From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published October 17, 2012 08:11 AM

Algae Farm Power

Algae fuel or Algal biofuel is an alternative to fossil fuel that uses algae as its source. Several companies and government agencies are funding efforts to reduce capital and operating costs and make algae fuel production commercially viable. Harvested algae, like fossil fuel, release CO2 when burnt but unlike fossil fuel the CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere by the next generation of growing algae. As locations go, Columbus, New Mexico is hard to find but is a pretty good place to stage the first attempt, here on Planet Earth, to cultivate crude oil as an agricultural crop. To do so, three partners are attempting to do something else that has never been achieved before — using algae as a major, global crop platform — not on the scale that has produced vitamin and nutritional supplements, but on the scale and at the costs more closely associated with the dozen or so great staple crops around the world. It is turning a 300-acre expanse of desert scrub into the world’s largest algae farm designed to produce crude oil.

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"We take algae, CO2, water and sunlight, and then we refine it," says Cynthia Warner, the chief executive of Sapphire, who joined the company after working for more than 20 years at oil-company giants Amoco and BP. Algae, she says, has the potential to change the world, by reducing carbon dioxide emissions and enabling almost any country to make its own oil. "This technology is so compelling — and it will make such a big difference — that, once it gets out of the gate, it will ramp up very quickly," Warner says.

A farm needs flattish land because then you have to move the water.  Flattish lands works, a slight grade as you find in much of agriculture. That way, you get a gravity assist in flowing water downhill. When it reaches the bottom of the farm, it can be pumped back to the top with very energy-efficient pump technology.  Like rice, the field is flooded. Abundant water is at hand.

There are several technical factors to consider.  Dry mass factor is the percentage of dry biomass in relation to the fresh biomass; e.g. if the dry mass factor is 5%, one would need 20 kg of wet algae (algae in the media) to get 1 kg of dry algae cells.

Lipid content is the percentage of oil in relation to the dry biomass needed to get it, i.e. if the algae lipid content is 40%, one would need 2.5 kg of dry algae to get 1 kg of oil.

Algae requires nutrients, sunlight & water to grow, algae thrive on saline, brackish and waste waters. There have been proposals made where wastewater, human waste, animal waste & plant waste, along with C02 emissions from industrial processes can all be used as the nutrients in algaculture.  After oil is extracted from the algae the algae residue is then used as an animal feedstock or as a soil fertilizer.


Other algae farms are under development in Hawaii, by Phycal, and in Karratha, Australia, by Aurora Algae, and in Florida, by Algenol. In Europe, the Swedish energy company Vattenfall and Italy’s Enel Group have been using algae, which is then made into fuel or food, to absorb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Synthetic Genomics is going a step further, studying natural algae in order to design, from scratch, a plant of its own. Venter, the company founder, told Scientific American last year: "Everybody is looking for a naturally occurring algae that is going to be a miracle cell to save the world and, after a century of looking, people still haven’t found it. We hope we’re different." Venter noted that genetic tools "give us a new approach: being able to rewrite the genetic code and get cells to do what we want them to do."

So Algae Power is not yet here but the mechanics of successful production is being studied and tested.

For further information see Sapphire and US Study.

Farm image via Sapphire.

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