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Biofuels Algae

Published on July 31st, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

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Algal Fuel One Step Closer To Becoming A Conventional Oil Alternative



Algae

A new milestone was reached recently in the race to make fuel from algae a conventional oil alternative: high-octane gasoline that is compatible with any gas-guzzling vehicle. The feat was performed by Sapphire Energy, a company that manufactures “green crude”. Sapphire uses single-cell algae to produce a chemical mixture that contains extractable fuel for cars and other transport vehicles. While the green crude is chemically identical to crude oil, it is completely carbon neutral.

The algal energy doesn’t require the use of agricultural land and water, and it deliver 10 to 100 times more energy per acre than crop-based biofuels. The company hopes that their green crude will ultimately be injected into normal crude pipelines.

Fortunately for consumers, Sapphire isn’t the only company looking into “Oil 2.0“. Silicon Valley company LS9 is working on genetically modifiying single cell organisms to excrete carbon neutral oil. Like Sapphire’s green crude, the LS9 oil will also work in conventional vehicles.

Whether these efforts come to fruition as oil replacements remains to be seen—and it mostly hinges on questions of efficiency. But we should find out soon. Sapphire expects to start producing their green crude within 3 to 5 years.

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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • Rebecca

    So when/where can we get this?!!!!

  • Rebecca

    So when/where can we get this?!!!!

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  • Jimmie

    Why is this not ALL over the news? I think this is great, the only thing I am waiting for now is all of the crazy PETA folks trying to save the living Algae.

    Let’s see if McCain or Obama gets on this.

  • Jimmie

    Why is this not ALL over the news? I think this is great, the only thing I am waiting for now is all of the crazy PETA folks trying to save the living Algae.

    Let’s see if McCain or Obama gets on this.

  • b cole

    Algae: The New Biofuel

    Collaboration is the motivating force of the National Algae Association of The Woodlands, Texas. Algae oil production companies, researchers and the investment community are coming together to find solutions for the oil crisis. Leading-edge technologies are discussed in the commercialization of algae oil and biomass. Interest in algae-to-biofuel is coming in from all over the United States and the world.

    We need to bring “energy security” back to the US and reduce our dependency on foreign oil immediately. Current high oil prices, the collapse of food-for-fuel initiatives and concerns about increased levels of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere have all created awareness of the need for alternative fuel solutions. Collaboration, commercialization and acceleration are key to the fast growing secondary algae-to-biofuel industry.

    Algae has emerged as one of the lowest cost feedstocks for the biofuels and cellulosic industries. It is considered to be a promising source of renewable oil which can be processed and refined into a variety of transportation fuels. Recent breakthroughs in raceway pond development and closed end loop systems put algae oil production companies on the leading-edge of the renewable oil industry.

    Algae can be refined to make biofuel, jet fuel, bio-gasoline and cellulosic materials such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, bioplastics and green packaging.

    For additional information contact:

    http://www.nationalalgaeassociation.com

  • b cole

    Algae: The New Biofuel

    Collaboration is the motivating force of the National Algae Association of The Woodlands, Texas. Algae oil production companies, researchers and the investment community are coming together to find solutions for the oil crisis. Leading-edge technologies are discussed in the commercialization of algae oil and biomass. Interest in algae-to-biofuel is coming in from all over the United States and the world.

    We need to bring “energy security” back to the US and reduce our dependency on foreign oil immediately. Current high oil prices, the collapse of food-for-fuel initiatives and concerns about increased levels of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere have all created awareness of the need for alternative fuel solutions. Collaboration, commercialization and acceleration are key to the fast growing secondary algae-to-biofuel industry.

    Algae has emerged as one of the lowest cost feedstocks for the biofuels and cellulosic industries. It is considered to be a promising source of renewable oil which can be processed and refined into a variety of transportation fuels. Recent breakthroughs in raceway pond development and closed end loop systems put algae oil production companies on the leading-edge of the renewable oil industry.

    Algae can be refined to make biofuel, jet fuel, bio-gasoline and cellulosic materials such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, bioplastics and green packaging.

    For additional information contact:

    http://www.nationalalgaeassociation.com

  • Mark D

    From what I have read so far this seems to be the next and best fuel supply. The part that I like is that the algae farm can supposedly take CO2 out of the waste stream of an industrial plant as the algae needs CO2, nutrients and sunlight to form.

  • Mark D

    From what I have read so far this seems to be the next and best fuel supply. The part that I like is that the algae farm can supposedly take CO2 out of the waste stream of an industrial plant as the algae needs CO2, nutrients and sunlight to form.

  • http://www.algaepetro.com nicnaimless

    Swampland real estate will be booming.

    I’m amazed at how few people have heard of this commonsense alternative.

    Keep spreading the word!

    AlgaePetro

  • http://www.algaepetro.com nicnaimless

    Swampland real estate will be booming.

