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Bio-Mass, Business, Climate, Green Products, Renewable Energy

The Algae Story

During my work on oil sources for biodiesel production, and later attending the 2013 Algae Biomass Summit in Florida, I have learned a lot about Algae.  I will repost some general information from my Facebook stream at the bottom of this note for those interested.

There is a lot done with algae, but current limitations are:

  • Open pond always reverts to wild type algae, and the algae is so dilute it costs a lot to centrifuge pond-fulls of water to get a small amount of algae.
  • Closed bioreactor systems are very expensive to run.
  • Extracting the “goodies” from algae is also very expensive
  • The result is, everybody is waiting for an economical way to make oil for fuel, and mostly people are selling it into specialty markets.
  • There is a lot of push for inexpensive biodiesel from government and airline manufacturers, since everybody wants to reduce our carbon footprint and reverse global warming.
  • There is not enough sunlight hitting the planet’s surface to supply all our energy needs, current and projected.

I did a bit of lateral thinking about algae farming and came up with what I think is a solution to these problems.  As soon as I have an extra $15K to file the patents (now in the hands of our patent lawyer), we’ll be able to start shopping this idea around and see if we can find somebody interested in backing the project.

I particularly want to combine this with our lignin project, since the actual crude “black liquor” that comes off paper plants contain a lot of sugars which could be fed to the algae.  So there is my grand vision – take the paper plant waste, convert the lignin to durable goods, convert the sugars to liquid fuels via algae farming.  We would be a liquid fuels company that net removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Let me repeat that – we could be a liquid fuel supplier that actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  That’s a vision worth working towards, yes?

——— Recap of Algae background from Facebook:

Okay, so — Algae!

I spent the week at the Algae Biomass Summit (Conference and Expo) in Orlando, FL.

Looks like the little green (and red) guys are getting another chance to save the planet (from us).

Algae is actually a diverse collection of aquatic organisms, some photosynthetic, some not, some single-cell, others large up to and including seaweeds.

Algae can be fed with sunlight and carbon dioxide (reducing greenhouse gasses) and are about 100x as efficient at making biofuels as compared to corn or soybeans (since they don’t need to build roots, leaves, and stems). Imagine acres and acres of rolling Iowa hills covered with oversized green swimming pools instead of corn and soy beans.

Algae can also be cultivated in the relative dark, and have it feed off industrial or municipal waste water. My pet project is to make it eat paper plant waste instead of burning the stuff.

So, it cleans up the environment and makes things ranging from pharmaceuticals to omega-3 fatty acids to high protein animal feed to bioplastics to biofuels.

And this is not “tomorrow”. Several commercial scale facilities have come on line in the last year. One directly makes ethanol, one homogenizes it to make “fresh crude oil” which is a drop-in replacement for petroleum which they call “ancient algae”. Another plant is designed to separate out all the different products from the algae.

Another day I’ll talk about where my company fits into all this, but we have quite a few inroads to this growing wonderful community of entrepreneurs.

And heaven knows, the world needs it!


5 thoughts on “The Algae Story

  1. It seems to me that a majority of the corn fields from where I come from (Nebraska) are used to produce feed for cattle. If those fields were replaced by ponds, either a replacement for cattle feed would be required or a synthetic bioengineered meat would need to be invented to satisfy America’s taste for beef. Would a better system be a closed algae generator? However, as you have pointed out this would be expensive and so would be the extraction system.

    Mike Cliffton

    Posted by Mike Cliffton | January 22, 2014, 9:06 pm
    • A great deal of corn and soy is used for producing biodiesel. Yes, it’s most likely we’d put new algae farms on land that is less arable, but algae is potentially a better energy producer than corn or soy.

      There are indeed two camps — ponds vs. closed reactors. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Both are commercial now.

      Posted by gtkeep2013 | January 22, 2014, 9:48 pm

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