(February 2003) – “The aquarium strain of Caulerpa taxifolia is an extremely invasive seaweed that is currently infesting tens of thousands of acres in the Mediterranean Sea and has now been found in two coastal water bodies in southern California. The aquarium strain of C. taxifolia was first found in the Mediterranean Sea off Monaco, adjacent to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, around 1984. Since then, C. taxifolia has spread along the Mediterranean coast and dramatically altered and displaced native plant and animal communities. Early eradication was not attempted in the Mediterranean, and the infestation is now considered beyond control. As of 2001, it was estimated that C. taxifolia had infested over 30,000 acres of seafloor in Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Tunisia.

Prevention of new infestations: Aquarium water and other contents should never be emptied into or near any gutter, storm drain, creek, lagoon, bay, harbor, or the ocean. Aquarium water should be disposed of only in a sink or toilet. Rock and other solid material from an aquarium should be disposed of in a trash can. C. taxifolia from an aquarium (and anything it is attached to), should be placed in a plastic bag, put in a freezer for at least 24 hours, and then disposed of in a trash can.

“Bickering over whether the species was natural or invasive, and whether the museum had released it or not, contributed to a delay that allowed the plant to spread beyond control. The museum continued to deny releasing the plant, although former director Jacques Cousteau eventually expressed the belief that it was the only reasonable explanation. C. taxifolia has no natural predators or competitors in the Mediterranean. It crowds out other fish and plants, and contains a strong toxin that is distasteful to most species around the world. Regions that have been invaded by the plant now show that about half the expected number of fish have disappeared.”

“Over the years that we have observed this Caulerpa in the Mediterranean, we have never seen evidence of sexual reproduction,” says Meinesz. The only reproductive cells it releases are male, fostering a suspicion that all C. taxifolia in the Mediterranean are clones of a single aquarium plant.”



“Geologists view crude oil and natural gas as the product of compression and heating of ancient organic materials (i.e. kerogen) over geological time. Today’s oil formed from the preserved remains of prehistoric zooplankton and algae, which had settled to a sea or lake bottom in large quantities under anoxic conditions (the remains of prehistoric terrestrial plants, on the other hand, tended to form coal). Over geological time the organic matter mixed with mud, and was buried under heavy layers of sediment resulting in high levels of heat and pressure (known as diagenesis). This caused the organic matter to chemically change, first into a waxy material known as kerogen which is found in various oil shales around the world, and then with more heat into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons in a process known as catagenesis.”

“Fourth generation biofuels is a term that I’ve seen presented as various different technologies so it’s hard to really define exactly what these fuels are. One definition of a fourth generation biofuel is crops that are genetically engineered to consume more CO2 from the atmosphere than they’ll produce during combustion later as a fuel. Another definition is genetically engineered crops similar to the ones just mentioned but combined with synthesized microbes that will convert the biofuels produced into even more efficient fuel. For example a plant could be grown then converted into a fuel which is then exposed to a microbe that changes it directly into gasoline. Yet another definition is genetically modified or synthesized microbes that convert CO2 in the atmosphere directly into usable fuels.

With all these different definitions of what a fourth generation biofuel is its no wonder that it can be so hard to find a solid explaination. The answer is that no one really knows what a fourth generation biofuel is yet except everyone seems to agree it involves genetic modifications. However, even though it involves genetic modifications that can’t be the sole definition. Let me recap the different biofuel generations for you. First generation biofuels are the fuels currently in use such as biodiesel. Second generation biofuels are similar fuels but produced from non-food crops. Third generation biofuels are genetically modified crops that capture more CO2 from the atmosphere resulting in a carbon neutral fuel. This third generation is why fourth generation has to be more than simply genetically modified crops. So, what is a fourth generation biofuel then? I would define a fourth generation biofuel as biofuels that result in a negative carbon impact when combusted. Since third generation biofuels result in a carbon neutral impact and many examples of a fourth generation biofuel mention more carbon being consumed than is released during use this seems like a suitable definition.”

from Green Dreams
BY Joel K. Bourne, Jr.  /  October 2007

“Pacheco traces another line on his chart, at twice the altitude of the first. It represents the ultimate biofuels dream: enough green fuel to make the U.S. energy independent. It is where we might be, says Pacheco, if we greatly increase vehicle efficiency while churning out cellulosic ethanol, or, more tantalizing, “if we make algae work.” There is no magic-bullet fuel crop that can solve our energy woes without harming the environment, says virtually every scientist studying the issue. But most say that algae—single-celled pond scum—comes closer than any other plant because it grows in wastewater, even seawater, requiring little more than sunlight and carbon dioxide to flourish. NREL had an algae program for 17 years until it was shut down in the mid-1990s for lack of funding. This year the lab is cranking it back up again. A dozen start-up companies are also trying to convert the slimy green stuff into a viable fuel.

GreenFuel Technologies, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is at the head of the pack. Founded by MIT chemist Isaac Berzin, the company has developed a process that uses algae in plastic bags to siphon carbon dioxide from the smoke-stack emissions of power plants. Algae not only reduce a plant’s global warming gases, but also devour other pollutants. Some algae make starch, which can be processed into ethanol; others produce tiny droplets of oil that can be brewed into biodiesel or even jet fuel. Best of all, algae in the right conditions can double in mass within hours. While each acre of corn produces around 300 gallons (1,135 liters) of ethanol a year and an acre of soybeans around 60 gallons (227 liters) of biodiesel, each acre of algae theoretically can churn out more than 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of biofuel each year.

“Corn or soybeans, you harvest once a year,” says Berzin. “Algae you harvest every day. And we’ve proved we can grow algae from Boston to Arizona.” Berzin’s company has partnered with Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, to test algae production at APS’s natural-gas-burning Redhawk power plant just west of Phoenix. Algae farms around that one plant, located on 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of bone-dry Sonoran Desert, could double the current U.S. production of biodiesel, says Berzin.

The energy farm, as GreenFuel calls it, isn’t much to look at, just a cluster of shipping containers and office trailers next to a plastic greenhouse structure longer than a football field and perhaps 50 feet (15 meters) wide. Outside the greenhouse, rows of large plastic tubes filled with bubbling bright green liquid hang like giant slugs from hooks. After making a few calls to his boss, GreenFuel’s security-conscious head of field operations, Marcus Gay, allows me to inspect this “seed farm,” which grows algae for the greenhouse. Everything else is off-limits. The company guards its secrets closely.

With good reason: Only perhaps a dozen people on the planet know how to grow algae in high-density systems, says Gay. Algae specialists, long near the bottom of the biology food chain, are becoming the rock stars. Two of Arizona’s largest universities recently started algae programs. Their biggest challenge, as with cellulosic ethanol, is reducing the cost of algae fuel. “At the end of the day for this to work, this has to be cheaper than petroleum diesel,” says Gay. “If we’re one penny over the cost of diesel per gallon, we’re sunk.” (In July, rising costs and technical problems forced GreenFuel to shut down the Redhawk bioreactor temporarily.)

Hard numbers—supply, efficiency, and, most important, price at the pump—will determine the future of ethanol and biodiesel. But for now green fuels have an undeniable romance. In the garage of his office complex in downtown Phoenix, Ray Hobbs, a senior engineer for APS who is leading the company’s fuel initiative, walks past a small fleet of electric cars, hybrids, even a hydrogen-powered bus. He climbs into a big diesel Ford van and turns the key. The exhaust, unlike a typical diesel’s, is invisible, with just the faintest whiff of diesel smell from the algae biodiesel made at the Redhawk pilot plant. The superslick plant oil has also quieted a little of that annoying diesel rattle.

“The way I think about these things is I’m sitting in a river in a canoe,” says Hobbs. “Now do I want to paddle upstream, or do I want to go with the flow? Algae is downstream, with the flow. We have processes in nature that are honed for us, that have evolved. So we can take those processes and make them faster and more efficient and harness that power. We can’t wait generations to screw around with this. We have to do it now.”

Hobbs says he has fielded dozens of calls from power companies interested in building an algae plant of their own to scrub emissions and help meet their renewable fuels mandate. The lure of plant fuels even seems to have reached the petroleum-rich sands of the Middle East, where the United Arab Emirates has launched a 250-million-dollar renewable energy initiative that includes biofuels—perhaps a sign that even the sheikhs now realize that the oil age won’t last forever. As precedents for such collective effort, people sometimes point to the Manhattan Project to build a nuclear weapon or the Apollo Program to put a man on the moon. But those analogies don’t really work. They demanded the intense concentration of money and intelligence on a single small niche in our technosphere. Now we need almost the opposite: a commitment to take what we already know how to do and somehow spread it into every corner of our economies, and indeed our most basic activities. It’s as if NASA’s goal had been to put all of us on the moon.”