    I’m amazed at how few people have heard of this commonsense alternative.

    Keep spreading the word!

    AlgaePetro

  • williamk

    This is worth some effort to follow up. I will be making an effort to bring awareness of the concept and process development in Thailand. Plenty of rice paddy algae and small farms to work with here.

  • Tyler

    I think any alternative fuel is better than what we have now. I don’t think this will become the “perfect” fuel. But as long as we keep challenging the fuel we have today, it can only lead to better things.

  • Gus

    @Dave: Actually cars don’t need lead in the fuel- the lead was made for the protection of valve seats in older iron-based cylinder heads. Modern engines have hardened valve seats that mitigate the need for lead.

  • Gus

    @Dave: Actually cars don’t need lead in the fuel- the lead was made for the protection of valve seats in older iron-based cylinder heads. Modern engines have hardened valve seats that mitigate the need for lead.

  • http://www.garrygolden.net Garry Golden

    Nice post. It is nice to see the bioenergy conversation evolving from plant to microorganisms as the more efficient side of biology to capture carbon as an energy source. After Al Gore’s speech I posted a note asking openly why the word ‘biology’ was not mentioned in the grand vision- especially given the opportunity of turning carbon into a profitable feedstock— Glad to see Sapphire’s progress!

    http://tinyurl.com/6n9zrv

    http://www.memebox.com/futureblogger/show/709-dear-al-gore-did-you-forget-about-harvesting-carbon-for-bioenergy-

  • http://www.garrygolden.net Garry Golden

    Nice post. It is nice to see the bioenergy conversation evolving from plant to microorganisms as the more efficient side of biology to capture carbon as an energy source. After Al Gore’s speech I posted a note asking openly why the word ‘biology’ was not mentioned in the grand vision- especially given the opportunity of turning carbon into a profitable feedstock— Glad to see Sapphire’s progress!

    http://tinyurl.com/6n9zrv

    http://www.memebox.com/futureblogger/show/709-dear-al-gore-did-you-forget-about-harvesting-carbon-for-bioenergy-

  • Jim

    Btw Cattails and Industrial Hemp(.001% drug inducting THC) yield 5 times more than corn 2500 gals of ethanol per acre.

    THats-> 60mil acres of the 900mil of unusable farmland(5%) to meet our transport needs.

    Use all the unusable farmland and we are the Saudis fat cats

    A new crop every 6 months

    $300 part to make your car run on it and easy install.

    Where is the vision here?

  • Jim

    Btw Cattails and Industrial Hemp(.001% drug inducting THC) yield 5 times more than corn 2500 gals of ethanol per acre.

    THats-> 60mil acres of the 900mil of unusable farmland(5%) to meet our transport needs.

    Use all the unusable farmland and we are the Saudis fat cats

    A new crop every 6 months

    $300 part to make your car run on it and easy install.

    Where is the vision here?

  • Jim

    They used to flush gasoline down the sewer before cars came along. Companies make $2500 worth of products from a barrel of crude and gasoline is the least profitable part of it. Henry Ford wanted us to run on ethanol not oil. But John D. Rockefeller gave the equivalent of 400b

    to the Womens Temperance League to outlaw ethanol. Here we are pwned by the middle east harem loving sheiks.

    Learn here

    http://peswiki.com/index.php/Review:Alcohol_can_be_a_Gas

  • Jim

    They used to flush gasoline down the sewer before cars came along. Companies make $2500 worth of products from a barrel of crude and gasoline is the least profitable part of it. Henry Ford wanted us to run on ethanol not oil. But John D. Rockefeller gave the equivalent of 400b

    to the Womens Temperance League to outlaw ethanol. Here we are pwned by the middle east harem loving sheiks.

    Learn here

    http://peswiki.com/index.php/Review:Alcohol_can_be_a_Gas

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  • electricfuel

    While this will (cross fingers) be a super-duper solution due to carbon neutrality and the ability to go straight into existing infrastructure, we will still breathe the exhaust from the car/truck in front of us on the road. So I’m still looking for that electric affordable car…

  • electricfuel

    While this will (cross fingers) be a super-duper solution due to carbon neutrality and the ability to go straight into existing infrastructure, we will still breathe the exhaust from the car/truck in front of us on the road. So I’m still looking for that electric affordable car…

  • Nick

    zeeoi

    Not only is it carbon neutral, it actually ABSORBS C02 in the atmosphere to grow. That means it can actually reverse global warming and greenhouse gases. Incidentally, it may very well be much cheaper than oil since it’s so abundant and easy to grow.

  • Nick

    zeeoi

    Not only is it carbon neutral, it actually ABSORBS C02 in the atmosphere to grow. That means it can actually reverse global warming and greenhouse gases. Incidentally, it may very well be much cheaper than oil since it’s so abundant and easy to grow.

