Advanced Biofuel Workshop

BBI International and the 2010 Advanced Biofuels Workshop planning committee welcomes presenters to St. Louis for this convenient one-day workshop on advanced biofuels. More than 400 people are expected to attend to learn about advanced technology updates, algae and second-generation feedstock development, market challenges and trends, R&D activities, policy, finance, project development and more.

Presentation ideas may be related to production, operations, R&D, project development, finance, business, feedstock development, resource analysis, environmental performance or any other topic pertaining to the commercialization of advanced biofuels.   Deadline for submission is January 11, 2010.

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Royal Dutch Shell backs Biofuels

Royal Dutch Shell PLC has roughly doubled its financial support for biofuels start-up Codexis Inc. in the past year, the latest sign that oil companies are slowly and selectively increasing their interest in plants-to-fuels research.

Shell is on pace to spend $60 million in 2009 to fund research at Codexis, nearly twice the amount as the year before, according to regulatory filings. Codexis filed paperwork this week for a $100 initial public offering. The start-up is developing microbes to speed up the chemical reactions that turn inedible plants, such as grasses or stalks, into ethanol and diesel.

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Algae Biodiesel – Fuel of the 21st century

The potential of biodiesel to revolutionize our energy industry is enormous, not to mention the economic opportunities for farming nations that depend on the agricultural industry to survive. Many of these nations have begun to plant many acres of oil rich crops that are then sold to make biodiesel all over the world.

The real opportunity for biodiesel to save our energy dependent society lies in algae. Algae has proven to be capable of a higher yield per acre of biodiesel convertible oil than any other plant. With time and effective engineering of an efficient algae farming method, we will be able to utilize the solar energy more efficiently than ever, and we will easily be able to answer the worlds energy needs with biodiesel.

Biodiesel may not be the holy grail of energy sources, but it comes pretty close in these times of oil wars and a rapidly depleted ozone layer. Perhaps you should look into biodiesel as your personal alternative fuel today. The more informed we are as a society, the brighter the future may be for our children.

What’s more Biodiesel is not the fuel of tomorrow, I dare to say it is the fuel of today.

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Imagining 2020: Green Crude

This is very interesting!
The fourth contribution to the Imagining 2020 series of essays comes from Pete Fowler, who takes a look at producing biofuel from algae as a sustainable means of meeting our liquid fuel needs.
I was very pessimistic until last year about our prospects of weaning off fossil fuels before reaching an irreversible tipping point. Some positive feedback loop would kick in, like higher temperatures releasing trapped methane from arctic permafrost and seafloor sediments.
Increased atmospheric methane, about 30 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, would further raise temperatures.
End result?
Within a few decades Earth would be as hot as Venus. The whole of humanity would go the way of the civilisations described by Jared Diamond in Collapse, who could see they were on a track to self destruction but were unable to alter course.
In 2008 I read one of the most positive books ever written; The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil.
He points out that whichever way you measure the rate of technological change, it accelerates exponentially.
Moore’s law for instance predicted in 1965 that artificial intelligence would double in complexity and halve in cost every two years. It’s held for the last 44 years, and if it continues to hold until 2020, we’ll then have machines approaching human intelligence.
Kurzweil maintains that right now, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics are the main drivers of technological advance. The production of crude oil from atmospheric CO2 and water will be mostly a triumph of genetic engineering.
Nature took hundreds of millions of years to produce the crude oil which, in about 200 years, we’ll have exhausted. If we can speed up this process, and produce all our liquid fuels and chemical industry feedstocks, and some stock feed and human food from atmospheric CO2 and waste, by a process many times as efficient as farming, without diverting farmland or native bush, on the same timescale as the rate at which we deplete fossil fuel, we’ll have solved the problems of peak oil and global warming, and a few lesser problems.
Conventional biofuel production isn’t particularly efficient. It requires fuel inputs for farm vehicles, and it either diverts farmland away from food production or destroys native bush.
Only an average 300 watts per square metre world wide of sunlight is available for photosynthesis, and natural photosynthesis isn’t a very efficient way to convert sunlight to chemical energy.
The most efficient fuel crop is sugar cane, fermented to ethanol.
It yields up to three harvests a year. But it’s labour and land intensive, requires fuel for farm machinery and transport, it increases the cost of food and only grows in the tropics. Because all conventional crops need further processing in different places before they reach the petrol pump or dinner table, their total number of carbon kilometres is typically several times the distance round the world.
What’s needed is a continuous process, not a batch process like conventional harvesting.
The world is running out of land suitable for conversion to farming.
An algae reactor can be set up on land which is unsuitable for farming or anything else, and can still produce more than 15 times as much fuel per hectare as canola or palms.
Unlike natural crude, it can yield a product free of contaminants like nitrogen, sulphur or benzene.
The first generation will use sunlight for their energy source, but later, as energy sources like pebble bed fission reactors and ultimately nuclear fusion become available, these will drastically increase yield.
Some natural cyanobacteria can double their mass every hour. With genetic engineering, high temperature varieties, and varieties which fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere are possible. The obvious raw materials to use are untreated sewage and atmospheric CO2, helping to solve two environmental problems.
Eventually, when energy sources other than sunlight are available, the demand for sewage will outstrip supply, and other sources of micronutrients will be needed.
But as with conventional agriculture, micronutrients are in principle recyclable.
All you need is a way to reclaim elements like phosphorus, sulphur, iron, molybdenum and the rest.
This is feasible with a bioreactor producing algae, but not on a conventional farm, where they drain away, and not only are they wasted, but they cause problems like nitrate in drinking water and eutrophication in waterways.
The only high tech part of producing green crude is the final step; converting algae into oil. There’s no reason why bioreactors can’t be operated in the world’s poorest countries, as well as everywhere else where a demand for the products exists.
Being a factory, rather than an outdoor farm operation, it can be conducted close to population centres, or anywhere else. CO2 is available everywhere, and low-grade water supplies unfit for human consumption, almost everywhere.
An obvious location for a bioreactor is right next to a thermal power station, where there’s waste CO2, waste heat and transmission loss free electricity, but in principle one can operate anywhere.
The algae is harvested continuously, 24/7. Currently four technologies exist to extract the oil:
Dry the algae and press the oil out. This is the simplest method.
Dissolve the oil in a supercritical fluid like CO2 at high pressure. When pressure is reduced the oil separates out and the CO2 is reused. This is the most promising method.
Hexane solvent. Hexane, a hydrocarbon similar to petrol, dissolves the oil. The hexane is then separated from the oil and reused.
Ultrasound breaks open the algae cells, and the oil is pressed out.
The remaining dry matter is a high protein stock feed.
A bioreactor producing algae which are processed into liquid fuels, foods and petrochemicals, is a machine for converting waste, including CO2, into essential commodities which are getting scarcer every year. The only input needed is energy. It’s a closed loop. There is no waste and no collateral damage to the environment.

Macroalgae cultivation in Scotland

The Sustainable Fuels from Marine Biomass project, Biomara, is a new UK and Irish joint project that aims to demonstrate the feasibility and viability of producing third generation biofuels from marine biomass. It will investigate the potential use of both macroalgae and microalgae as alternatives to terrestrial agri-fuel production.

Seaweed cultivation and harvest is now an established process in Scotland. Macroalgal spores are collected from ripe plants then seeded onto strings. Here the spores germinate to form tiny plants, which are transferred to sea after two months then harvested six to eight months later. The mature macroalgae can be used to generate methane via anaerobic digestion or to produce ethanol by fermentation.

The Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP) at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) holds the largest algal culture collection in Europe, some 2.700 strains.

During the Biomara project, wild strains of microalgae characterised by high oil content and high stress resistance will be screened to identify those capable of sustained growth in outdoor conditions.

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Heating oil industry makeover

Many farmers have started to grow a “next-generation biofuel” like algae. In fact, many are talking up algae as a major potential source of energy; some have forecasted that algae could produce 5,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre, a much higher rate of return than other biofuels. If algae does become a primary energy source, this would almost certainly have an effect on heating oil. Many states, as well as the industry’s major trade group, will require heating oil to have a percentage of biofuel in its mix.

Bio fuels can change the scene in the heating oil industry.

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Extraction from Macro algae

Having economic and ecological interest, algae are cultivated with the aid of buoys, in areas where the wind and the current are not strong. Among the most common species are Kappaphycus, Gelidium, Gigardina, Gracilaria, Encheuma, Hypmea and Pterocladia. During growth, the algae selectively assimilate many of the minerals contained in water. They photosynthesize and synthesize the carbohydrate polymer that constitutes the structural framework of the alga body, which may be agar-agar, carrageen or others polymers.

The most known substances extracted from macro-algae are of three types: alginates, extracted from chestnut algae; agar-agar and carrageens, extracted from varies species of red algae. The agar-agar is a mucilage (vegetable gelatin) constituted of agarose and agaropectin polymers.

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