Discovering alternatives to petroleum-based fuel is becoming more urgent due to today’s reliance on depleting resources and imported oil. Fortunately, there has been research studying the development of alternative biofuels inorder to make "greener" fuel. Bio-fuel is solar energy captured by plants and converted into energy through photosynthesis. This energy is typically in the form of oils, carbohydrates, proteins, etc.
Scientists have been studying algae oil since 1978 in hopes to convert algae into bio-fuel. Alga grows naturally all over the world in ponds, creeks, pool… etc. In order for algae to produce there needs to be water, sunlight and carbon dioxide. Under premium conditions, algae can double its amount overnight. This sustainable element could reduce the fear of supply and demand. Algae is considered to be one of the most photo synthetically efficient plants. It has been predicted that algae farms in the future would be able to replace petroleum as a transportation fuel in the US. They estimate algae to produce 10,000 gallons per acre per year, and eventually even more, ref . The oil they produce can then be harvested and converted into biodiesel, the carbohydrate content can be fermented into ethanol and the remaining proteins can be used for animal grains, ref . The difficulty now is to determin a way to produce algae in a fast and cheap way that it makes sense economically.
Algae Bio-diesel is a greener outlook on the oil industry. This particular type of diesel is cleaner and safer for the environment and humans as well. Algae bio-diesel contains no petroleum. Petroleum products are originated from decomposed organic matter. Petroleum products are extracted from crude oils that need to be drilled for. One downfall to petroleum products is, not knowing exactly how much of this crude oil is left. One great thing about Algae is that it can be grown, and the oils can be extracted directly from the algae rather than being drilled for. There are many different types of algae that the bio-diesel can be made from. The best type that has been used so far is the algae that you find laying on the surface of a pond or small body of water. Due to this circle that Algae Bio-diesel creates, we may never have to worry about running out of oil products down the road.
Just like other bio-diesel products, this can be used in any type, make, or model of diesel engine. The price is another positive aspect of the bio-diesel. The price of Algae Bio-diesel is only $1.24/gallon. Compared to regular diesel at the pump that you find today is between the $2.50-$4.00/ gallon. Due to the shortage of regular oil products, Algae Bio-diesel can play a big part in the economy and the environment at the same time. Figure 1 is a flow chart that shows the process of the algae bio-diesel from start to finish. This type of oil may never run out of as long as it is renewed as it is used.
The bio-diesel works just like regular petroleum diesel. It is sprayed into the cylinder under pressure and ignites with the help of the glow plug, which causes compression. Diesel engines are used mostly for heavy and long distant hauling.
There are actually many advantages to using algae as a biofuel. Using oil extracted from algae instead of petroleum allows people to propel vehicles with an energy source that is completely renewable instead of a source that is in a very limited supply. Another reason so use algae oil instead of petroleum is that it has a lot less of an impact on the environment if any at all. When the algae is being produced it actually requires CO2 as an input to grow instead of the huge output of CO2 produced by the burning of petroleum products. This fact can be used to help with the impact that CO2 is having on our environment. The algae growing facilities could be situated around power plants and have the CO2 that is being produced routed directly to the algae so that it can grow and produce oxygen. A huge advantage algae has over other plants as a source for fuel is that it is not used for any other food products. This leads to algae having less price volatility, which is another advantage. The fact that algae is not a crop means that it can be grown in places that are not suitable for normal agricultural use. Probably one of the biggest advantages would be that algae has a much higher gallons per acre yield than other plants such as corn or sunflowers. Along with this is that fact that algae has the highest rate of consumption of CO2 out of every known plant. Algae is a plant that has about 65,000 different species, ref . All of these different species allows for a wide range of chemical makeups. This translates into a plant that can be grown in just about any climate and at the same time have just as many chemical compositions to allow any kind of fuel be made in those climates. Certain strains of algae have been found to have “Up to 50 percent of an alga’s body weight is comprised of oil, whereas oil-palm trees—currently the largest producer of oil to make biofuels—yield just about 20 percent of their weight in oil. Across the board, yields are already impressive: Soy produces some 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; canola, 150 gallons; and palm, 650 gallons. But algae is expected to produce 10,000 gallons per acre per year” ref . “Some algae reproduce sexually, some asexually, while many combine both modes. In some green algae the type of reproduction may be altered if there are changes in environmental conditions, such as lack of moisture or nutrients” ref .
A specific system to grow the algae is the Vertigro design, pictured above. The difference here is that the entire growing system is self contained and hanging above the ground. Some added benefits that this gives are that it allows for fifteen times more light exposure and also fifteen times more growing volume than if an open pond was used as the growing system. This design also stops any kind of cross contamination of your chosen algae with any natural algae in the area. When the entire system is being contained this also allows for total control of the temperature along with the flow of the water which keeps the water recycling and allows for little to no water loss during the process. Once there has been an allotted amount of time for the algae to grow this process allows for continuous harvesting with no slowdowns and without any decreases in the yield.
When it comes to disadvantages algae biofuel continues to excel. The main problems are with the amount of money the process requires. The startup costs can be rather unappealing to potential companies or investors. Also, at this time the cost to actually produce usable oil from the algae is still higher than the cost of oil but many companies are confident that this will change once they are able to produce at a higher volume and work out all of the kinks in their processes.
One company on the forefront of the algae biofuel movement is Solazyme. This company has developed a process that grows algae with no sunlight. The reason that they decided to do this is because when algae is grown without sunlight it converts more of its energy into producing the oils inside itself instead of photosynthesis. This allows Solazyme to get a higher yield when they go to extract the oil from the algae that they have been growing. Because they don’t allow the algae to be introduced to sunlight they have to provide an alternate source of energy. This alternate energy source happens to be sugar. When this method of removing sunlight and feeding sugar takes place it also allows for the algae to grow in a much larger concentration than it would if sunlight was used. The reason for this is because if the concentration of algae is too great then the sunlight isn’t able to get to the algae that is farther away from the source because all the algae that is closer to the sun has already absorbed it all.
The type of fuel that Solazyme has been able to produce with this method is jet fuel. They have created an alternate fuel from the oil extracted from algae that so far looks like it is a viable substitute for today’s jet fuel. “Solazyme's algal-derived aviation fuel as analyzed by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), one of the nation’s leading fuel analytical laboratories, passed the eleven "most challenging specifications needed to meet the ASTM D1655 standard for Aviation Turbine Fuel. The tested areas included the key measurements for density, thermal oxidative stability, flashpoint, freezing point, distillation and viscosity among others. Of the eleven tested parameters, the Solazyme aviation fuel passed the ASTM D1655 requirements for every measurement. Therefore, the Solazyme algae-based aviation kerosene has passed the biggest hurdles needed to successfully develop a commercial and military jet fuel fully consistent with existing engines and infrastructure," as stated in the SwRI report” ref .
- http://cisbc.info/activities/PublishingImages/algae-2.jpg (Picture)
- http://xavianet.files.wordpress.com/2007/10/vertigro_algae.JPG?w=294&h=149 (Picture)
- http://www.engadget.com/media/2008/02/solazyme-algae.jpg (Picture)