Saturday, March 13, 2010

Returning to the Source:


Scientists can detect traces of the green algae Botyrococcus Braunii in oil and coal deposits. This green algae has been producing hydrocarbons for hundreds of millions of years, and continues to do so. So if green algae B. Braunii is still on the job, why is everyone so worried about "peak oil doom?" The time scale involved. Although oil from B. Braunii is of the highest quality, it takes the algae too long to reproduce. It takes too much time to produce oil in the quantities which humans currently consume. So what is the answer?
B. braunii is a prime candidate for biofuel production because some races of the green algae typically "accumulate hydrocarbons from to 30 percent to 40 percent of their dry weight, and are capable of obtaining hydrocarbon contents up to 86 percent of their dry weight.

...Like most green algae, B. braunii is capable of producing great amounts of hydrocarbon oils in a very small land area.

B. braunii algae show particular promise not just because of their high production of oil but also because of the type of oil they produce, Devarenne said. While many high-oil-producing algae create vegetable-type oils, the oil from B. braunii, known as botryococcenes, are similar to petroleum.

"The fuels derived from B. braunii hydrocarbons are chemically identical to gasoline, diesel and kerosene," Devarenne said. "Thus, we do not call them biodiesel or bio-gasoline; they are simply diesel and gasoline. To produce these fuels from B. braunii, the hydrocarbons are processed exactly the same as petroleum is processed and thus generates the exact same fuels. Remember, these B. braunii hydrocarbons are a main constituent of petroleum. So there is no difference other than the millions of years petroleum spent underground."

But, a shortcoming of B. braunii is its relatively slow growth rate. While the algae that produce 'vegetable-type' oils may double their growth every six to 12 hours, B. braunii's doubling rate is about four days, he said.

"Thus, getting large amounts of oil from B. braunii is more time consuming and thus more costly," Devarenne said. "So, by knowing the genome sequence we can possibly identify genes involved in cell division and manipulate them to reduce the doubling rate." _SD

Humans can intentionally grow large volumes of B. Braunii across dry and desert lands -- even over the surface of oceans and seas. But unless a good genetic tweak can be found to speed up the algae's reproductive and oil production cycle, it would be very expensive to do so.

Billions of dollars are going to research to develop such tweaks. Microbial fuels should arrive on the scene within ten years -- just enough to nudge fuel markets a tiny bit. Within twenty years, microbial fuels will comprise close to 30% of the liquid and gaseous fuels markets.

Peak oil is only true in the most trivial sense -- sooner or later, humans will stop using oil because better energies and fuels will be abundantly available.

Between now and then, energy markets will see some turbulent ups and downs. But the end game is in sight, which means that a price ceiling on liquid fuels is visibly descending. Slowly, distantly, but visibly. Adjust your plans accordingly.



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