Algae in South Australia

THE U.S. parent company of uranium producer Heathgate Resources has held talks with the State Government over developing a renewable energy fuel in South Australia – from algae.

Premier Mike Rann met for an hour yesterday with Neal Blue, the chief executive officer of General Atomics, which owns the Beverley uranium deposits in SA’s Far North.

Mr Blue said his company was interested in developments in microalgal biofuels in SA because there was huge potential for their use in the future – especially in the aviation industry.

Mr Blue said at least one U.S. commercial airline had already tested biofuels in a passenger flight across America. He said SA was highly placed to develop algal fuels because of its high sunlight, brackish water and carbon dioxide.

Mr Rann said algal biofuel was attractive because of its relatively high oil yield and its efficiency in recycling carbon.

“It is estimated that replacing just 10 per cent of Australia’s mineral diesel with biodiesel from microalgae would bring about a reduction of nearly 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels,” he said.

The Federal Government recently granted $2.7 million to an SA-based consortium to develop a pilot-scale biorefinery for sustainable microalgal biofuels and added products.

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Designer Algae for photobiological hydrogen production


NASA Ames Pilot Project in Florida

In California, researchers with the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field are advancing in plans to deploy an ocean-based algal fuels platform. The OMEGA project deploys flexible floating plastic bags, up to a quater-acre in size – pumped with wastewater and then cleansed and harvested by barges every ten days.

The bags would release purified water via membranes on the sids of the quarter-acre bags. The project, which has received support from Google, the California Energy Commission, and NASA, is aiming towards a pilot-scale version in closed ponds, with locations near San Francisco and Santa Cruz in future deployments.

Nevada-based Algae Systems has licensed the technology and is developing a project in Tampa Bay, Florida. Looks like Omega project is drawing a lot of attention.

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Omega3 from Algae oil

Omega 3 algae oil is a relatively new product that has some decided benefits over other omega 3 supplements. Most people take fish oil in order to get adequate amounts of omega 3, and those who prefer not to take fish oil usually take flaxseed oil. These are not the only omega 3 supplements, but they are the most frequently used ones. Omega 3 from algae oil may replace both of them.

Although fish oil from reputable companies is regarded as safe, long term exposure through supplementation is often feared since trace pollutants from ocean ecosystems contaminate both fresh caught and farm-raised fish that feed on or are fed marine organisms. But now, golden microalgae oil is ready to replace medical fish oil for heart and brain health supplement needs.

Some types of fish contain relatively high levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], dioxins and other environmental contaminants. In general, older, larger predatory fish contain the highest level of contaminants. Fish can also contain significant levels of methyl mercury, considered one of the more dangerous food contaminants today. Can docosahexaenoic acid omega-3 (DHA)-rich microalgae oil function as a universal fish oil alternative?

Good for vegetarians! Concern over fish depletion in the oceans is also addressed by algae oil becoming source for omega 3.

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Bio City for Algae cultivation

Towering 1.2 km above Spaghetti Junction, Birmingham, the UK’s largest and most congested motorway intersection, Bio City scheme portrays a radical concept in high rise, high density urban living.

A completely closed metabolic cycle at this junction  in which traffic exhaust emissions are harnessed via CO2 collectors in order to feed algae grown in photo bio-reactors within the building’s facade. Algae and natural by-products produced during algae cultivation are then refined to produce renewable energy sources.

Benefiting from positive solar orientation, in order to maximize solar acceptance toward the dynamic photo bioreactors which are built into the facade, BIOCITY acts as a an environmental filter, harnessing harmful traffic exhaust emissions in order to feed and cultivate microscopic algae to produce renewable bio-fuels. These bio-fuels are used to produce renewable electricity to power the vertical city and to cultivate vehicular bio-diesel and liquid hydrogen for use in hydrogen fuel cells.

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DOE bets on 3.. One of them is Algae!


The Advanced Research Projects Agency for energy put out its second call for new ideas, and this time, the agency has narrowed its focused to three research fields.

The new arm of the Department of Energy, which is dedicated to high-risk, high-reward innovations, is betting $100 million on batteries for cars, new materials for capturing carbon, and microorganisms that can convert sunlight and carbon dioxide directly into fuels.

“This solicitation focuses on three cutting-edge technology areas which could have a transformational impact,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in a release.

Energy gets used in a lot of different ways, so no single technology can make all the difference. That said, a few key pieces of technology would provide the political world with better clean-energy options. We use coal to make half the nation’s electricity. Fossil fuels, mostly oil, burned for transportation account for roughly one-third of American emissions. Finding cheaper, cleaner solutions to the key problems of baseload generation and fuel for cars would be major steps toward reducing carbon emission and dependence on foreign oil.

This is the second call for proposals the DOE outfit has issued. ARPA is modeled after the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This new request is as narrow as the last was wide. In the first grants announced in October, ARPA-E spread the first $150 million from its coffers broadly on 37 different technologies across the energy landscape from building efficiency to biomass conversion to waste heat capture. Each endeavor received between $500,000 and $9 million.

Energy-dense, low-cost, long-lived batteries have been a dream of inventors since Thomas Edison claimed to have solved the problem in 1901. His battery was described by The New York Times as “combining all of the long-sought advantages of lightness, durability, and effectiveness.” It was so good, in fact, that “it was predicted that a new art of electrical propulsion and navigation would result.”

Though that has yet to happen, scientific knowledge of materials at the nanoscale has grown by leaps and bounds. ARPA-E is looking for battery makers who can meet the ambitious goals (.pdf) laid out by the United States Advanced Battery Consortium, a group of car makers working with the government.

Another area where scientific knowledge has been growing at an astounding pace is microbiological genomics. Scientists have gone beyond understanding individual gene functions to tweaking them for specialized functions. Synthetic biologists are working to develop microorganisms that are, in essence, programmable. One company, LS9, calls them “DesignerMicrobes.” The equation that the DOE would like these biological machines to solve is simple: CO2 and sunlight in, a substitute for oil out. Already, a flock of synthetic biology companies like Amyris, Solazyme and Synthetic Genomics are trying to create alternatives to oil using microorganismal genomics, and the DOE would like to see more.

Carbon dioxide capture is considered a mainline strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but it requires a substantial percentage of the energy that the plant produces to do it. It’s thought that new materials could, as the DOE puts it, “dramatically reduce the parasitic energy penalties and corresponding increase in the cost of electricity required for carbon capture.”

Some labs, like Omar Yaghi’s at UCLA and Gerbrand Ceder’s at MIT, have developed new methods for finding large amounts of new materials and determining their properties. Their work is a promising start, but more carbon capture isn’t the only step needed to keep smokestack emissions from warming the earth. They also have to be permanently buried. Last year, energy researcher Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba estimated that to bury just 25 percent of CO2 produced by power plants would required moving twice the material the world’s crude-oil industry (.pdf) does now. That’s a tall order and would require a heck of a lot of pipes and caverns.


Engineers strive to make Algae Oil Production more Feasible

Two Kansas State University engineers are assessing systematic production methods that could make the costs of algae oil production more reasonable, helping move the U.S. from fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy replacements.

The idea by K-State’s Wenqiao “Wayne” Yuan and Zhijian “Z.J.” Pei is to grow algae in the ocean on very large, supporting platforms. The National Science Foundation awarded them a $98,560 Small Grant for Exploratory Research in 2009 for their work.

Compared to soybeans that produce 50 gallons of oil an acre a year, some algae can average 6,000 gallons — but it’s not cheap to produce. Current algae growing methods use ponds and bioreactor columns, and algae float around suspended in water. Harvesting such a moving target systematically requires using very costly inputs like centrifuges and electricity. Even with these best technologies for algae growth and production, the end product biodiesel is expensive at about $56 a gallon.

Yuan, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at K-State, thinks it will be five to 10 years scientists before understand the fundamentals of large-scale algae production sufficiently that cost can be reduced to the target of about $5 a gallon.

“It will take that much time to really understand the fundamentals of large-scale algae production and to establish pilot projects,” he said.

Both Yuan and Pei, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at K-State, think food production land should not be used to produce algae for fuel. The two are studying the feasibility of large-scale algae production in the ocean and how to engineer the production systems.

Pei and Yuan are working to identify oil-rich algae species that are inclined to settle down and grow en masse on a solid surface, a characteristic that will make algae production manageable and harvesting much simpler.

“We think there is tremendous potential for algae oil production if we grow it on big platforms and incorporate the ocean into the system,” Yuan said. Half the cost of growing algae is in providing a steady supply of food and water, the growth medium. Ocean water offers those in abundance, he said.

The researchers are currently addressing several broad questions: By what mechanisms do algae attach to various surfaces, what materials do algae prefer, and what surface textures, if any, encourage the algae to bloom and grow?

Pei said the research team has achieved some exciting results. In studies of two species of algae characteristically high in oil content and fast growing, both species attached very well to a stainless steel, thin film surface that was slightly dimpled. Furthermore, once the algae attach, they grow very well, producing a green clump several millimeters thick.

“Just like geckoes cannot walk on a perfectly smooth surface, our results indicate that the algae attach better on a slightly textured surface,” Yuan said.

Stainless steel was chosen because it is easy to machine or texture, durable and reasonably cheap. A colleague at Northwestern University produced the dimpled samples used in the study.

“We are doing very fundamental research now,” Yuan said. “We need to understand the algae attachment mechanism before we can select species more likely to attach to a solid support.”

Pei and Yuan think large-scale algae production done on very large support surfaces in ocean water is quite feasible. They are imagining a long, continuously rolling surface like a conveyer belt.

“Right now, we really are thinking in terms of a large-scale biological and mechanical production system,” Yuan said.

As Yuan describes the system, the algae would grow on the thin-film surface submerged under the ocean. At some point, the growth surface rolls up into the sunlight and the algae dries. A harvesting knife at the end of the conveyer system scrapes off dried algae, at which point the surface submerges to become home to the next growth of oil-rich algal material.

In August, Yuan and Pei and associates presented results of the surface studies at the 59th general assembly of CIRP, the International Academy for Production Engineering, in Boston. The academy is the only global organization representing the latest research and development activities in the area of production engineering.