  • Marc

    Very cool. Hard to believe something like this is possible but sounds like the best solution yet. With fossil fuel prices on the rise and the obvious effects to our natural habitat, I’m surprised so few people have taken an interest.

  • Marc

    Very cool. Hard to believe something like this is possible but sounds like the best solution yet. With fossil fuel prices on the rise and the obvious effects to our natural habitat, I’m surprised so few people have taken an interest.

  • absurdist

    zeeol:

    “While the green crude is chemically identical to crude oil, it is completely carbon neutral.”

    That’s from the FIRST paragraph. Try to RTFA next time so you don’t look like quite so much of an idiot? kthxbai

  • absurdist

    zeeol:

    “While the green crude is chemically identical to crude oil, it is completely carbon neutral.”

    That’s from the FIRST paragraph. Try to RTFA next time so you don’t look like quite so much of an idiot? kthxbai

  • http://zeeol.com/Blog zeeol

    Is it carbon neutral? or at least close to carbon neutral? If not, its still gonna melt the caps the exact same levels, its just going to be ‘terror free’ pollution.

  • http://zeeol.com/Blog zeeol

    Is it carbon neutral? or at least close to carbon neutral? If not, its still gonna melt the caps the exact same levels, its just going to be ‘terror free’ pollution.

  • Dave

    @J. Randolph: Actually, you don’t want sulfur in the exhaust, but the engine itself needs some of this kind of stuff in the fuel. Remember tetraethyl lead? That was good stuff as far as the engine was concerned. Older diesel engines don’t like this practically sulfur-free fuel of today. Engines also don’t like the removal of some trace metals from motor oil which has been done recently.

    Modern oil and fuels are more scientific than you’d ever guess.

  • Dave

    @J. Randolph: Actually, you don’t want sulfur in the exhaust, but the engine itself needs some of this kind of stuff in the fuel. Remember tetraethyl lead? That was good stuff as far as the engine was concerned. Older diesel engines don’t like this practically sulfur-free fuel of today. Engines also don’t like the removal of some trace metals from motor oil which has been done recently.

    Modern oil and fuels are more scientific than you’d ever guess.

  • williamk

    This is worth some effort to follow up. I will be making an effort to bring awareness of the concept and process development in Thailand. Plenty of rice paddy algae and small farms to work with here.

  • Jim Jones

    Hmmm, algae fuel, looks delicious!

    JT

    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • Jim Jones

    Hmmm, algae fuel, looks delicious!

    JT

    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • John C. Randolph

    Not quite chemically identical. Crude oil contains a lot of things like sulphur and metals that you’d really rather not have in your fuel.

    This process has the potential to grow basically perfect fuel.

    -jcr

  • John C. Randolph

    Not quite chemically identical. Crude oil contains a lot of things like sulphur and metals that you’d really rather not have in your fuel.

    This process has the potential to grow basically perfect fuel.

    -jcr

  • Tyler

    I think any alternative fuel is better than what we have now. I don’t think this will become the “perfect” fuel. But as long as we keep challenging the fuel we have today, it can only lead to better things.

  • Roger

    Since the algae are creating the fuel as a waste product it’s using CO2 to do that, equivalent to the CO2 that’s put back into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned. Sunlight is the energy source for the process, as in any plant.

    There’s a fuller explanation on the Sapphire Energy site.

  • Roger

    Since the algae are creating the fuel as a waste product it’s using CO2 to do that, equivalent to the CO2 that’s put back into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned. Sunlight is the energy source for the process, as in any plant.

    There’s a fuller explanation on the Sapphire Energy site.

  • amanda

    and this would leave no carbon footprint? it wouldnt harm the environment ro accelerate global warming?

  • amanda

    and this would leave no carbon footprint? it wouldnt harm the environment ro accelerate global warming?

  • http://www.brightfuture.us Tim

    I think algae is probably the most feasible source for biofuel that I have come across. It certainly beats corn and sugar in not competing with food production. Hopefully it will also be a more ecologically sound crop as well, without taxing the topsoil and requiring large amounts of agricultural chemicals as other crops do. Though if algae is cultivated in massive amounts in natural bodies of water that could be problematic. The biggest sell is the efficiency I think. 10,000+ gallons per year from an acre, compared with 20-50 gallons for an acre of soy or corn (See “Algae Biodiesel – Fuel of the Future”).

  • http://www.brightfuture.us Tim

    I think algae is probably the most feasible source for biofuel that I have come across. It certainly beats corn and sugar in not competing with food production. Hopefully it will also be a more ecologically sound crop as well, without taxing the topsoil and requiring large amounts of agricultural chemicals as other crops do. Though if algae is cultivated in massive amounts in natural bodies of water that could be problematic. The biggest sell is the efficiency I think. 10,000+ gallons per year from an acre, compared with 20-50 gallons for an acre of soy or corn (See “Algae Biodiesel – Fuel of the Future”).

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