R-Squared Energy Blog

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Interview With an Algae CEO

So I am finally back home for the next 10 days, and slowly catching up. I had a good trip to Panama and then to Stanford. I had my luggage sniffed by dogs when I connected in El Salvador, and then when connecting in LAX Gwen Stefani and her husband walked by within 3 feet of me. I told my wife that I probably could have touched her, but then I might have been delayed by a trip to the L.A. County Jail. I also read Oil on the Brain on the long plane trips, and will soon post a review of that. I will also put up the slides I delivered at Stanford.

One of the things I did on the trip was take a tour of an algae farm. I spent some time with the CEO, and got to ask numerous questions. He had some very interesting comments, which I will capture below. Because he has to work in this industry, I am not going to identify him or his company. Below I will indicate his comments as CEO and mine as RR.

RR: Talk about some of the challenges of growing algae.

CEO: The list is exhaustive. It takes a lot of water. It takes a lot of electricity. Solar penetration is only about an inch into the water, so we really have to keep the ponds mixed well. One thing people never mention is the phosphorous requirement. Phosphorous is a limited resource, but a critical one for the algal growth. If you are trying to make oil, then you have to stress the algae and push it into a lipid production mode. But that causes growth rates to stall. If you engineer algae for higher oil production rates, they can’t out-compete the native species in the ponds.

RR: I talk to John Benemann on a fairly regular basis, and he has said much the same. He likes algae for the potential, for the water treatment possibilities, and as something that should continue to get funding for lab research. But he is pretty harsh on the uber-optimists.

CEO: Yes, I know John as well. He has done some good work in the field. Have you seen his latest paper?

RR: (He shows me the paper, and I acknowledge that I do in fact have that one).

RR: I was looking at those open ponds and wondering if the evaporation rates wouldn’t be problematic. That could create seriously high water usage, especially for those schemes that propose to use open ponds where the solar insolation is high (like in the Arizona desert).

CEO: Yes, those open ponds require a lot of fresh water. You should see our water bill.

RR: What about photobioreactors? Some people envision them as a solution to some of the problems (evaporation, contamination) of the open pond system.

CEO: They are ungodly expensive relative to how much algae they can produce.

RR: So how do you foresee the future of algal fuels?

CEO: There is no future. Look, some of these guys are out there committing fraud with their yield claims. Nobody is making fuel except for small amounts in the lab. I just don’t see how anyone will ever make cost-competitive fuel from algae.

RR: How about fermentation approaches like Solazyme? I haven’t written that off yet.

CEO: Yes, but they are using sugar, and sugar is food. They say they won’t always use sugar, but who knows?

RR: I could see their model working in Brazil as sugarcane ethanol does. Instead of fermenting to ethanol, they could ferment to oil. I also recently had someone write to me and claim they were using a feedstock other than sugar.

CEO: Maybe cellulose?

RR: If it is cellulose, I am on the next plane to go see them. That would indeed be a tremendous breakthrough, presuming their conversions are reasonable. I presume you get a lot of phone calls from aspiring algae fuel producers wanting to do a deal?

CEO: Oh yeah. All the time. Someone with a business plan and no appreciation for the scientific challenges wants to form a company and go after investors. It used to happen every other day, but has tailed off some now.

RR: So you see the main barrier to commercialization of algal fuel as cost?

CEO: Yes, but it is important to note why the cost is high. I don’t see much hope of dramatically cutting those costs. For algae that has other uses – like in the nutraceutical market – the economics are sometimes there because the product is much more valuable. I can make 4-5 times as much revenue per acre growing algae for the supplements market, and at a lower cost than it would take to make fuel.

RR: How about if you extracted oil as a byproduct of the nutraceutical market? I could see that working if you had a much higher value product carrying the costs. On the other hand, you probably aren’t going to get a whole lot of oil.

CEO: Exactly. You could produce oil in that scenario, just not in bulk.

RR: OK, many thanks for your time.

CEO: My pleasure.

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October 29, 2009 - Posted by | algae, algal biodiesel, john benemann

60 Comments

  1. Thanks for the reality check. This illustrates the big difference between nature doing most of the work for us, as it did with fossil fuels (which are of course actually biofuels), and doing all the work ourselves.

