Algae Biodiesel - The prospect of replacing fossil fuels with biodiesel from algae is exciting. While algae, as a potentially viable biodiesel crop is increasingly gaining importance, there still are several challenges ahead for the cultivation and extraction of algal oil for large scale production of biodiesel fuel.
Main ingredients for algae growth are sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide (CO2) They are available in abundance.
During the process of photosynthesis, algae converts carbon dioxide (CO2) - a major contributor to global warming, to oxygen. Because algae consumes CO2, it is popularly believed that algae helps reduce the overall quantity of CO2 present in the atmosphere.
Contrary to that belief, the CO2 taken from the atmosphere is returned in full when algal biodiesel is burned. Its use, however, does help in eliminating the generation and release of new CO2 into the atmosphere.
With generous incentives and biodiesel tax credits offered by the government, several companies are working on bringing down the fixed and operational costs of this capital intensive process and convert algae to biodiesel on a commercially viable scale.
Why Algae Biodiesel?
Traditionally, feedstock for the production of biodiesel has been vegetable oils (waste or virgin oils). However, due to the competing demands with edible oil sources, there has been an interest in developing other non-edible feedstock sources, such as algae oils, for the production of algae biofuel.
Whereas Jatropha plant produces seeds that are known to contain the highest percentage of inedible oil for biodiesel production, it still pales in comparison with the amount of algae oil biodiesel farms can produce per unit area.
All algae are not created equal. Some strains contain higher percentage of lipids (oil) than others. Some strains have a slower growth than that of others. Therefore, current research is attempting to isolate a set of strains that can offer optimal production at a rate of growth that would help replace the fossil fuel consumption in the coming years. Spirulina algae - Microalgae, in particular is the focus of the continuing research because of its much higher growth rate.
In addition, growing algae biodiesel does not adversely impact our fresh water resources. Since it is also biodegradable, harvesting algae for biodiesel production has no long term or permanent adverse implications for the environment.
Two primary methods of growing algae for the production of algal biodiesel are:
- Closed System, and
- Open Pond System
Each method of growing algae has its own advantages and limitations.
Closed System: Closed system for growing algae has a few variations. In a closed loop system, algae is produced under controlled conditions using photo-bioreactors.
Algae is grown in photo-bioreactors that are clear plastic tubes stacked vertically to provide maximum exposure to sunlight standing on a small footprint. The tubes contain water and CO2 is run through these photobiorector tubes.
The controlled environment helps reduce the possibility of contamination by invasive algae strains, but the disadvantage of this method is the high capital costs to produce algae.
Many are also working on bioreactor tanks, where algae for biodiesel is grown in closed tanks. Again, these tanks create a controlled environment in which to grow algae with potential for higher production levels. A slight variation to this method adds the fermentation process by introducing sugar that induces higher growth.
In order to provide adequate supply of CO2 in this method or in any other method, and to reduce the cost of algae production can be achieved by locating algae farms near the conventional fossil fueled power plants. The CO2 in their smokestacks is found to be a good source which gets consumed for algae production, and helps reduce pollution at the same time.
In open ponds, one of the major disadvantages of cultivating algae is the non-controlled environment in which algae grows. Whereas the capital costs for setting up such an algae farm are low, the threat of contamination of the desirable species - higher percentage of algal oil producing species, by invasive algae species remains high.
Growth of algae biodiesel is not restricted by the lack of fresh water. Algae can be grown on desert lands as well as in those areas where only saline water is available.
Companies engaged in algae biodiesel oil extraction and biofuel production include:
- GreenFuel Technologies:
- Blue Marble Energy:
- Inventure Chemical:
- Live Fuels:
- Solix Biofuels:
- Aurora Biofuels:
- Aquaflow Binomics:
- Petro Sun:
- Mighty Algae Biofuels:
- Bodega Algae:
Information about production of algal biodiesel, and the current activities of the above companies regarding algae biodiesel oil extraction and production is coming soon!
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