The US seems to be closing in on the bust end of another of its usual boom-bust economic cycles. (This time too many less-than-wealthy buyers were duped by greedy mortgagers into buying overpriced homes. The last boom-bust was what, overvalued dot-coms?) Anyway chin up, weâ€™ll survive and the next boom could begin late in the current presidentâ€™s term, and the next man or woman behind the desk in the Oval Office will get all the credit for the economic upturn. (Which, too, will eventually go sour. Itâ€™s the American way.)
Before the discussion of algae production begins, please put up with a little jabber.
The US seems to be closing in on the bust end of another of its usual boom-bust economic cycles. (This time too many less-than-wealthy buyers were duped by greedy mortgagers into buying overpriced homes. The last boom-bust was what, overvalued dot-coms?)
Anyway chin up, we’ll survive and the next boom could begin late in the current president’s term, and the next man or woman behind the desk in the Oval Office will get all the credit for the economic upturn. (Which, too, will eventually go sour. It’s the American way.)
And the driving force behind the next boom (and bust) cycle? Green energy, green power, a move away from dependence on petroleum, of course. The reason? Well, many.
The technologies, the companies, the interest in the investment community are there, ready and willing to do it.
It makes good economic sense: i.e. it will create jobs, many of which can’t be exported and many of which will pay well.
It makes good foreign policy. If the people in oil producing states in the Persian Gulf region didn’t think we were just there for the oil (which we wouldn’t be because we’re pursuing other energies) but we’re there to help out, they might be more willing to work with us, than against us. If the rest of the world sees that we are suddenly willing to tackle global warming we might gain back many good old friends. And finally, the US may have learned its lesson on the sanity of relying on other nations for its energy supply. Homegrown is safer, more predictable.
The question many may have is which technologies will be the winners when the boom comes. Which will soak up investment dollars and return good profits? That’s where the crystal ball gets a little cloudy with specifics. Yet there is a trend already in successful renewable technologies that may be an indicator of which will be the winners. It is those that offer plug-and-play energy and turnkey operation with dramatic efficiency savings and or carbon-free emissions, those technologies with little if any infrastructure or large construction projects needed. That is, more instantly gratifying green energy technologies like those we already have.
--- A wind turbine is purchased, trucked to a site and planted in the earth. Aside from the development of the project, the construction is easy and fast: instant green power. Turbines are plug and play renewables and are certainly a success.
--- Pretty much ditto for solar photovoltaic or solar thermal power. Find a site, buy off-the-shelf technology, plug it in. Instant green.
--- Biodiesel production can begin soon after a truck arrives with containerized biodiesel production equipment.
--- Hybrid cars offer instant dramatic energy savings with a signature on a sales agreement.
--- Little things like compact fluorescent or LED bulbs, even flat screen TV and computer monitors,offer instant energy savings the moment they are turned on.
Now there is potentially a plug-and-play solution for biofuel feedstock from algae using a very simple technology.
Diversified Energy Corporation (DEC) announced last week that it had formed a partnership and licensing arrangement for a patent pending, breakthrough algae production system invented by XL Renewables (XLR). That system, called Simgae (TM) (for simple algae), makes algae inside a series of tubes, not in ponds. The components used in the system are the same or similar to those already used in agriculture.
Off the shelf components are used and no large-scale construction projects are required.
Further, once in operation, there’s very little care and feeding of the system. All that’s needed is sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients mainly in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous, along with a sunny spot to lay out the thin-walled polyethylene tubing, called Algae Biotape(R), which is similar to conventional drip irrigation tubing.
Once the growing begins algae rich water exits the tubing and, after drying and separation, oils and starches for the production of biodiesel, ethanol, and other products continuously flow.
The companies call Simgae(TM) a Low Cost Algae Production System. Capital costs are expected to be approximately $45k - $60k per acre; with each acre yielding 100 - 200 dry tons per year. (This is a 2-16 times improvement over competing systems.) Per pound cost of oil production for biodiesel should be only 8 -12 cents as compared with 25 - 45 cents for other oil feedstocks from recent market prices, according to Diversified Energy.
Like other successful renewable technologies one can imagine the possibility of “turn key” Simgae production facilities being offered in the same way turnkey wind and solar farms are now built by developers.
There are perhaps prime locations to build them too: Near fossil fuel power plants to absorb some of the carbon dioxide emissions or perhaps sharing acreage with solar thermal powerplants.
The companies DEC and XLR have completed preliminary engineering and modeling of Simgae and are planning to conduct multiple demonstrations in Arizona beginning in Fall 2007 and continuing into 2008.
If the technology proves viable it could be available about the same time as the next economic boom (then bust) period. Till then keep your seat belt buckled and your cash under your mattress.