Monday, January 21, 2008

Algal Biodiesel and Other Sustainables

Era I: During periods of intense global warming--90 million and 150 million years ago--large quantities of algae were produced. As the planet went through geologic transformation, the large algae deposits were buried under massively heavy layers of rock, and transformed by time, heat, and pressure into petroleum.

Era II: During the 21st century CE, blessed by mild temperatures and relative wealth, humans learn to grow algae themselves. Humans then convert the algae to oil, using fairly simple chemical techniques.
...PetroSun BioFuels Refining has entered into a joint venture to construct and operate a biodiesel refinery near Coolidge, Arizona. The feedstock for the refinery will be algal oil produced by PetroSun BioFuels at company owned and operated algae farms to be located in Arizona....The refinery will have an annual production capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol....Petrosun claims that Independent studies have demonstrated that algae is capable of producing in excess of 30 times more oil per acre than corn and soybean crops.

The biorefinery and algae farm complex will generate all of its own electrical and heat requirements, utilize non-potable or saltwater, consume no fossil fuels and will be carbon neutral. The joint venture anticipates that all permits will be approved and construction on the biorefinery should commence during the third quarter of 2008.

Since producing algal biodiesel is more efficient than maize (corn) biodiesel, it is anticipated that industrial production of biodiesel will shift away from food crops such as maize. Algae can be grown on sewer plant effluent, which does not deplete crops or cropland. Consequently, and with good conscience, industry is preparing for larger scale use of biodiesel.
Safeway announced today that it has converted its entire California and U.S. truck fleet to cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel.

The biodiesel initiative makes Safeway one of the first major retailers in the United States to convert its entire fleet of more than 1,000 trucks to cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel. The decision by Safeway will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 75 million pounds annually, the equivalent of taking nearly 7,500 passenger vehicles off the road each year.

As humans learn to do in a short time what took nature hundreds of millions of years, the problem of sustainable energy will be solved. Although near-term "Peak Oil" appears to be a fantasy, basic prudence suggests that a renewable energy approach is preferable to one that depends upon non-replenishable stocks.

Algae is capable of producing both biodiesel and bio-butanol or ethanol--making its cultivation and use more economical still. As better forms of oil producing and microbe-resistant algae are created, algae will become a year-round all-purpose energy crop that does not raise the cost of food or cropland.

Other ways of producing oil besides biodiesel, include pyrolytic conversion of garbage and organic waste, synthetic biology micro-organsims made to convert plant waste to hydrocarbons, methane to hydrocarbon chemistries, coal to liquid HC, etc.

Approaches to sustainable energy other than liquid biofuels which are very promising, include concentrated full-spectrum photovoltaics, and geothermal.
The organic Rankine cycle-based power system is an advanced binary cycle system that is driven by a simple evaporation process and is entirely enclosed, which means it produces no emissions. The only byproduct is electricity, and the system’s “fuel” -- geothermal hot water -- is a renewable resource.

PureCycle geothermal systems have been in operation since 2006 at Chena Hot Springs Resort in Alaska, as a U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Technologies demonstration project. It is the first geothermal project in Alaska and the lowest temperature geothermal resource (165° F) ever used for commercial power generation.The PureCycle system makes it possible to tap into a significant new domestic renewable energy resource because it operates at previously unusable low temperatures -- from 165 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Image credit to Energy Blog and Biodiesel America

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