ENERGY FARMING,28804,1733748_1733754_1735703,00.html
The Fuel Generation
BY Kobi Ben-Simhon  /  17/05/2008

When Dr. Isaac Berzin talks about algae, he forgets everything else. He starts talking a mile a minute, and sometimes he talks about true love. “When I look at them through the microscope, I see them doing belly dances, and they have this small mustache that they wave. They are really cute,” he says with a passion that he makes no effort to hide. He laughs and then pauses to reflect for a moment. “But because I am not a biologist I can look at them a little like a child,” he tries to explain. “Where a biologist would talk about filaments and other technical terms, I see a mustache and behavior. I am constantly dumbfounded by this plant. This little thing is the baseline for the production of oxygen in the world; it knows how to use carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen. It amazes me that despite this, algae are not given enough respect, and instead are treated like green slime.”

When Berzin looks at algae, he sees a new world and a revolution. Dr. Berzin, 40, is wearing a blue suit, and his hair is held in place with glistening gel. Eight months ago he returned to Israel from the United States after generating a research breakthrough that changed his life. Berzin, the founder of GreenFuel Technologies – a U.S. company that produces green fuel from algae – discovered that “green slime” contains one of the keys to the alternative fuel the world is seeking. His company is the first ever to develop and produce biofuels from algae that are bred on gases emitted by power plants.

It might sound like some sort of magic trick to put algae, CO2 and sunlight into a box and come out with fuel, but Berzin did it. “I feel a bit like Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb,” he says. “He tried thousands of materials until he arrived at the filament. My intuition, too, told me that it was possible to do something that people were only dreaming of – to build a device from algae to produce energy at market-compatible costs.

“It’s logical, really, when you think about it,” Berzin continues, “because all liquid fuels are compressed ancient organic matter, the outcome of photosynthesis. The liquid fuels that are pumped out of the earth are ancient plants. There are no miracles here. We just accelerated the process. A quarter of the weight of algae is vegetable oil from which biofuel can be produced, and the point was to control the biology. My goal was to adapt the algae to the local water and the local profile of the gases – to ensure they would be happy.”

In a large conference hall at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Berzin declares that the world is on the threshold of a vast change. “An era has ended,” he asserts without hesitation. “Until now we found a reserve of fuel and used it up. In comparison to the evolutionary process, we are at the transition from the stage of the collectors of food to the situation in which humanity began to engage in agriculture and grow food. That is what we are doing today: we are starting to grow our fuel. Our generation will go down in history as the ‘fuel generation.’ That generation is over. Man is moving from a situation in which he uses up the sources of energy to one in which he grows energy.”

Berzin’s odyssey began in 1999, immediately after he obtained his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Ben-Gurion University. He then embarked on postdoctoral studies at MIT. That was a formative moment in his career. “I was in one of the world’s leading technological institutions. I was part of a NASA project to plan a facility for growing cells in the international space station. I had reached the cutting edge of the most prestigious project in NASA,” he says in an unsatisfied but emphatic tone. “I was working with the best and most brilliant minds that were dealing with a hallucinatory problem: how to grow cells in the space station. At the time, buses were blowing up every day in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. That preoccupied me. I thought to myself: Dear God, fuel is killing us. After all, those terrorists are funded by fuel powers. I felt it was off the wall to be dealing with cells in space, that I should be engaged with a problem whose solution would change the world: the problem of energy.”

On his desk at the time was a document issued by the U.S. Department of Energy. The idea of producing fuel from algae was not new. “It was known that vegetable oil is the original material of fuel,” Berzin explains. “In the 1970s and 1980s, in the wake of the fuel crises that were spawned by political crises, the national laboratory for alternative energy in the United States decided to try to produce fuel from algae. The idea was to use power plants that emit carbon dioxide in order to raise algae and produce green fuel from them. After 20 years of research and tens of millions of dollars, they concluded that it wouldn’t work. When I looked at their research, I discovered that they had actually taken carbon dioxide in a bottle and shaken it. They had not taken genuine gas emissions from power plants. I discovered that they had worked for 20 years and produced zero gallons of fuel. Twenty years and how many scientific articles? Hundreds. I realized that the project was an academic platform for them, that no one there was really determined to make fuel from algae.”

Berzin decided to act. He left MIT eight years ago and founded GreenFuel, whose professed aim is to produce green fuel from algae. The Israeli researcher was intent on solving the riddle that the best American researchers in the field had labored over for two decades. GreenFuel began to develop a distinctive method of reproducing algae, one that does not use up agricultural land or clean water, while at the same time consuming a considerable quantity of carbon dioxide, one of the most pernicious of the greenhouse gases. “In the technological world it was a crazy decision,” he admits. “You have to be crazy to leave an institution like MIT for an uncertain future.”

Berzin had no money to launch his ambitious project, so he borrowed $200,000 from two close friends. “Looking back on it today,” he says, “I understand how much I didn’t know. Because my instincts as a scientist were not suited to the business world. As a scientist, I thought that technological excellence was the key to success. Well, it’s not. A scientist who discovers something immediately rushes to tell the world; in the business world you keep your mouth shut and rush to the patent office. Berzin’s parents are academics: his father, an engineer, worked for Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and his mother is an electrical engineer. “My father was an inventor, a very unconventional person. I had a passion for his work, so our home was always filled with broken machines and wrecked gears. In the 1980s, for example, there was an arrangement at IAI whereby if you come up with an efficiency proposal that saved money for the plant, you got 10 percent of the amount that was saved in the first year. My father made a lot of money that way.”

Berzin established his first energy farm adjacent to the power plant at MIT. That was the inception of a historic event, because at the end of the process, fuel was produced from carbon dioxide for the first time. “I introduced the gases into the system as they were and started to grow the algae in transparent plastic pipes. In effect, you become an ‘energy farmer.’ The algae grow on the liquid base. In the next stage of my experiments I grew the algae in a shallow, plastic-covered pool. The algae grow in the water and divide at a wild rate. In the morning the water is green and by evening it is already black. Afterward the algae are separated from the water. Every day I harvested a third of 10 centimeters, you pump out the liquid, and every day a third of the volume is taken.”

And the fuel is produced from the pulp of the algae? “Exactly. You separate the algae from the water, and then you have pulp, a green sludge from which the oil is extracted. Back then, all the existing technologies to separate algae from water were too expensive. I had to find a different technology. A researcher’s life is frustrating. I bear the scars of unsuccessful experiments, of a search for solutions and of failures. I remember a moment when I thought I was on the right track, and then I suddenly made a calculation and understood that the effort I had made to compress the gas was in vain. I realized that I was actually losing energy rather than producing energy.”

And then? “It was terribly difficult. You believe you have something, and in a split second you understand that you have nothing. And that was after building devices and investing a great deal of money. There was a crisis. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Anyone who wants to reach the top of a hill will follow every path; sometimes the path leads to a downturn, but you must not continue just because the landscape is pretty. As soon as you identify the mistake, you have to change course. We succeeded in finding a different path,” Berzin goes on. “I remember skeptics who told me I would never achieve what I wanted. ‘Do you know how much it costs to grow algae today?’ they said. That in fact was a crucial stage in the chain of challenges that prevented this from being a true and profitable technology. But we did it. From an installation of one square kilometer we are now producing five million liters of green fuel a year. After the technology was demonstrated at MIT, the next stage was to take it to a real power plant. Until then I had raised enough money to do it on a small scale. Now it was time to go big. So I went to Arizona.”

What had seemed to be science fiction became a thriving, measured business. Berzin has registered 12 patents that enshrine his rights to the technology connecting an energy farm to a power plant. In 2005, in the heart of the Arizona desert, he chalked up another achievement when he set up the world’s first trial project adjacent to a power plant of APS, Arizona’s largest electrical utility company. The director of the advanced fuels program of APS, Raymond Hobbs, relates that his Ford has been cruising the streets of Phoenix on green fuel since 2006. “My mandate is to burn fuel and produce electricity, but we have a problem called CO2,” he notes. “The good thing about Itzik’s [Isaac’s] technology is that we are recycling the toxin and creating a new industry. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. It’s not every day that you make a hole in the smokestack of a power plant that is worth billions of dollars and start to grow algae. I did it because I believed in Itzik. The first time we met, he showed up at my office with three people and said that was his whole company. I say that the size of a company does not determine the size of the head. One person’s idea can bring about tremendous change. I am certain that his technology will bring mankind lots of fuel, food and peace.”

But it turns out that persuading Hobbs was no easy task. “I came out of the MIT hothouses with a technology and a business model, but without any money,” Berzin says. “It was very hard for the electricity companies to put money into an idea like this. When Raymond first saw me enter his power plant in a suit, he muttered that he was in a hurry to get to another meeting. But in the end, if there is someone, such as me, for example, who in return for partnership in the business asks the electricity company only for the CO2 and its lands, the answer is very quickly yes. If they face no professional or economic risk, but only profit, they work with you straightaway.”

Financing for Berzin’s project actually came from Europe, where, he says, “quality of the environment” is a genuine, deep commitment. “In Europe they made a strategic decision to shift to green, so there is billions available for green projects. To sign contracts of $300 million to build an energy farm in Arizona and a second farm in Spain at a cost of $92 million, I found European partners willing to put up the money.”

Some will be critical of your partnership with power plants that are polluting the atmosphere. “People who develop green technologies are considered either hallucinatory types or enemies of the free market – people who demand to work for the environment with no economic logic. I don’t believe that is the right direction. The industry is aware of the environmental problem it is creating, and its alternative solution is to compress the CO2 as pure gas into the depths of the earth. But dumps like that might be released one day and cruise to the nearby city and kill millions of people before they fall to earth. Because carbon dioxide is a necessary byproduct in the burning process, the electricity companies are scared stiff, so they fight the Al Gores of the world. I am proposing a solution that not only does not cost them money, it makes money. I have turned things upside down – there is no punishment and no risk. So what’s the problem? I understood that I had to solve a tremendous problem of the industry in order to actualize my green technology.”

Does the fuel produced from algae compete with green fuels made from corn and soy? “It turns out that the biofuels produced from corn or soy seeds – fuels that are considered the future substitute for pollutant fuel – cause environmental damage themselves. It is also not economically viable: to grow the soy beans you need leaves and roots, a whole system that supports the beans from which the oil is produced. No such system is required to grow algae. Their rate of growth is 10 to 100 times that of any other biological system. So if you have a unit of land, you can achieve orders of production that are many times higher. This is a process that does not compete for land and water resources – algae can grow in saltwater and in sewage.”


Biofuel made from power plant CO2
BY Phil Mckenna  /  06 October 2006

“If you’re working at a power plant, you just saw your carbon dioxide turned into something you can drive home with.” So says Isaac Berzin of GreenFuel Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is developing a way of producing biofuel from the noxious emissions of power plants.

Two of the world’s greatest energy users are electricity generation and transport. Both are responsible for huge quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, as most power plants and vehicles still rely on fossil fuels. Now GreenFuel and others are hoping to marry the two together with an emerging technology that uses a by-product of one to supply fuel to the other. Doing so could dramatically reduce their overall carbon dioxide emissions.

At the heart of the technology is a plastic cylinder full of algae, which literally sucks the CO2 out of a power plant’s exhaust. The algae can in turn be converted into biofuel, creating a cycle that takes the carbon from the smokestack to the gas tank before it enters the atmosphere.

If successful, the technology could capture all of a power plant’s CO2 emissions. “Right now, when you say CO2, people want to hide under the table. Carbon dioxide is not something you want to pump underground, it’s something you want to reuse,” says Berzin.

To produce fuel from CO2, the flue gases are fed into a series of transparent “bioreactors”, which are 2 metres high and filled with green microalgae suspended in nutrient-rich water. The algae use the CO2, along with sunlight and water, to produce sugars by photosynthesis, which are then metabolised into fatty oils and protein. As the algae grow and multiply, portions of the soup are continually withdrawn from each reactor and dried into cakes of concentrated algae. These are repeatedly washed with solvents to extract the oil.

The algal oil can then be converted into biodiesel through a routine process called transesterification, in which it is processed using ethanol and a catalyst. Enzymes are then used to convert starches from the remaining biomass into sugars, which are fermented by yeasts to produce ethanol.

GreenFuel is testing a pilot facility at the Redhawk power station in the Arizona desert. The size of a couple of trailers, it treats a only a tiny fraction of the plant’s exhaust, but it works, and has so far produced several gallons of algal oil, which the company is planning to convert into biodiesel for the first time this week. A second, larger prototype of around 1300 square metres is now under construction.

This new facility will also capture the heat produced by the plant and use it to help dry the algae before the oil is extracted and converted to biodiesel. This excess heat could also make it easier to recover the solvent from the oil after extraction. “The main energy requirement is recovering the solvent from the oil once it is extracted,” says Berzin. “Seventy per cent of a coal-burning plant’s energy is lost as heat. That’s a lot of waste heat to use.”

GreenFuel has so far received more than $18 million in venture capital funding, and hopes to install a full-scale algal farm at least 1 kilometre square near the Redhawk plant by 2009. Berzin calculates that if the farm has enough algae to absorb all the CO2 produced by the 1000-megawatt plant, GreenFuel could ultimately produce more than 150 million litres of biodiesel and 190 million litres of ethanol a year. To do this, it would need a farm of between 8 and 16 square kilometres.

The idea of producing biofuel from algae is not new. The US Department of Energy began investigating algae in the 1970s during the global oil shortage. Researchers scoured the US, collecting more than 3000 different strains of “extremophile” algae that could withstand the high temperatures, salinity and pH required to absorb the exhaust from power plants.

The Aquatic Species Program, as it was known, grew the algae in open pond test sites in Hawaii, California and New Mexico, but was mothballed in 1996 when lower crude oil prices made it difficult for alternative fuels to compete. “It’s an entirely different world now,” says John Sheehan, an analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, who worked on the project. “I’ve had a call or email a week enquiring about it.”

Although ahead of the competition in terms of developing prototype bioreactors, GreenFuel is not the first to use algae to produce samples of biofuel from power plant exhaust. In March Laurenz Thomsen and his team at the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Project at the International University Bremen in Germany used microalgae to produce 10 millilitres of biodiesel. Thomsen is now working on a possible joint venture with GreenFuel to develop algae farms at CO2-belching coal-fired plants in eastern Europe.

“Using technology based mainly on GreenFuel, we can mitigate 50,000 tonnes of CO2 per square kilometre per year,” he says. Building a 1-square-kilometre facility would cost approximately $20 million, he estimates, but the payoffs would be equally large. “I think we are close to the point where we can gain $5 to $10 million a year by selling the fuel.”

Another company building a pilot algae reactor is New York-based Greenshift. The company plans to begin testing its reactor at a bioethanol plant in Iowa in early 2007, where waste CO2 is emitted when corn is converted into ethanol. “Roughly one-third of the corn that goes into a facility comes out as ethanol,” says Kevin Kreisler of Greenshift. “With algae and other technologies we can increase that to two-thirds.” Like GreenFuel, the company eventually plans to use the technology at power plants.

Instead of exposing the algae directly to sunlight, Greenshift uses an array of mirrored troughs and fibre optics to carry sunlight to the plants. Algae don’t need strong sunlight for photosynthesis, so the bioreactors could feasibly be housed in buildings or underground. “It’s all about efficiency,” says Kreisler. “By diffusing the light we can take one square metre of sunlight and spread it out over 10 square metres of growth plates, thus reducing the amount of land we need by a factor of 10.”

Indeed, one key advantage of algae farms over other sources of biofuel such as corn and soybeans is that they need much less space (New Scientist, 23 September, p 36). In Germany, where rapeseed is the primary crop used for biodiesel, it would take up to 33 times as much land as is needed by the algae bioreactors to produce the same amount of fuel, Thomsen says. What’s more, unlike other biofuel crops, algae do not require precious commodities like fresh water or fertile land. That makes the technology suitable for use in the deserts of the American south-west and China. “If you really want to make an impact on CO2, you have to look at the US and China,” Berzin says.

If the technology is to be successful, though, the energy industry will need to be convinced. Barry Worthington of the US Energy Association in Washington DC, which represents the electricity generators, says the economics of algal biofuel still have to be borne out. But he is optimistic about its potential. All the conventional ways of reducing CO2 emissions are considered a cost, he says. “This changes the dynamics dramatically.”

Algae Oil Maker Solazyme Gets $45.4 Million More
BY Michael Kanellos  /  August 26, 2008

Solazyme is continuing to move away from the pack in algae oil. The South San Francisco-based company has raised $45.4 million in a Series C funding, according to PE Hub. Investors included Braemar Energy Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Harris & Harris group. The total includes $6.4 million in convertible securities. That brings the total raised by Solazyme, when grants and everything is mixed in, to close to $70 million by some estimates.

The company is both one of the oldest algae oil companies (dating way back to the first half of the decade) and one of the most novel. Rather than grow algae in ponds or closed-in water tubes called bioreactors through phototsynthesis, the company has identified species that grow by feeding off sugars in the dark. Solazyme effectively puts these algae and discarded plant matter into kettles and brews up algal blooms. The algae is then harvested for oil. Solazyme also genetically optimizes the natural strains of algae. By eliminating the need for water, Solazyme doesn’t have to worry about separating the algae from the water to harvest oil, a big problem. It can also control the growth of algae. The company initially tried to grow algae through photosynthesis but switched.

Solazyme also likes to point out that it has made oil, barrels of it, unlike many of the twenty plus algae companies out there today. It also has a development deal with Chevron. The company will also sell oil to the cosmetic industry and likely the food industry. I actually tried some brownies made with algae oil. They were good. The money will be used to scale up their existing manufacturing facilities. (Right now, the company is housed in a building that once served as an ice cream factory.)

Critics, though, note that sugar isn’t free, and say that the ecomonics of growing algae with water and free sunlight may win out. So we must wait and see. The company also isn’t the only one working on novel extraction or growing techniques. OriginOil is concocting a system that will force feed algae and then extract oil from the hapless critters with microwaves. Synthetic Genomics, meanwhile, is working on genetically modified algae that will expurgate their own, like sea cucumbers.


Jonathan Wolfson
email : jwolfson [at] solazyme [dot] com

Harrison Dillon
email : hdillon [at] solazyme [dot] com

Solazyme Showcases Jeep Fueled By Worlds First Algal-Based Renewable Diesel  /  Jan 27, 2009

Solazyme will feature a Jeep Liberty fueled by the world’s first algal-based renewable diesel, Soladiesel RDTM, at CALSTART Target 2030: Solutions to Secure California’s Transportation Energy and Climate Future in Sacramento, Calif.

The fuel, which is a drop-in replacement for standard petrodiesel (#2 Diesel), has passed American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D975 specifications and will also be on display at the event. Both Soladiesel RDTM and Soladiesel BDTM, a FAME biodiesel that meets the (ASTM) D6751 specifications, have been successfully road tested unblended (100 percent) for thousands of miles in standard unmodified diesel engines.

The Jeep, which will be available for rides throughout the event, illustrates the compatibility of the fuel with current infrastructure. “With new elected officials across the country, now is an ideal time for events like CALSTART Target 2030, which look at energy solutions that will serve us in the long term,” said Jonathan Wolfson, co-founder, and CEO of Solazyme.

“We are proud to be in California, a state known for leading energy policy, and are pleased to showcase our solutions which include clean and scalable renewable fuels derived from algae that meet today’s demanding performance and regulatory specifications, while dramatically reducing the carbon footprint versus petroleum based-fuels.”

Solazyme’s unique process grows algae in the dark using standard industrial bioproduction equipment, where the algae are fed a variety of non-food and waste biomass materials including cellulosic biomass and low-grade glycerol. This allows the company to produce oil with a very low carbon footprint efficiently in a controlled environment.

Solazyme’s fuels have already been road tested in unmodified vehicles for thousands of miles. Solazyme also recently announced that it has produced the world’s first algal based jet fuel which met all eleven of the tested key criteria for (ASTM) D1655 (Jet A-1). Additionally, Solazyme’s process is the very first bridge from non-food carbohydrates and certain industrial waste streams to edible oils and oleochemicals.


Directed evolution is a term used to describe a broad class of proprietary and public domain methods that can be used to optimize biological functions. From single proteins to single metabolic pathways to whole cell functions involving interrelated pathways, the directed evolution process is a highly efficient way to engineer an organism to perform a desired function. The process at its most fundamental level involves two steps. The first step involves generating one or more genetic changes in a population of otherwise genetically homogeneous organisms or gene sequences. The second step involves determining which organism or gene from the mutated population performs the desired function better than the strain or gene before the genetic change was made. In preferred formats the process is iterative, where improved organisms or genes are further evolved to perform the desired function at an even higher level.

The directed evolution process as practiced by Solazyme is significantly automated through the use of robotic technology. Robotic technology serves to not only speed the process of assembling and testing large populations of mutated organisms of genes, but also to standardize the assay process. With robotic technology, tens of thousands of individual mutant organisms can be tested for an enhanced function in a matter of hours. The ability to perform such mass screening increases the number of improved organisms or gene sequences identified in an assay.

Even with robotic technology, directed evolution is not optimal unless the screening process is performed under commercial deployment conditions. This means that an organism selected for commercial bioproduction should be tested for optimal function under conditions that mimic, as closely as possible, the envisioned commercial production system. Solazyme’s proprietary screening systems are designed to closely mimic such conditions.

Algae Biodiesel: It’s $33 a Gallon
Drying, breeding and growing algae – particularly in large quantities – isn’t there yet, which means your fishtank is not a gold mine.
BY Michael Kanellos  /  February 3, 2009

You can grow algae with carbon dioxide and sunlight, but that doesn’t mean it’s free. Although many believe that algae will become one of the chief feedstocks for diesel and even hydrocarbon-like fuels, growing large amounts of algae and then converting the single-celled creatures remains expensive, said experts at the National Biodiesel Conference taking place in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Algae biofuel startup Solix, for instance, can produce biofuel from algae right now, but it costs about $32.81 a gallon, said Bryan Wilson, a co-founder of the company and a professor at Colorado State University. The production cost is high because of the energy required to circulate gases and other materials inside the photo bioreactors where the algae grow. It also takes energy to dry out the biomass, and Solix uses far less water than other companies.

By exploiting waste heat at adjacent utilities, the price can probably be brought down to $5.50 a gallon. By selling the proteins and other byproducts from the algae for pet food, the price can be brought to $3.50 a gallon in the near term. But that’s still the equivalent of $150 a barrel of oil. “We we’re excited in July [when oil was approaching that level],” he joked. “But we knew it wasn’t sustainable.”

It’s only in phase II of Solix’s business plan that it will be able to drop production costs to $3.30 to $1.57 a gallon, or around $60 to $80 a barrel. Solix has set a goal of cutting the cost of making algae by 90 percent. Is algae a good feedstock? Yes, he insisted. Ultimately, algae could yield 5,000 to 10,000 gallons an acre, far higher than other feedstocks. Soy is only good for around 40 to 50 gallons an acre. Touted plants like jatropha might only produce 175 gallons an acre, he said.

But algae comes with trade-offs. Wild algae grows fast, but it doesn’t yield tremendous amounts of oil naturally – two thirds or more of the body weight of wild algae will be proteins and carbohydrates instead of oil. Genetically modified algae can boost the oil content, but that slows the growth process. Closed bioreactors – i.e., sealed plastic bags placed in the sun — cost more than open ponds, but it’s tough to keep invasive species from taking over open ponds and out-competing algae optimized to produce oil. “There’s a dance between the growth rate and lipid content,” Wilson said.

Much of the cost reduction for Solix will be accomplished through extraction techniques the company hasn’t discussed yet. And algae companies will have to harvest everything their microorganisms produce. “We don’t have the solutions that are publicly discussed that give us the costs that we need,” he said, adding, “The value of the co-products have to be captured and the value of the co-products could exceed the value of the oil.”

Some companies, like Solazyme, are exploiting genetic science and fermenting techniques to accomplish the task. In fermentation, specific species of algae are locked into brewing kettles with sugars derived from old plant matter. When the time is right, Solazyme takes out the microbes and squeezes out the oil. It’s cheaper to get large volumes of feedstock oil through fermentation than growing algae in ponds or bioreactors, said CEO Jonathan Wolfson. Genetically modifying the algae can boost the lipid, or oil, content to 70 percent of the organism’s weight. In a sense, Solazyme practices indirect photosynthesis: the algae doesn’t grow by having sunlight shone upon it but by eating sugars that were grown in the sun.

“Algae is by far the best organism on the planet for converting fixed carbon into oil,” he said. “But economically, others are more efficient at taking sunlight and carbon dioxide and turning it into oil.” Solazyme says it will be capable of producing competitively priced fuel from algae in 24 to 36 months. Solazyme actually uses photosynthesis for growing some algae, but only higher value oils for the cosmetic or other industries.

Another, Phycal, is trying to harvest oil from algae without killing the algae. Instead, Phycal bathes the algae in solvents which can suck out the oil. Some strains of algae can go through the process four times or more. “Think of it as milking algae rather than sending it to the slaughterhouse,” said senior scientist Brad Postier. “By not killing the cells, we don’t have to grow the biomass again.”

Bryan Willson
email : Bryan.Willson [at] colostate [dot] edu

Bradley Postier
email : bpostier [at] biology2.wustl [dot] edu


High Density Vertical Bioreactor
The Holy Grail in the renewable energy sector has been to create a clean, green process which uses only light, water and air to create fuel. Valcent’s HDVB algae-to-biofuel technology mass produces algae, vegetable oil which is suitable for refining into a cost-effective, non-polluting biodiesel. The algae derived fuel will be an energy efficient replacement for fossil fuels and can be used in any diesel powered vehicle or machinery. In addition, 90% by weight of the algae is captured carbon dioxide, which is “sequestered” by this process and so contributes significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gases. Valcent has commissioned the world’s first commercial-scale bioreactor pilot project at its test facility in El Paso, Texas.

Current data projects high yields of algae biomass, which will be harvested and processed into algal oil for biofuel feedstock and ingredients in food, pharmaceutical, and health and beauty products at a significantly lower cost than comparable oil-producing crops such as palm and soyabean (soybean).

The HDVB technology was developed by Valcent in recognition and response to a huge unsatisfied demand for vegetable oil feedstock by Biodiesel refiners and marketers. Biodiesel, in 2000, was the only alternative fuel in the United States to have successfully completed the Environmental Protection Agency required Tier I and Tier II health effects testing under the Clean Air Act. These tests conclusively demonstrated Biodiesel’s significant reduction of virtually all regulated emissions. A U.S. Department of Energy study has shown that the production and use of Biodiesel, compared to petroleum diesel, resulted in a 78.5% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Algae, like all plants, require carbon dioxide, water with nutrients and sunlight for growth. The HDVB bioreactor technology is ideal for location adjacent to heavy producers of carbon dioxide such as coal fired power plants, refineries or manufacturing facilities, as the absorption of CO2 by the algae significantly reduces greenhouse gases. These reductions represent value in the form of Certified Emission Reduction credits, so-called carbon credits, in jurisdictions that are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. Although the carbon credit market is still small, it is growing fast, valued in 2005 at $6.6 Billion in the European Union and projected to increase to $77 Billion if the United States accepts a similar national cap-and-trade program.

Valcent’s HDVB bioreactor system can be deployed on non-arable land, requires very little water due to its closed circuit process, does not incur significant labor costs and does not employ fossil fuel burning equipment, unlike traditional food/biofuel crops, like soy and palm oil. They require large agricultural acreage, huge volumes of water and chemicals, and traditional farm equipment and labor. They are also much less productive than the HDVB process: soybean, palm oil and conventional pond-grown algae typically yield 48 gallons, 635 gallons and 10,000 gallons per acre per year respectively.

Inside Sapphire’s Algae-Fuel Plans
BY Michael Kanellos  /  October 13, 2008

Sapphire Energy has been something of a mystery in the algae-fuel world. There are over 50 companies now touting that they will convert pond scum into liquid fuel (up from around four companies in 2006). Most of them, however, can’t get funding and many seem to be plying “me too” ideas borrowed from early algae advocates like GreenFuel Technologies.

So when Sapphire announced it had landed over $100 million in funding from, among others, Cascade Investment (the venture firm founded by Bill Gates) it drew attention. Only a few other algae companies – GreenFuel, Solazyme – have raised the tens of millions needed to move toward prototype production. The attention further magnified the fact that Sapphire has been somewhat tight lipped on its technology.

Last week, Tim Zenk, vice president of corporate affairs for the company, filled in some of the details. I’ve also included comment and speculation from some competitors. As a prelude, I’d like to point out that algae companies like to snipe at each other, similar to the way CIGS companies or Intel and AMD like to point out each others’ flaws. It will make a algae conference taking place next month in Seattle next month interesting.

Overall, Sapphire differs in that it plans to grow algae that will produce hydrocarbons – i.e., crude oils that can be somewhat quickly refined into liquid fuels, Zenk said. It believes it can produce crude algal oil, once in mass manufacturing, for $60 to $80 a barrel. “We’re very focused on fuels that are an exact replacement for gas, diesel and jet fuel,” he said. “You will get an exact replica of light, sweet crude.”

Most other algae companies are raising algae that will produce lipids, or naturally occurring fats. Lipids can be made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrocarbons only include hydrogen and carbon. (Lipid defines a quality of dissolving in fat but not water while hydrocarbon is a chemical definition.) Converting a lipid into a gas replacement or other type of fuel can take additional processing. Still, the lipid algae companies say they can produce oil in at the same range.

How does Sapphire get algae to produce substances that are less natural for it to produce? Genetic engineering. The company comes out of research conducted at The Scripps Research Institute and the University of California San Diego by Stephen Mayfield and others. You can call UCSD Bacteria U. It has been a center of biotech research for years and now is spawning a number of biofuel and green chemistry companies all based around using microorganisms as chemical factories. Sapphire has already produces samples of a fuel equivalent to 91 octane gas.

Some sources have said that Arch Venture Partners commissioned the original research and then formed the company around that research. Arch partner Robert Nelsen has been involved in several early biotech startups. I still need to confirm this last point about Sapphire’s birth.

Genetic engineering also influences how Sapphire will grow its algae. It wants to grow the algae in open, saline ponds, rather than sealed bioreactors, like Greenfuel. The company also says that it has minimized the danger of rogue algal blooms from its genetically enhanced algae ponds as well as the risk that natural strains will out-compete its algae or eliminate its special qualities through hybridization. “We will optimize it to live only in certain conditions,” Zenk said.

Algae execs at competitors tend to scoff at this notion. The challenges keeping wild species at bay, getting consistent results generation to generation represent massive problems. And one can only imagine the land-use hearings when Sapphire says it wants to build a pond to raise GMO algae. Again, it is their job to scoff,  but they have a point.

Eliminating the salt water from the algae is a doable problem, added Zenk. Water extraction techniques from other industries will be borrowed. Again, many competitors (and scientists at NREL) have said that water extraction has been one of the lingering problems in algae fuel.

Money is not an issue, he added. The company has raised far in excess of $100 million. That figure has cause many to speculate if some of the funding is contingent. Typically, biotech companies only get a limited amount of money – $15 million or so – until the science has been proven. Then the big dollars flow in. If you look at the filings with the California Department of Corporations, it says that in August Sapphire sold $18.7 million worth of stock as part of a $11.7 million Series B round of fundraising. The California filings do not contain all of the contributions to the round. The SEC document, which you can get if you are in Washington, has more information. Either way, Zenk was fairly unambiguous about the company having the money.

In a swipe at competitor Solyazme, Zenk said that brewing algae fuel by feeding algae sugars won’t be tenable at a large scale. “There isn’t enough farm land in the world” to grow the sugar. In a video a few weeks ago, Solazyme said that growing algae in ponds wasn’t tenable: The company tried it before switching to sugars.

Lastly, Sapphire says that it hopes to be able to prove its main concept – that genetically optimized algae grown in outdoor ponds that produce hydrocarbons on a large scale – within three to five years. Note, he didn’t say they will produce oil in three to five years. He said they could prove the concept. Thus, when Sapphire can produce fuel is still a bit murky. If the concept can be proven, expect even a bigger flood of investors. Then again, other algae comapanies say they could well be in production by then, which could make it a real horse race.

Trying to Turn San Diego into the Green Houston
BY David Washburn  /  Jan. 1, 2009

San Diego, already home to dozens of companies involved in solar or wind energy, would be a major player in the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar energy economy if a group of local researchers succeed in turning algae into a commercially viable transportation fuel, something they think they can do within a decade. “[It] is the scientific challenge of our generation,” said Stephen Mayfield, a cell biologist and associate dean at the Scripps Research Institute, referring to the need to cure America of its 200-billion-gallon-a-year oil addiction. “And algae is the answer.”

And a top-notch research infrastructure, a thriving biotech sector and proximity to cheap land in Imperial County, where the plant could be grown on a large scale with plenty of sun, combine to give San Diego a strong foundation for building on algae’s future. Mayfield is one of several scientists at both Scripps institutions and the University of California, San Diego who are considered among the word’s foremost algae researchers. Other prominent names are Steve Kay, dean of the division of Biological Sciences at UCSD, and B. Gregory Mitchell, a biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The consensus is that the technology exists to make algae-based fuels commercially viable within five to 10 years. Others say it could be less than four years. But there are daunting economic and political obstacles, including the stubbornly high cost of extracting oil from algae, and a strong lobby that wants corn to be the primary source of biofuel production in this country.

A growing number of venture capitalists are acknowledging these obstacles, yet banking on them being overcome. San Diego is home to several algae start-ups, the largest being Sapphire Energy, which was founded with Mayfield’s help and has 80 employees and more than $100 million in venture capital funding. Kay is a founder of Biolight, which has received funding from Bay Area-based CMEA Ventures. “Long term, I see great potential,” said Michael Melnick, a partner in CMEA Ventures. “(But) it will take longer than people think, and take a lot of government support.”

In recent years some of the area’s biggest players have decided they want a piece of the green spongy stuff. And, after abandoning algae as a viable biofuel in the 1990s, the federal government is again funding research.

General Atomics and SAIC, two of the region’s largest defense contractors, have algae programs, and last month each received a multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Defense Department to develop jet fuel from the plant. General Atomics has about 40 people dedicated to its algae program, and expects to receive $40 million from the Pentagon over the next three years.

“If we are successful at this it will not only solve the fuel problem, it will solve the economy problem,” said David Hazlebeck, the biofuels program manager for General Atomics. “It could translate into several trillion (dollars) in economic activity.”

Kay estimates that research and development activities in San Diego County and large-scale growing operations in Imperial County could combine to create jobs in the tens of thousands. “Our vision is that San Diego will become the green Houston of the world,” he said, referring to the tens of billions of dollars annually that oil and gas exploration contributes to Houston’s economy.

However, a lot has to happen before these visions can become real. Algae companies are a long way from having the same local impact as Qualcomm, the wireless communications giant, or even that of San Diego-based Amylin, the biotech that developed a diabetes drug based on the saliva of a Gila monster.

“It is important not to overhype algae,” said Lisa Bicker, president of CleanTECH San Diego, a green industry association. “We are excited about it, but it is early.”

Biofuels in general have yet to live up to the hype. There is a broad consensus that the industrialized world’s addiction to petroleum is leading us down a path toward both environmental and economic destruction. But finding a cheap and efficient way to produce mass quantities of fuel out something other than oil has proven difficult.

Corn-based ethanol, the oil alternative that has garnered the most attention — not to mention billions of dollars in government subsidies — is now considered by many to be a bad idea. For one thing, every acre of corn used for ethanol is an acre that can’t be used for food. The result has been years of steep inflation in the price of corn-based staples, which has disproportionally hurt the poorest on the planet.

Corn ethanol has been a bust environmentally as well. Though the final product burns cleaner than petroleum, its carbon footprint isn’t greatly different from oil when all of the greenhouse gases emitted while it is being fertilized and harvested are taken into account. “When it is all said and done you only get a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gases with corn,” Kay said.

Cellulosic ethanol, which is produced from wood, grasses and the non-edible parts of plants, is better environmentally than corn ethanol, but it requires lots of fertile land and lots of irrigation. And ethanol, no matter where it comes from, is far more corrosive than petroleum and would require a significant investment to either retrofit or replace pipelines, experts say.

Algae, on the other hand, can be grown almost anywhere there is water, sunlight and carbon dioxide, including stagnant ponds, wastewater treatment plants or any number of other godforsaken places. “The Salton Sea is 378-square miles of crap, that is a good place for algae,” Mayfield said.

It also wins on several other levels. It is a carbon-neutral energy source because the carbon dioxide it consumes while growing counterbalances the emissions from the burning of algae-based fuel. And the process by which the oil is extracted from algae (similar to the process of separating the liquid from a grape) is also carbon-neutral, unlike the harvesting of corn. Finally, the oil produced by algae can be shipped via the existing pipeline structure.

The rub with algae is the cost. Right now, extracting the oil from algae is an expensive process — producing a gallon of algae-based gasoline, diesel or jet fuel can cost $30. It has to get down to under $2 per gallon before it will be a viable alternative to petroleum.

More than a decade ago, the U.S. government concluded that it couldn’t be done. The Department of Energy had an algae program from 1978 to 1996, and in the end found that “even with aggressive assumptions about biological productivity, we project costs for biodiesel which are two times higher than current petroleum diesel fuel costs.”

The academics and the folks at General Atomics think they can prove the government wrong within a few years. Hazlebeck, the General Atomics biofuels chief, said the company has developed a plan to build a 40-acre demonstration plant that would produce algae fuel for $1 per gallon within three years. That does not, however, mean that motorists will be pumping algae into their tanks by 2011.

That will take government help. And the most difficult obstacle may be political — specifically the nine corn-growing states, whose 18 U.S. Senators (including President-elect Obama) have consistently voted as a block in favor of subsidies for corn ethanol. The algae industry lacks such a coalition, and will not be able to move from the prototype to mass production phases without subsidies, said Kay and others. “Algae should have the same subsidies as corn,” Kay said. “The good news is momentum is building for us, but it is still David v. Goliath.”

Stephen Mayfield
email : mayfield [at] scripps [dot] edu

Steve Kay
email : skay [at] ucsd [dot] edu

Greg Mitchell
email : gmitchell [at] ucsd [dot] edu

David Hazlebeck
email : david.hazlebeck [at] gat [dot] com

BioFuels – Cellulosic and Algal Feedstocks / BAA08-07
Archive Date: November 29, 2008

DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals in the area of technologies that enable the affordable production of a surrogate for petroleum based military jet fuel (JP-8) from agricultural or aquacultural crops that are non-competitive with food material. This current solicitation expands the scope of the BioFuels program described in BAA06-43 ( to additionally focus on: (1) processes for the affordable and efficient conversion of cellulosic materials to JP-8, and (2) processes for the affordable and efficient production of algal feedstock material for conversion to JP-8. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice.

Douglas Kirkpatrick
email :

US military funds $35M in research of algae-based jet fuel
BY Emma Ritch  /  2008-12-22

A sector of the U.S. Department of Defense has signed nearly $35 million in contracts with two San Diego companies to develop biofuel derived from algae for use in Air Force jets and Army vehicles. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) signed a $14.9 million deal with Science Applications International to work on making the algae-based jet fuel commercially and technically feasible. DARPA also signed a $19.9 million deal with General Atomics to research algae-based fuel. The two agreements are expected to last through 2010.

For several years, the U.S. Department of Defense has been searching for an alternative to its Jet Propellant 8 (JP-8) fuel for military jets. In 2006, DARPA signed an 18-month, $5 million contract with the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota to develop a JP-8 substitute. The EERC plans to participate in the new research with General Atomics.

Another General Atomics partner is UOP, a Honeywell company, which received $6.7 million in funding frrom DARPA to in June 2007 accelerate research and development on making military jet fuel out of vegetable and algal oils. Other partners in the General Atomics reserach are the Scripps Institutions of Oceanography, Arizona State University, Blue Sun Biodiesel, Texas A&M AgriLIFE, Hawaii Bio Energy, and Utah State University.

DARPA says that more than 90 percent of the fuel used by the Department of Defense is JP-8, amounting to 71 million barrels and a cost of $6 billion in 2006. The kerosene-based fuel is less flammable and less hazardous than other fuel options, allowing for better safety and combat survivability. JP-8 is also used to fuel heaters, stoves, tanks, and other vehicles in military service. Commercial airliners use Jet A and Jet A-1, which is also kerosene-based.


Continental completes first US test of biofuel
BY Megan Kuhn  /  08/01/09

Continental Airlines today completed the first alternative fuels trial in the US with a twin engine aircraft powered in part by a biofuel blend consisting of algae. Continental pilots operated a Boeing 737-800 using a blend of 50% jet fuel and 50% biofuel derived from algae (2.5%) and jatropha plant (47.5%) oils to power the right CFM International CFM56-7B engine. The left engine flew on 100% jet fuel. “It went absolutely textbook,” Continental flight test captain Rich Jankowski says, adding that he did not expect that much difference between the fuels.

During the roughly two-hour trial in Houston, Continental recorded various flight parameters and ran acceleration and deceleration checks, two inflight engine shut-downs and restarts–one wind milling start and one starter assist–and a simulated landing and go-around, Jankowski says. The aircraft also simulated the highest, most difficult altitude the airline flies, Quito, Ecuador, he adds. Findings include the thrust setting of the engines was the same, but fuel flow and exhaust gas temperature was slightly less for the engine using the biofuel blend, Jankowski says.

The biofuel-blend-powered engine burned slightly less fuel than the engine powered by Jet A for the same thrust setting, Continental manager of training standards captain Jackson Seltzer explains. The right engine used 3,600lbs of the biofuel blend and the left engine burned 3,800lbs of jet fuel, he says. Both fuels emit roughly the same amount of CO2 inflight, but overall emissions savings are realized during the production of biofuels, which unlike Jet A, absorb CO2, Continental chairman and CEO Larry Kellner says.

The aircraft, which operated with an experimental aircraft type certificate, will return to revenue service by midday tomorrow after a borescope inspection of the engine, fuel filters are changed and the fuel tank is washed out with Jet A, Seltzer says. Continental does not have plans to participate in a second trial and while other carriers have expressed interest, it is unlikely additional demonstrations will occur this year after a 30 January test by Japan Airlines.

