Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A sober look at biofuels from algae

Large-scale algae-to-biodiesel production is getting tantalizingly close to reality. However, some highly touted production pathways may not be all they are cracked up to be.

Comparison of Base Case Capital and Production Costs for Three Algae Production Technologies

By Martin Tampier

First-generation biofuels are based on commonly available agricultural commodities such as wheat or corn. Second-generation biofuels process lignocellulosic biomass, such as corn stover, straw or wood. There is now a lot of talk about third-generation biofuels, which include algae-based biodiesel or ethanol. Seed Science Ltd. spent several months examining the technical and economic feasibility of algae-to-biofuels in British Columbia. As a result, skepticism has surfaced as to whether algae will be part of the biofuels future, whether in British Columbia or elsewhere.

The advantage of growing algae instead of conventional agricultural crops is their very high growth rate, which in turn reduces the surface required to produce a given amount of biofuel. In addition, there is no competition for agricultural land useful for growing food crops since algae can be grown on land unsuitable for agriculture. Big names such as Shell Oil Co. and Chevron Corp., as well as the U.S. military, are investigating biofuels from algae. Over the past few years, some algae start-up companies have been able to leverage several million dollars of investment. So, surely consumers will soon see the first biofuels made from algae at gas stations, won’t they? …

A Sober Look at Biofuels From Algae

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