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Let’s face it, algae biofuel is sexy.
These days it has panache, glitz, it is a celebrity of biofuels. If you say you’re in “algae biofuels” people want to listen. You’re a part of the “in” crowd of bio fuels. With good reason…
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
- 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.
Which is why it is ironic to find an algae biofuels pioneer tucked away in a far corner of unassuming Iowa.
BioProcess Algae project, co-located at the Green Plains Renewable Energy plant in Shenandoah, Iowa in the far southwest of the state.
The company is now in the process of upgrading to a 5-acre demonstration algae micro farm of its modular technology – which is expected to be the final step before active commercialization at Shenandoah and other sites.
There are 4 things worth noting about this project.
The proof is in the performance.
The company is already taking orders. In June, BioProcess Algae and KD-Pharma Bexbach announced that they have entered a commercial supply agreement for the production of EPA-rich Omega-3 oils for use in concentrated EPA products for nutritional and/or pharmaceutical applications. Under the agreement, BioProcess Algae will supply microalgal oils which will be refined by KD-Pharma’s proprietary Supercritical Fluid Technology to produce highly-concentrated vegetable sourced EPA oils.
Howard Walker III of Westmont says he’s found a recipe to convert algae into what is essentially crude oil, like the petroleum pumped from wells.
“This is a direct result of using acidic mine discharge to grow the algae,” he said. “Anybody using (other) algae is not doing anything like this.”
U.S. Alternative Fuels at 432-438 Horner St. has worked on the creation of biodiesel from algae for around six years. The concept ended up being to utilize the technologies used to produce ethanol from corn oil and modify it to obtain fuel from algae oil. Similar work has actually been taking place since the 1970s all over the country.
They chose to concentrate on algae since it is expected the water-grown plant can generate 10,000 gallons of biofuel per acre of “crop.” Corn generates around 18 gallons an acre, he explained.
“It will alter how the petroleum industry operates. I have full confidence we can actually control how the process is done so we don’t have to worry about any major environmental disaster like the BP spill (in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico) It isn’t: ‘Can you do it’” he said. “It is: ‘Can you do it economically?’
Walker is expecting the Johnstown factory will be in commercial use within a couple of years, without the need of outside funding. The small-scale factory presently running can generate around 51/2 gallons of fuel an hour from 30 gallons of algae.
He anticipates the price under $30 for a 42-gallon barrel.
Looking back over the years, in 2008 everyone was saying “Algae what?”
What are they going to say in 2013?
The “Algae Revolution” has begun.
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