“We’re encouraging people to look at the data collected to see what’s missing before [new trial] flights,” Boeing managing director for environmental strategy Billy Glover says, adding he does not expect fuel-certifying organization ASTM International to request additional commercial aircraft alternative fuel demonstrations. Instead, Glover says he expects ASTM will request endurance testing on specific engine components.

Turning algae into ethanol, and gold
BY Carli Ghelfi  /  2008-06-11

Is it, in fact, a watershed in biofuels from algae? Naples, Fla.-based Algenol Biofuels says it has found a way to inexpensively bring third-generation biofuels to industrial scale. And, unlike most algal biofuel companies, it’s apparently got a licensing deal for an $850 million project to show for it.

The company believes its seawater-based process can generate up to a billion gallons of algal ethanol per year from a facility in Mexico. “We’re not in the biodiesel business, the lipids business or oil business,” according to CEO Paul Woods. “We believe we have the most advanced third-generation technology. Our process is completely different.”

Algenol claims to use algae, sunlight, CO2 and seawater in closed bioreactors to produce ethanol, not the biodiesel most conventional algae companies are pursuing. Woods told Cleantech Group today that because his company does not use freshwater and does not harvest the algae, the process is much less expensive. “You have to do it cheaply, or you have no process,” said Woods.

Woods did not specify how cheap, however. With a reported 11 years of research and 10 years of patents under its belt, Algenol formally introduced itself and an $850 million project with Sonora Fields S.A.P.I. de C.V., a wholly owned subsidiary of Mexican-owned BioFields.

The privately-funded company said it is expecting yields of 6,000 gallons per acre per year, and expects to increase that figure to 10,000 by year end. By contrast, corn yields approximately 360 gallons per acre per year, and sugarcane 890 gallons, according to Woods. “Basically we can take in 1.5 million tons of CO2 and convert it into 100 million gallons of ethanol,” said Woods. “We will be the largest consumer of CO2 on the planet.”

The Algenol process occurs in bioreactors that are three-feet by fifty-feet and shaped like soda bottles, said Woods. According to Woods, during the process, algae consumes sunlight and more than 90 percent of the system’s CO2 through photosynthesis, wherein the sugars are converted into ethanol. The ethanol is immediately pumped out and evaporates into the bioreactor which is captured every night. “This process overcomes the enormous problems other companies face,” said Woods. “We don’t use food. We don’t use feedstock. We don’t use freshwater,” emphasized Woods. “All this really helps the cost structure.”

Woods said a production facility in Sonora, Mexico is expected to be online at the end of 2009, scaling to an anticipated 1 billion gallons in four-and-a-half years, involving some 3.5 million bioreactors. The licensing agreement with Mexico’s Biofields reportedly involves a deal to sell the ethanol to the Mexican government. “We’re making a significant departure from other technologies because we’re making ethanol now, and will be selling it next year,” continued Woods. “I think we will be supplying the cheapest fuel on the planet.”

In an effort to make waves with the U.S. government, Woods visited Washington D.C. last week to formally introduce his technology and explain how there are other ways to ethanol than just cellulosic ethanol. Since its inception in 2006, the privately funded company has seen $70 million in investments, with zero venture capital money to its name, said Woods. He explained that the majority of the money comes from the founders, of whom the majority has made successful exits as former CEOs from the natural gas and pharmaceutical industries.

Ethanol Producer Algenol Bets On New Production Method
BY Steve Gelsi  /  9/23/2008

Paul Woods traces the origins of Algenol Biofuels to his college days in the mid-1980s, with the idea of alternative energy sustained by memories of the oil embargo of the prior decade. At around that time, gasohol started taking root in the U.S., but then it quickly faded as oil prices fell. But Woods stayed at work on the idea of using algae to produce ethanol. Along the way, Woods managed to build up and sell his natural-gas company, United Gas Management, and channel those resources into algae. He formed Algenol in 2006 along with Craig Smith and Ed Legere. Now, armed with patents, several test facilities around the world, and some $70 million in private backing, Woods is targeting his first large-scale ethanol production facility with output that may rival that of some of the category’s largest U.S. players.

Algenol inked a partnership with BioFields, which has committed $850 million to build an industrial-scale ethanol facility in Mexico on 102,000 acres of desert located near the Pacific coast and not far from Cabo San Lucas. “We don’t use farm land, we don’t consume any food and [we use] no fresh water,” reported Woods, who has said hopes to bring the plant on line by the end of next year. “It’s time to focus on California, Texas and Florida. We want to have a major plant on U.S. soil. Cheap energy is a matter of national security.”

Woods holds a half-full plastic bottle of Gatorade sideways to illustrate the functioning of the firm’s 5-feet-by-20-feet plastic holding tanks. Using a patented algae, Alegenol fills each tank with seawater and places the water-based plant inside. As the algae grows, Alegenol will tap into carbon dioxide from a nearby power plant and funnel it into the tanks. The algae takes the gas and converts it into oxygen and evaporated alcohol, which is then removed and concentrated for use as fuel. Unlike other algae players that make diesel oil by processing algae itself, Algenol doesn’t spend time or energy removing the algae. It uses the ethanol vapors that the plant emits.

Algenol forecasts sales from the Mexico plant by the end of 2009 at price levels comparable to other U.S. ethanol makers. It says the plant will have a capacity of 1 billion gallons per year, much of which will be transported by ship to Mexican oil refineries nearby to be blended into gasoline. So far, Algenol’s test facilities have yielded 6,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year, with yields expected to grow to 10,000 gallons of ethanol per year by the end of 2008. The company formally met with Wall Street for the first time Monday at the UBS Global Life Sciences Conference in New York as a step toward a possible financing round down the road. Algenol plans to seek federal, state and local assistance to bring U.S. facilities on line. Refiners are interested in buying ethanol because it’s cheaper than buying crude oil in many cases, he said.

Algenol sees itself helping the U.S. reduce its oil imports, it has said, while adding to the ethanol supply from fellow ethanol makers such as VeraSun Energy (VSE), Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Aventine Renewable (AVR). Privately-held Poet, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., bills itself as  the largest ethanol producer in the world, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, with 24 production facilities in the United States and more than 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol annually. “We see ourselves as standing on the shoulders of the corn-ethanol business,” said Algenol Chief Operating Officer Craig Smith. “We want to expand the market. There will be enough demand for ethanol and other biofuels for all producers. It’s an insatiable market.”


Carbon dioxide is not the only waste substance algae can convert into biofuel. Algae also like to munch on the organic matter in human waste, producing a carbon-rich oil. Aquaflow Bionomic of Marlborough, New Zealand, is extracting oil from the algae that grow naturally in wastewater treatment facilities. In May the company produced its first 300-millilitre test batch of biodiesel, and hopes to have enough to fuel a vehicle test drive this year. “There is a certain elegance to unlocking the waste flow and turning it into a significant asset,” says Nick Gerritsen of Aquaflow. “If you leave a bucket outside your back door anywhere in the world it will turn green with algae. We are basically leveraging existing assets, because sewage ponds exist all over.”

Nigerian Converts Septic Tank into a BioReactor  /  April 30, 2008

Olatubosun Obayomi Adeleke reports on his progress in converting a septic tank into a biogas reactor at a guest house in Abuja, Nigeria. The major idea and inspiration of this effort is that septic tanks can be converted over to bioreactors for a very minimum cost in Nigeria to provide energy and fertilizer for the gardens. The focus of the project is to demonstrate how a biogas facility can be developed using local organic waste to produce electricity. This innovative project if developed into a best practice could potentially be a low cost way to increase power reliability in regions like Nigeria where power outages are an common event.

About the Digester and the Process
A particular kind of reactor; an Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket design is used. The UASB is basically a system that uses the build up (that’s sludge blanket) of solids granules in wasteflows to filter solids. It works at very low pressures as the flow of incoming effluent forces the effluent forward into the system. The solids particles are digested by bacteria as they flow through the sludge blanket. As the bacteria digest them, they release gas (biogas), which flow to the top of the digester and is then piped out as a energy source. When the solids granules are fully digested (about 30 days), they are discarded by the mat/sludge blanket in much the same way an animal excretes what it now sees as spent matter or waste. These granules then mixed again with the effluent and flow out into outflow pipe of the digester for further processing. In this particular configuration he is using a Horizontal design. It works the same way with the vertical UASBs, but the flow of wastes is horizontal while the gas still flows vertically. It has a baffle to retard wastes for a longer period to form the slugde banket as the vertical cone does in the vertical UASB.