    Comment by Rice Farmer | October 30, 2009

  2. I wonder if that's the pitch he gives investors?

    Comment by Maury | October 30, 2009

  3. Brutal news, but there it is.Happily, there are lots of alternatives. For bio in general, I think oil-bearing trees have a future, and ethanol in Brazil. Bio-mass to fuel just seems too expensive.Keep in mind farmers are constantly improving the yield of Oil Palms. Pongamia Pinneta is also a promising tree, and again we are just starting to look at these trees for yield. There could be sizable increases in yield in years ahead. I'll say it again: If you like bio-fuels, then grow a lot of bio, burn it to turn steam turbines, and power PHEVs.It may be if we go to a nuke-PHEV-CNG economy, we could get by on bio-fuels to extend range of PHEVs. After all, it seems reasonable that in 10 years there will be PHEVs that get 60 miles on the battery and then 60 mpg. Someone driving a car like that might go weeks without needing fuel. Compared to today, their liquid fuel needs might decrease by 90 percent.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | October 30, 2009

  4. I wonder if that's the pitch he gives investors?He isn't trying to produce oil for fuel. So I would imagine he answers investor's questions the same way he answered mine.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 30, 2009

  5. A reader had a problem posting a comment, so he e-mailed it to me. Not sure whether he wanted to be identified, so I won't do so.RRThanks Robert for a very interesting interview. If the company is not growing algae for fuel, what are they growing it for? Don't know how many people noticed it, but the other day the Algal Biomass Organization`s Executive Director Mary Rosenthal Testifie[d] Before Congress on [the] Benefits of Algae-Based Fuels. Here is an excerpt: "Ms. Rosenthal reinforced the position of the ABO and its more than 170 members … that algae are a sustainable, renewable feedstock that will strengthen the United States' energy independence should be a key component of a national low-carbon energy policy. Rosenthal outlined three key actions that Congress can take to ensure parity for the algae industry with other next generation feedstocks. Those recommendations included: 1. Financial parity — Algae should receive the same tax incentives, subsidies and other financial benefits that other renewable fuels, particularly cellulosic biofuels, receive. 2. Regulatory parity – Algae is currently excluded from the majority of the Renewable Fuel Standard, due to a 16 billion gallon carve out for cellulosic biofuels. The carve out should be changed so that it is technology neutral, thus allowing algae-based and other environmentally sustainable fuels to contribute to our nation`s efforts to become energy independent. 3. Recognition of carbon dioxide reuse — Algae's unique ability to turn carbon dioxide into renewable fuels will allow the organism to play a significant role in abating carbon emitted by industrial sources. Consequently, algae`s beneficial reuse of carbon dioxide should be acknowledged and accounted for in carbon capture and sequestration legislation." There are at least two things that are incredible about this: an organization whose members are not even producing commercial-scale quantities fuel is already organizing to lobby Congress for subsidies and regulatory favors based on unproven claims about the potential of that fuel. While I agree with them that, if one is going to have a regulation like a Renewable Fuel Standard (which I personally do not favor) then best to make it technologically neutral, it takes a lot of chutzpah to then turn around and argue for Congress to pick a winner ("algae are a sustainable, renewable feedstock that will strengthen the United States` energy independence should be a key component of a national low-carbon energy policy") and to talk about "algae's unique ability to turn carbon dioxide into renewable fuels". Unique? Isn't that what all plants do — turn carbon dioxide into sugars or lipids? Finally, the key phrase here is the one calling for a level of subsidization at least as high as that granted particularly [to] cellulosic biofuels — i.e., $1.01 per gallon. (Or maybe they mean $1.50 per gallon of gasoline equivalent?) So much for "strengthening the United States' energy independence" — at that kind of rate, the federal government would have to spend at least $200 billion each and every year to displace foreign oil.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 30, 2009

  6. CEO: There is no future. Look, some of these guys are out there committing fraud with their yield claims. Nobody is making fuel except for small amounts in the lab. I just don't see how anyone will ever make cost-competitive fuel from algae.••••••••••••••••••••••RR: Thank you for sharing this man's rather descriptive remarks.–Cliff

    Comment by Anonymous | October 30, 2009

  7. re: ABO's point #3: While algae fuels is carbon dioxide reuse (as is all biomass fuel), it is not carbon capture and sequestration and should not be allowed to be considered as sequestration in legislation. That would be fraud.

    Comment by Clee | October 30, 2009

  8. nice post

    Comment by takchess | October 30, 2009

  9. Just start at Jan.1st and add up the energy used by a family farm (man, wife and 3 kids) and see how much energy and water is used in one full year to make a crop of soy beans or any other crop on 640 acres. Then find out how much energy and water will be used to make enough fuel from this crop to make the next years crop including all seed, chemicals and equipment needed plus a profit to the farm family.You will find it is energy negitive. Even a farmer knows it is impractical. When are these collage kids going to get it. Good luck with the biofuel idea.

    Comment by just watching | October 30, 2009

  10. You mentioned the latest paper by John, but did not leave a link. Is it available?

    Comment by Anonymous | October 30, 2009

  11. CEO: Yes, those open ponds require a lot of fresh water. You should see our water bill.CEO: They are ungodly expensive relative to how much algae they can produce.CEO: There is no future.____________________________Considering that it took algae and phyto-plankton growing on tens of thousands of square miles of water, over millions of years, to produce the feedstock for the oil that we are now using, I understand why he is pessimistic.Certainly it is technologically possible to grow algae and make oil from it. The question is how we could ever do it on a large enough scale and at a low enough cost to do anything more than nibble around the edges of the current problem.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 30, 2009

  12. It is no surprise that the Algal Biomass Organization is pursuing subsidies and taxpayer support as it is only doing what the larger and better organized competition has already done, much to our detriment.Elements of clear thinking about economic progress and the role of government from "Common Sense Economics: What everyone should know about wealth and prosperity" http://www.commonsenseeconomics.com/#1: Government promotes economic progress by:1) protecting the private rights of individuals and 2) supplying goods that cannot be provided through markets ("public" goods)#2: Government is not a corrective device#4: Unless restrained by constitutional rules, special-interest groups will use the democratic process to fleece taxpayers and consumers#6: Government slows economic progress when it becomes heavily involved in trying to help some people at the expense of others#7: The costs of government income transfers are far greater than the net gain to intended beneficiariesBut we are already well down that path, resulting in distorted market price signals and impeded economic progress.

    Comment by Anonymous | October 30, 2009

  13. Very interesting interview, thanks Robert.Pessimism appears warranted for prospects of near term algal biofuels. Algae for chemicals, foods, and plastics on the other hand, can be profitable. As experience grows with more and more profitable uses of algae, the many problems presented by algal biofuels will slowly but surely be pared away.It's cheap and easy to come to an instant judgement, good for all time. But history teaches us that it is also wrong.Al Fin

    Comment by Anonymous | October 30, 2009

  14. "at that kind of rate, the federal government would have to spend at least $200 billion each and every year to displace foreign oil."That's too sweet to be true Robert. Americans send at least $300 billion overseas each and every year for their oil. The federal government spends at least $200 billion each and every year on security in the Middle East. The idea that Uncle Sam sends that $200 billion to the Midwest instead of the Middle East doesn't exactly horrify me. What price should we put on energy security? How many billions is it worth to avoid the "long recession"? Who ever said overcoming peak oil would be cheap or easy? I WISH we could do it for $200 billion per year. That's chump change.

    Comment by Maury | October 30, 2009

  15. “You will find it is energy negitive.”This is not true but it begs the question of what criteria we would judge ‘just watching’ when it was applied to how he lives and makes a living.This is why I hammer RR about his flying habits. Travel is an inevitable part of business development. I have found a universals truth. It starts out ‘Judge not…’

    Comment by Kit P | October 30, 2009

  16. As I've said before, this will ONLY work in the open ocean, and even then it will require several technological breakthroughs, like finding an efficient way to harvest.The obvious starting point is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Any success at harvesting will have the added benefit of cleaning up the environment.

    Comment by Optimist | October 30, 2009

  17. The obvious starting point is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.Just figure out a way to use all that nitrogen fertilizer that runs off Midwestern corn fields to serve as a nutrient for the algae and you'll be set. ;-)Then Rufus could count oil from algae as a co-product of corn ethanol and get an even more favorable EROEI.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 30, 2009

  18. This is why I hammer RR about his flying habits.You “hammer” me because you are the king of the uninformed opinion. Frankly, I don’t see how you function in your job at all, as much as you go off half-cocked. My guess is that it has greatly limited your career, because basing conclusions on very limited information inevitably leads to trouble. But I digress.I don’t fly because I want to. I fly because someone is interested in technology and they want to talk about it in person. If as a result of my flying the platform is advanced or we are able to partner up with an interesting new technology, the potential offset is far greater than my flying. I don’t expect you to understand that, because you are a bitter old man who wishes people cared about what you had to say. I still remember you coming on here and saying you got nothing from this site. So I invited you to leave. Yet you stayed…Look at the comments you made in my previous essay: “What RR is doing will not benefit anybody. He is talking to the wrong people.” Yet you don’t actually know what I am doing. You don’t know who I am talking to. You are just spouting off your bitter, uninformed opinion. At Stanford I talked to leaders and prospective leaders of First Nations. This includes Native Hawaiians and Māori from New Zealand. These are people who are sometimes charged with managing enormous tracts of land. These are exactly the people to talk to, as they have a keen interest in developing sustainable solutions on that land. Yet while I am talking to them, you are here enlightening us with uninformed stupidity. You heard “Stanford”, and then made your conclusions. Haven’t you ever heard that you should probably just keep your mouth shut if you don’t know what you are talking about? We should all be so lucky that you would just speak when you had something worthwhile to say. And by worthwhile, I don’t mean something that only you believe is worthwhile. I am sure you feel all your comments fall into that category.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 30, 2009

  19. Those flights would take off with or without you Robert. Your added weight,luggage and all,probably costs less fuel than cranking my van. Kit will probably keep beating this dead horse. Forget it and do what you do best.

    Comment by Maury | October 30, 2009

  20. "As induced drag increases as a power function of weight, mass reduction, along with improvements in engine efficiency and reductions in aerodynamic drag, has been a principal source of efficiency gains in craft, with a rule-of-thumb being that a 1% weight reduction corresponds to around a .75% reduction in fuel consumption"http://tinyurl.com/25b3ghThe take-off weight of an Airbus is over 1,000,000 pounds. Subtract 200 lbs. and you'll save jack squat in fuel costs. I'm sure someone could figure out the fraction of a cent that would apply. If it were only worth the time.

    Comment by Maury | October 30, 2009

  21. You mentioned the latest paper by John, but did not leave a link. Is it available?I think it is floating around out there. The title is "MICROALGAL BIOFUELS: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION." I think you find it with Google. Here is the abstract:The cultivation of microalgae for biofuels in general, and oil production in particular, is not a near-term commercial prospect. Aside from some niche, but significant, applications in waste- water treatment, this technology still requires considerable, long-term R&D. This is due in part to the high costs of even the simplest of algal production systems (unlined, open, paddle wheel- mixed, raceway-type ponds), in even larger part due to the presently undeveloped nature of algal mass culture technologies, from the selection of algal strains that can be stably maintained in the open ponds to their low-cost harvesting, and, most importantly, due to the need to achieve very high productivities of algal biomass with a high content of vegetable oils or other biofuel precursors, required by the high capital and operating costs of algae production. However, R&D to achieve these goals is justified by the potential to produce biofuels at very high productivities using saline water, land and other resources not useful in food production.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 30, 2009

  22. Wouldn't it be something if we could create enough algae blooms to stop global warming and then harvest them for biofuel?"Scientists have known for some time that artificially created algal blooms could be used to absorb greenhouse gases, but the technique has been banned for fear of causing unforeseen side effects in fragile ecosystems. However, based on the UK team’s evidence that the process has been occurring naturally for millions of years, and on a wide scale, the UN has given the green light for a ground-breaking experiment later this month.The team will seek to create a massive algae bloom by releasing several tons of iron sulphate into the sea off the coast of the British island of South Georgia. The patch will apparently be large enough to be visible from space.If successful, the technique could be rolled out across vast swathes of the Great Southern Ocean. Scientists calculate that if the whole 20 million square miles was treated, it could remove up to three and a half Gigatons of C02, equivalent to one eighth of all global annual emissions from fossil fuels."http://tinyurl.com/8tcubm

    Comment by Maury | October 30, 2009

  23. Seeding the Southern Ocean hasn't worked out too well so farhttp://www.thehindu.com/holnus/008200905140931.htmThe 75-day Indo-German experiment carried out amidst opposition from environmental groups has shown that dumping iron in the Southern Ocean does not help in capturing carbon dioxide (CO2)…scientists created a bloom of phytoplankton by fertilising an area of 300 square km with six tonnes of iron sulphate which dissolves in water. In two weeks the bloom's mass doubled by taking up CO2.However, contrary to expectation, the bloom was quickly devoured by copepods, a group of small crustaceans. Even with further iron fertilisation the bloom stopped growing. As a result, only a small amount of CO2 was dispatched to the ocean floor.

    Comment by Clee | October 30, 2009

  24. The point of energy conservation or new fuels is not to decrease our lifestyle, but to improve it.I thoroughly favor air travel, and the new Boeing jets will be 20 percent more fuel efficient. I assume the huge Airbuses get pretty good mpg per passenger, and from what I see planes are full. Not much waste on any flight I have taken in years.The price signal rations resources, rather well. If air travel uses too much fuel, and fuel is too expensive, then people will cut back. More meetings might be held electronically. Fly away RR. I envy your ability to globe-straddle for worthy purposes.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | October 30, 2009

  25. Maury – the fuel consumption of a full Airbus A-380 is 2.9 litres per 100 km per passenger. It's the equivalent of a very fuel-efficient small car. A 10,000 km journey would be 290 litres of fuel per passenger.

    Comment by PeteS | October 30, 2009

  26. This is why I hammer RR about his flying habits.Oh, I thought it was because of your well documented personality defect.

    Comment by Anonymous | October 30, 2009

  27. I did know who RR talked to'“At Stanford I talked to leaders and prospective leaders of First Nations.”Like I said the wrong people. Read their bios last week. They seem like nice people.

    Comment by Kit P | October 31, 2009

  28. Having lived in both, I would much rather tromp around Hawaii than the southern states. For business, new tech in particular, you meet people, you see, you talk, you listen and you learn.Seeing as how Kit P already seems to know everything I guess he feels all that is unnecessary – besides being a grouchy old goat that has been left behind.

    Comment by russ | October 31, 2009

  29. Those flights would take off with or without you Robert. Your added weight,luggage and all,probably costs less fuel than cranking my van.I'm sorry, but this logic is completely bogus. You have to assign a pro-rata share of energy burn to each passenger. Anything less is dishonest.I have a huge problem with people who pontificate about everyone cutting back while they personally burn 10-100x more energy than the rest of us. But Robert works on alternatives. Alternatives might be able to deliver the life everyone wants with minimal environmental impact. It's our only hope. Deprivation will never work in free society — the energy-intense lives of the elite pontificators themselves proves this.

