanol|