Biodiesel from Algae


I am a big fan of ethanol and bio/soy diesel.  There seems to be a debate as whether or not it take more energy to produce ethanol than what is used when the ethanol is burned.  Currently the figure I see most often is the ratio of 1.24 units of energy out to energy in.  Good but not great.  For me, it seems to be pointless to argue about whether it is 85% or 125% efficient.  We should be looking for ways to create fuel from biomass such as corn, soybeans, etc.. that have a ratio of 5 or greater.    

Biodiesel is another type of fuel derived from biomass.  Basically take the vegetable oil from the beans then breakdown and remove the parts of the vegetable oil that does not burn well in a diesel engine.  Again the energy ratio for converting a common crop such as soybeans into diesel is around 3.2.  Impressive but not earth shattering in my view.  If we want to turn over an industry that has its roots in late 1800's it will take more than this.

One day I was brushing up on my Biodiesel and happened to come across a figure showing the efficiencies of certain crops when converted to Biodiesel.  Source

10 - 20 THOUSAND gallons per acre?  Ok what's the catch?
After a month of research on the Internet, it seems that after the oil embargoes of the 70's (I wasn't born yet) the US government funded research on algae as a source of oil.  So  NREL, a Department of Energy lab, worked on finding algae that produced large amounts of oil, and they found some.  Unfortunately, they had their funding cut around 1998, the good old days of $1.25 diesel fuel.  

OK ok, so the catch(s).  Algae need CO2, and lots of it to help it grow quickly and produce the oil need for 20k gallons of Biodiesel.  Secondly you need fairly warm temperatures to keep the algae alive.  Next the NREL study mostly worked with algae in ponds, but lately some groups have had luck using closed systems.  These algae farms use clear tubes and pump algae through them to capture the sunlight use up CO2 from burning fossil fuels.

Alright so now all I need are some clear tubes, a pump, some NREL algae, a power plant (or fertilizer plant) to supply me some of the CO2 they just release into the air all day, and BAM.  I have got oil for making my Biodiesel.

Step 1: Learn More  <-- I am here
Step 2: Make some algae
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Step N: Make the world a better place


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Last update 4/22/2006
Drop me a line: h_corey at lycos dot com


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