    Comment by doggydogworld | October 31, 2009

  30. FWIW this business about large jets being as fuel efficient as small cars is also fallacious. First, it's only true if the car has a driver and no passengers. But the real issue is people don't hop in their car and drive 10k miles for a two-day conference. Fuel burn per hour (or year) is what matters, and frequent flyers burn incredible amounts of fuel.

    Comment by doggydogworld | October 31, 2009

  31. "I'm sorry, but this logic is completely bogus. You have to assign a pro-rata share of energy burn to each passenger."Okay doggy,then tell us how much energy would have been saved if Robert had never been on an airplane in his life. I can't give you the pro-rata number. But,in real life nothing would have been saved. The planes would have flown,with or without him. Suppose Al Gore was successful beyond his wildest dreams. Let's say he convinces everyone to conserve fuel. People decide to walk instead of fly. Now the planes are flying at 10% capacity,instead of 90. How much fuel is saved?

    Comment by Maury | October 31, 2009

  32. Maury – that makes no sense. Flights would be cancelled if they were at 10% capacity. Airline schedules will be altered so that capacity meets demand. Anything else results in bankruptcy. Just because you talk about single journeys doesn't mean it doesn't all average out in the end. So yes, every 189 times you, or I, or Robert doesn't fly, a Boeing 737-800 somewhere doesn't take off.

    Comment by PeteS | October 31, 2009

  33. "But the real issue is people don't hop in their car and drive 10k miles for a two-day conference."Of course they don't — we have planes for that. But why is that the "real" issue. By the same token, people don't throw on their trainers and walk 30 miles to the office for eight hours work. There's lots of things we can only do economically because of the incredible cheapness of energy. I know people who are quite incompetent at their jobs. Who's to say their commute to work this morning was more important than the other person's 6,000 mile sales trip that could keep 500 people in their jobs.

    Comment by PeteS | October 31, 2009

  34. "So yes, every 189 times you, or I, or Robert doesn't fly, a Boeing 737-800 somewhere doesn't take off."You're too smart to believe that Pete. Unless those 189 people decide not to take the same flight,it's gonna take off on schedule. Carnival Cruise Lines has been calling me lately with some incredible deals. 5 day cruises for $149 and such. I haven't bitten. They haven't cancelled any cruises.

    Comment by Maury | October 31, 2009

  35. “But the real issue is people don't hop in their car and drive 10k miles for a two-day conference.”How about jumping in your car and driving 10 miles? Harvesting Clean Energy[url]http://www.harvestcleanenergy.org/conference/index.html[/url] When this regional conference was 400 miles away, we carpooled. This is what it look like when you are talking to the 'right' people for developing sustainable energy.

    Comment by Kit P | October 31, 2009

  36. This is what it look like when you are talking to the 'right' people for developing sustainable energy.You botched your link. But when I went to the site, I found that this was the group being talked to:Clean energy offers practical, profitable opportunities for our farmers, ranchers, rural utilities and towns, tribes, and regional economy.The supreme irony is that farmers, ranchers, tribes, and regional planners were exactly the sorts of people I have been talking to. When I do it, it's the wrong people according to you. When you do it, that's OK.All I can say is that you will keep your foot out of your mouth if you only speak when you know what you are talking about. Of course that would greatly limit your comments, but I think that's an additional benefit.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 31, 2009

  37. To change the subject just a little, consider tapping into this URL below and read some interesting misinterpretive agri-information released just yesterday about growing new biofuels feedstocks and creating lotsa new jobs.http://blog.farmindustrynews.com/biofuellines/I came across this Wisconsin woman's blog this morning and will be sharing it further. It echos several misinterpretable items for simple discussion concerning 'lignocellulosic ethanol." Aggies, politicians, NIMBY's and investors need to interpret basic logic herein simply summarized as "don't grow anything for new biofuels feedstock."Readers of RR's blog have previously read my words saying that "a carbon is a carbon is a carbon as a basic fuel building block." Now I'll say "don't plant, tend, water and harvest any new biofuel agri-crop such as switchgrass, jatropha, palm, soy, corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, miscanthus, sweet sorghum or algae for these living green plant's intrinsic carbon content.Instead, try focusing upon other 24×7 available volumes of municipal waste or minable carbon which don't require an annulized agri-growing, watering and harvesting mechanism of any kind. My suggestion is to steer agriculture back towards producing higher profit varieties of more wholesome organic crops and animals while we refocus upon proven economies of scale by synthesizing large volumes of new and biodegradable fuels. Such tasks would immediately generate wonderful 24×7 profits while rebuilding local and regional economies, therein the buzzwords of "new jobs."Instead, the carbon sources to re-focus upon for simple and very clean thermal 24×7 conversion into domestic, biodegradable fuels are -• municipal garbage• sewer sludge• ground tires• beetle-killed pine trees• coal of any rank including decades-old piles of waste coal fines• extra abundant methane natural gas• and CO2 carbon dioxide emissions streamsThe paradigm shift here is in switching from inefficient batch fermentation methods of agri-grown carbon conversion employing acid enzymes and biobug yeasts into 24×7 continuous carbon conversion processes using 90 yr. proven methods of steam-driven thermal conversion. Therein, employ superheated steam produced even from seawater to react with methane and CO2 greenhouse gasses and solid wastes or coal gasification employing sealed devices which don't even have a smokestack, thus no emissions via front-end conversion of solid waste streams. There are a lot more carbon building blocks contained within one shovel of sewer sludge than exist in one shovel of switchgrass, palm or algae. The methods of conversion of these nearly free carbon building blocks from society's waste streams need to change just as well as the new biodegradable fuel outputs available from such proven, game-changing, decentralized technologies. In conclusion: the entire focus of something labeled 'lignocellulosic ethanol' needs fastrack retirement and this will require education as well as investment to simply demonstrate the profitable differences and the mechanical differences herein of carbon conversion producing new, more profitable and biodegradable domestic fuels. Rebuilding broken economies in the near-term is a global goal shared by races of people living everywhere while all of us are being sickened by air pollution and ravaged by fossil energy price structures. The air we collectively breathe on planet earth and the prices universally paid for polluting sources of energy are as great of a common denominator as are the effects of climate change phenomena.–Cliff

