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Running on pond scum

12/01/2009

Following the recent Air NZ flight using a bio-fuel developed from jatropha, Adam was intrigued by this January 7, article in Portfolio of the possibilities of the development of viable fuel from algae. Serious money and serious investors are getting involved in such projects despite the recession.

Never mind falling oil prices. Bill Gates and the Rockefellers think they know a better way to fill up your gas tank: algae (Yes, we mean pond scum).

Echoing the advice given to Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1960s classic movie The Graduate – “Plastics‘ the word for today is ‘Algae’

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6 Comments
  1. Andrew W permalink
    14/01/2009 08:00

    The article mentions two methods, using photosynthasis in open ponds as the primary energy source for the algae, and using sugars in vats. The added sugar option sounds like lots of farmland will be needed to support the industry, the open pond method requires millions of acres of ponds.
    However it’s done, the process from sunlight to liquid fuel is horrendously inefficient, I doubt their cost estimates are worth a can of beans.

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  2. Ed Snack permalink
    13/01/2009 14:27

    JC, I also know a fair bit about forestry, and although one can trot out the line about “small” chemical differences, in fact the differences are very real and very hard to overcome. Cellulose is not an easy material to turn into something useful, and I am sure a l,ot of research is necessary. The paper industry for one has many years of expertise. However, bio-engineering does seem to be the way ahead for now.

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  3. 13/01/2009 08:56

    This is such a great potential development. Thank you for sharing… and for sharing so eloquently.

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  4. 13/01/2009 07:56

    You’re right Adam. Thanks for this discussion piece.
    Would love for you to come visit our blog http://blog.valcent.net and check out our latest write on Nobel winner Dan Kammen explore the benefits and importance of Valcent’s algae oil. Kammen features Valcent in a 60 min. piece on the Science Channel airing Jan. 12th at 1:00am PT called “Road to the Future”. A clip from this series is featured on our site!

    http://blog.valcent.net
    Jessica Brock
    Valcent

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  5. 12/01/2009 20:31

    Ed, ten years ago I was at a forestry development conference for Maori, and we had a speech from a then well known entrepreneur.

    He made the points that the dairy industry researchers developed something like 8 new and viable products from milk each year.. and the difference between the chemical structure of milk and wood was not great..

    We don’t need to go very far in order to find fuel alternatives.. it’s there in our traditional agriculture, wood and sea produce, and it’s stuff that we know as well and better than anyone else.

    The key to lots of exciting developments in biofuel lie in GE enzymes.

    JC

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  6. Ed Snack permalink
    12/01/2009 11:37

    Definitely a positive development. If this particular approach doesn’t work, there will be others, and far more sensible than most biofuel approaches. Warning for NZ, will probably take bio-engineered organisms to work efficiently, so no more GE free mantras.

    I still reckon we should be looking at 2 – 3 smallish (600 MW or so) breeder style nuclear reactors using, probably, thorium reprocessing, as base load. A world wide project to establish a network of such plants would be a real and doable step towards reducing coal consumption.

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