    Comment by Anonymous | October 31, 2009

  38. Here is another conference RR could have attended to talk to people who are serious about sustainable renewable energy. 9th Annual BioCycle Conference On Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling http://www.biocycleenergy.com/monday.html I did have to get on an airplane to attend the one that was in San Francisco. It was a good opportunity to network with other in my company. It was before the California energy crisis and California looked like the place of golden opportunities.There is a reason to avoid places like Standford and people like Al Gore. Their talk of sustainability is not figuring out how to make it happen, it is because they are against stopping something else.

    Comment by Kit P | October 31, 2009

  39. “The supreme irony is that “Well RR you are telling me those where the kind of people at Standford?

    Comment by Kit P | October 31, 2009

  40. There is a reason to avoid places like Standford and people like Al Gore. Their talk of sustainability is not figuring out how to make it happen, it is because they are against stopping something else.I thought you said you read the link to the conference? If you had, you might have recognized that almost none of the participants were from Stanford. They were First Nations leaders who met at Stanford. They could have just as easily met somewhere else.Thus, you seem to be biased against the group I spoke with for reasons of ignorance. Who knows, there may have been someone from Stanford at your San Francisco conference. Gasp! That would make you a hypocrite.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 31, 2009

  41. @Cliff "Therein, employ superheated steam produced even from seawater to react with methane and CO2 greenhouse gasses and solid wastes or coal gasification employing sealed devices which don't even have a smokestack, thus no emissions via front-end conversion of solid waste streams."40 years in the reforming business, around the world any number of times, numerous county fairs, a few dog and pony shows and I have never heard of anything like that!Be sure to share the information, it is much like what I see on many green sites! Many buzz words and little practicality in the statement.

    Comment by russ | October 31, 2009

  42. Have heard enough out of you today Kit. Anything resembling bad behavior will be deleted – as your most recent post was.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 31, 2009

  43. I'm assuming the CEO was in the food supplement, pharmaceutical business, and didn't want any more competition.Meantime, production of ethanol from corn is up to 11 Billion, 900 Million, and Thirty Thousand Gallons, and Corn is selling for six, and a half cents/lb.

    Comment by rufus | October 31, 2009

  44. @ Russ:I'm not greenwashing you nor anybody else. I wanted to switch the topic of discussion a bit away from flying airplanes to conferences. Years ago, I faced similar experiences on a public chat board discussing Direct Methanol Fuel Cells where a blogger who went by the alias of Enotsder which was his real name Redstone spelled backwards. Same fella disrupted legitimate discussion several times a week and needed to be purged, even when he returned using new aliases.These discussions herein should be for legitimate info sharing and problem solving, not repeated and antagonistic challenges to the host(s) from lurkers, scalpers or perhaps even 'paid' disrupters.This morning, I thought the agri-blogger Wisconsin wife's misplaced/mis-interpreted comments needed some perspective. So I shared my comments about "not growing anything for biofuels feedstock purposes."What I have spoken about from time to time on RR's blog and other sites is true. Certain paradigm-shifting technologies and new, extra profitable fuels exist which are presently coming forward. It is just that you have not focused upon them as yet. This is because certain new thermal tech's have been masquarading like a Halloween Goblin under the ghost-sheet buzzwords of 'ligno-cellulosic ethanol' to which these classifications are really nothing more than a fraud to mask true intent, true techs being applied, true profits to become realized and true fuel outputs to become realized.Batch fermented corn ethanol, batch fermented ligno-cellulosic ethanol (ask Shell or Iogen) or batch fermented butanol will become things of history in less than a decade. Float-on-water oily synfuels may follow suit as well, simply because of capex and profit factors – not because of the fact that uncombusted oils and other solid hydrocarbons such as coal foul the blue planet's air.You and others will learn more and quickly during the next several months. I'll be most willing to post specific links when appropriate. Until then, Trick or Treat and my best to you!–Cliff

    Comment by Anonymous | October 31, 2009

  45. Maury: "Unless those 189 people decide not to take the same flight,it's gonna take off on schedule."Not true Maury. Lots of flights get cancelled for lack of passengers. But even if only one person more or less turns up, that's one person bumped to the next flight, or one more person accommodated who was bumped from the previous flight. It all averages out in the end so that the number of flights meets actual demand.If you think the flights take off regardless, try getting a scheduled flight on Irish airline to or from the States this winter. You won't find very many, whereas two years ago it appears we all did our Christmas shopping on high falutin' weekend trips to New York. If those flights were still taking off the airlines would go bust very quickly. (Ok, they're going bust anyway, but they'd go quicker).:-)

    Comment by PeteS | October 31, 2009

  46. I see that dissenting comments about Money Morning are getting deleted. I'll remember for the future.

    Comment by PeteS | October 31, 2009

  47. I see that dissenting comments about Money Morning are getting deleted. I'll remember for the future.I have no idea what you are talking about, Pete. The only comment I have deleted in recent memory (probably a month or more) was one earlier today from Kit where he continued to babble that he owns the copyright to what is sustainable. What in particular do you think has been deleted?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 31, 2009

  48. Just Watching,The average farmer (about 600 acres) makes about $26,000.00 on the farm, and works, along with his wife, in town for the rest of their income. We'll use your 640 acres.Said farmer will use about 3200 gallons of diesel if he's raising corn (in actuality, he would almost certainly be raising 1/2 corn, and 1/2 beans, but we'll put it all in corn for demonstration purposes.)640 acres X 160 bu/acre = 102,400 bushels of corn. If that corn is taken down to the Local Poet refinery it will yield 307,200 gallons of ethanol. That's 192 gallons of ethanol for every gallon of diesel. Plus, it will yield 120,000 pounds of corn oil, which would yield somewhere over 16,000 gallons of biodiesel (about 10 times the amount of diesel used.)You will, in addition, get back 1,638,400 lbs of distillers grains. If you converted that into corn meal, and other human-edible products you should be able to feed 2,191 people 8 oz of food products/day for a year.Energy "Negative," you say?

    Comment by rufus | October 31, 2009

  49. Correction: The ethanol to diesel ratio should have been 96:1, Not 192:1.And the biodiesel to diesel ratio should have been about 5:1, Not 10:1

    Comment by rufus | October 31, 2009

  50. Sorry Robert. I must be losing my marbles. Forgot that Money Morning was the previous post. My sincerest apologies.:-(

    Comment by PeteS | November 1, 2009

  51. I'm assuming the CEO was in the food supplement, pharmaceutical business, and didn't want any more competition.I am not sure I follow the logic. He is in the food supplement business, but has been around algae for many years. Very knowledgeable about oil production rates. The kinds of algae one would use for oil aren't the same that are optimal for food supplements.What part of the interview leads you to the conclusion that he doesn't want any more competition? I mean, that very well may be true, but I don't think anything he told me was designed to keep anyone from competing with him. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | November 1, 2009

  52. You read it all the time, RR. The guys trying to do cellulosic trashing corn ethanol. Guys wanting to do nat gas trashing all biofuels. I think I read something similar by a guy in the food supplement end of the game say something similar a few months back. It's just human nature not to want competitors (even if they're, ostensibly, not in the exact same part of the business as yourself.Having said all that, I'm sure he's right about it being a hard slog to get to profitable algae-fuel production.AND, having said that: There are so many sharp people working on it that I'm not convinced someone isn't going to figure it out. NOR, am I convinced they will.

    Comment by rufus | November 1, 2009

  53. I think I read something similar by a guy in the food supplement end of the game say something similar a few months back.The thing about the food supplement guys is that they have generally been doing this before "algal fuel" became a buzzword. They know how to grow algae. They are very familiar with their cost structure. They know the challenges. So I will pay attention to what they have to say over some start-up with no experience who was attracted to the field by the whiff of government funding.Look at it this way. If there was gold in that algal oil, shouldn't they have been the first to recognize it? Or would it be someone with no experience from the outside looking in?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | November 1, 2009

  54. Sure, I agree. I'm down with people trying, but you'd be crazy not to pay a Little attention to someone who's been "in the game" for years.

    Comment by rufus | November 1, 2009

  55. While I agree that flights often get cancelled when there are not enough passengers, I have also flown on near empty flights. Ithaca, NY is the most glaring example that I've flown to. The flight attendants said it was not unusual, and someone claimed that Corning was subsidizing the jet plane service (not tiny prop planes) to that airport.But Benny would probably just rant about more rural subsidies that the Essential Air Service is an example of. $127 million subsidy last year. Some of those flights still take off even when there are no passengers.http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/05/02/eveningnews/main4068431.shtml

    Comment by Clee | November 1, 2009

  56. One of the bigger problems of the open pond approach appears the huge electricity requirement for pumps (algae have to be mixed and moved around continuously).Right now, figures quouted are roughly 1 kWh of electricity for 1 kWh of biodiesel, which seems ludicrous. Going bigger and more efficient might reduce pumping power requirements signficantly, but even a 50% reduction in pumping power would still make the EROEI less than 2. That's not good enough, especially considering it's high exergy electricity thats needed on the input.It's indeed hard to see how the open pond people are going to solve this dilemma.Maybe the plastic bag algae approach could solve this problem? The scale of maintenance and operations would be insane though.The sea cultivation idea looks promising. Use large microfytes beasties in huge sow strips on the open ocean where it's not too windy and very sunny most of the year. Then use ships to harvest the strip at the beginning. Might actually work.

    Comment by Anonymous | November 5, 2009

  57. Anonymous wrote: Right now, figures quouted are roughly 1 kWh of electricity for 1 kWh of biodieselWhere can I find these quoted figures?

    Comment by Clee | November 6, 2009

  58. Five points: 1) Algae should be measured as total biomass, not oil alone. 2) The biomass yield -vs the water consumed is highly efficient compared to field crops. 3) Phosphorus is abundantly available from CAFO's. 4) Using sugars for a heterotrophic step is easily accomplished and efficient. 5) The efficient production of algae proteins more than offsets the sugar needs as a food source on a per-acre basis.

    Comment by Broadacre | November 6, 2009

  59. We have spent over $2.2 billion dollars on algae research for the last 35 years and nothing to show for it. Algae has been researched to death at universities for the last 50 years in the US. The problem is as long as the algae researchers can say we are 3-5 years away, its too expensive and they need more research they get the grant money. Nothing will ever get commercialized at the university level and the last thing we need is a federal contractor building algae plants on a cost plus contract. The question you need to be asking is " Does the US really want to get off of foreign oil or do we want to continue to fund the algae researchers at the universities." Look at the massive amounts given to universities for research nationwide vs. zero monies given for real algae production companies in the US. We need monies going into algae oil production and stop wasting money on research. Algae researchers are incapable of commercializing anything!

    Comment by Anonymous | November 10, 2009

  60. Hey great article! I have recently wrote an article that discusses the progress made by two algae bio fuel companies. Check it out! New Technology goes through three stages:
    First it is ridiculed by those ignorant of its potential
    Next, it is subverted by those threatened by its potential
    Finally, it is considered self-evident.
    This article is in response to an Oil Drum article linked below.
    Take a look at the article to get a good understanding on how I shaped my response.
        http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5440
    The Oil Drum article may have been relevant when published back in may of 2009 but many of these limitations have and will be overcome by advances in technology, along with increases in private and public investments.  With global investment in carbon capturing in the billions, the race has been set to see which companies can emerge as technology leaders.  The companies that do succeed will only realize success when they integrate their technologies with one another to create a superior technology.  These integrations will help push the industry forward and eventually will create a paradigm shift in carbon capturing. 
    The scenario for success I just explained, closely resembles Origin Oil and MBD Energy’s current relationship.  Many are ignorant and threatened by the potential of capturing carbon to produce biofuel, they simply say “It can not be done.”   Step one and two regarding phases of new technology complete.  The oil drum article vaguely communicated to readers the failure of Green Fuel and with Green Fuel’s failure tried to subvert their audience into believing if one fails, they all fail!  This notion that if one fails all fails holds very little weight.  Present day knowledge and opportunities to turn carbon into a viable fuel source has become self evident.  
    When a technology becomes self evident it has reached it’s final stage, commercialization.  This stage has been evolving the past year with major R&D projects being funded by the largest publicly traded oil companies in the world.  Bp, Shell, Royal Dutch and the biggest investor of them all Exxon Mobil are all in the race.  The big boys now consider these technologies self evident and see the need to invest in order to secure their competitive advantage amongst one another.  It is only a matter of time before we see the first industrial scale carbon capturing plant that can produce algae as a biofuel.  In my opinion MBD Energy and Origin Oil, through the integration of their technologies, will be the first to achieve this amazing feat.
    Origin Oil’s market strategy is unique because they look to integrate their technologies with other thriving companies to establish a competitive advantage.  They were voted by BiofuelDigest.com top 30 most transformative technologies in 2010. Their  portfolio consisting of 10 patent pending technologies are crucial to their success and are regarded to as industry game changers. CEO Riggs Eckleberry and CTO Dr. Brian Goodall combine for over 50 years of networking and industry experience. Origin Oil’s ability to create synergy between them selves and existing biofuel companies by integrating technologies will serve them well in the long run. This unique market entry strategy will drive their industry growth and will enable them to become industry leaders in technology innovation and integration.

    Comment by Carbon capturing Algae Oil 101 | July 27, 2010


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