Converting Septic Tanks to Transform Waste into Resources
Normally the septic tank encourages growth of pathogens and drains directly into the ground through what are called Lateral Lines (a series of pipes diffusing the septic tank effluent flow into the ground). By converting the septic tank into biodigester BOD is reduced by 60%. The second chamber is designed to expose effluent to sunlight to enable a further reduction in BOD while draining. The digester opening will be sealed with cement and will only be opened for repairs.

Collection of Solids in the Manhole for use in the Gardens
In these kind of digesters, there is a element called a Manhole. It is a box on the side and in some digesters it is the point of solids collection. The solids can then be used to fertilize gardens. After the waste is processed in the digester, it enters the manhole where the solids settle at the bottom. A pipe then links the manhole to the drainage chamber where the effluent is allowed to settle into the ground.

Pre-mixing the Waste
All pipes from the residences of the 8 residence addition to the resort will be connected directly to the digester system. However the occupants will not provide enough biomass production to satisfy the digester and so a nearby farm has been selected as a source for animal waste that will be added and mixed with the human excrement and kitchen wastes. In the system there is a separate, premix chamber where the farm waste will be added. The mason is seen working on the premix chamber (Picture 19). By Obayomi’s estimate the waste mixture will be: 10% Human excrement; Kitchen waste 10%; and animal wastes 80%. The plan is to supply the wastes in bags in a dried state, to avoid odor in transportation.

Biofuel: a tankful of weed juice
It has been blamed for using up food stock, but biofuel is now being made from otherwise useless plant waste
BY Mark Harris  /  May 25, 2008

In recent months biofuels have earned a reputation blacker than the crude oil they are meant to be replacing. No sooner do we learn that rainforests from Indonesia to Brazil are being razed to farm “green” fuels for the West than intensive production of biofuels is blamed for the current crisis in world food prices. And apparently some biofuels create more potentially harmful ozone than petrol does.

Before we give up on alternative fuels and dive back into an ever-shallower pool of crude oil, though, let’s spare a thought for a new batch of biofuels being cooked up in laboratories worldwide. They hold the promise of more efficient, cleaner energy sources that don’t compete with forests or food crops for growing space. Airbus, the maker of the A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world, announced last week that it expects these second-generation biofuels to make up (eventually) a third of all aviation fuel.

Getting new biofuels off the ground is taking some doing. Starchy and sugary crops such as wheat and sugar cane make good biofuels because they are easily converted to ethanol, while oily sunflower and palm plants can readily be made into biodiesel. It would make much more sense, however, to produce biofuels from weeds growing on land that can’t be farmed, or from agricultural waste, old wood chips or even secondhand paper.

The world’s biggest second-generation biofuel factory is due to open in Georgia, USA, next year. Range Fuels’ Soperton plant is expected to produce 16m gallons of ethanol biofuel annually from logging waste and grasses. This may not sound a lot in global terms but it is the start of something much bigger: a 13 billion-gallon ocean of second-generation biofuels that the USA is aiming to produce by 2022.

Meanwhile, Warwick HRI, the horticultural research division of Warwick University, is doing its bit in Britain. It is working on ways to turn worthless material such as straw into valuable fuel right on the farm, using a combination of bacteria and fungi.

Guy Barker, the research leader, says, “If we could break down straw into a liquid form on the farm, it could then be shipped straight to a refinery, like crude oil. Any leftover material on the farm could be worked back into the ground to sustain future crops.”

The Warwick process, which is still some way from commercial viability, will be slower than the enzyme system preferred by the Americans. “But do you want speed or do you want efficiency?” Barker asks. “Transporting large amounts of waste biomass to factories becomes a real problem, and the cost is high.”

While the new fuels do not threaten rainforests or food supplies, they are not without problems. Scientists at the Global Invasive Species Programme, an international group dedicated to monitoring and tackling invasive plants and animals introduced from one region to another, warned last week that countries importing plants for biofuels could also be importing a host of problems. It estimates that alien species cost the world economy £700 billion every year. It instances plants such as the giant reed, Chinese silvergrass and the sawtooth oak as species that are being cultivated in Europe despite being highly invasive.

We have recently learnt that every environmental solution brings its own set of problems. Fair trade or transport miles? Fossil-fuel power stations or carbon-free nuclear ones? Genetic crop engineering or pesticides? Biofuels or food riots?

You can’t win ’em all, so it’s a matter of choosing the least worst option. Right now that looks like second-generation biofuels.

Guy Barker
email : Guy.Barker [at] [dot] uk

Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol
BY Chris Ayres   /  June 14, 2008

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.” He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.

What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to reengineer the global economy – as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.

LS9 has already convinced one oil industry veteran of its plan: Bob Walsh, 50, who now serves as the firm’s president after a 26-year career at Shell, most recently running European supply operations in London. “How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to grow a multi-billion-dollar company?” he asks. It is a bold statement from a man who works in a glorified cubicle in a San Francisco industrial estate for a company that describes itself as being “prerevenue”.

Inside LS9’s cluttered laboratory – funded by $20 million of start-up capital from investors including Vinod Khosla, the Indian-American entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Micro-systems – Mr Pal explains that LS9’s bugs are single-cell organisms, each a fraction of a billionth the size of an ant. They start out as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli, but LS9 modifies them by custom-de-signing their DNA. “Five to seven years ago, that process would have taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “Now it can take weeks and cost maybe $20,000.”

Because crude oil (which can be refined into other products, such as petroleum or jet fuel) is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result. For fermentation to take place you need raw material, or feedstock, as it is known in the biofuels industry. Anything will do as long as it can be broken down into sugars, with the byproduct ideally burnt to produce electricity to run the plant.

The company is not interested in using corn as feedstock, given the much-publicised problems created by using food crops for fuel, such as the tortilla inflation that recently caused food riots in Mexico City. Instead, different types of agricultural waste will be used according to whatever makes sense for the local climate and economy: wheat straw in California, for example, or woodchips in the South.

Using genetically modified bugs for fermentation is essentially the same as using natural bacteria to produce ethanol, although the energy-intensive final process of distillation is virtually eliminated because the bugs excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready. The closest that LS9 has come to mass production is a 1,000-litre fermenting machine, which looks like a large stainless-steel jar, next to a wardrobe-sized computer connected by a tangle of cables and tubes. It has not yet been plugged in. The machine produces the equivalent of one barrel a week and takes up 40 sq ft of floor space.

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago. That is the main problem: although LS9 can produce its bug fuel in laboratory beakers, it has no idea whether it will be able produce the same results on a nationwide or even global scale. “Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel, we’ll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011,” says Mr Pal, adding that if LS9 used Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock, its fuel would probably cost about $50 a barrel.

Are Americans ready to be putting genetically modified bug excretion in their cars? “It’s not the same as with food,” Mr Pal says. “We’re putting these bacteria in a very isolated container: their entire universe is in that tank. When we’re done with them, they’re destroyed.” Besides, he says, there is greater good being served. “I have two children, and climate change is something that they are going to face. The energy crisis is something that they are going to face. We have a collective responsibility to do this.”

Shrimp solving the energy crisis?
BY Jessica M. Sibley  /  November 29, 2008

During an age where fuel efficiency and environmental sustainability sit at the forefront of concerned citizens’ minds, Clemson University (CU) biochemists and students are being led by Professor David Brune, expert in aquaculture, on a journey to find, harvest and use alternative fuels that will benefit the economy in the future.

The two key items necessary in turning that hope into reality are algae and brine shrimp, Brune said. Commonly known as “sea monkeys,” these tiny aqua creatures are the final piece of a puzzle that Brune has been working on for many years. In addition to renewable resources like peaches, wind and oils from beans, CU is working on extracting oils from algae to convert into biodiesel.

However, even though algae have been proven to produce 100 times more fuel than soybean oil, it’s very difficult to extract and convert into usable fuel. That’s where the shrimp come in. Thanks to Brune, food scientist Feng Chen and chemist Lance Beecher, these small organisms are working hard to extract algae oils that one day, could be the answer to our fuel crisis. “I originally started my focus on oils for food,” Brune said. “But as the government’s interest changed, the push for alternative fuels changed the direction to where we are now.”

The first step in extracting oils from algae starts with the growing of algae at a very high rate. CU uses a paddle wheel-driven system that is used to push the water around in a certain path, which ultimately, increases the aqua growth rate immensely. Then, the brine shrimp are introduced to start harvesting the algae and easy-to-extract oils are then retrievable. Trials completed in the designated ponds at CU have shown that brine shrimp, which feed on micro algae, can produce up to 500 gallons of biodiesel per acre per year with little environmental waste.

“The brine shrimp can eat the algae and convert it into a consistent, high quality protein and oil,” Brune said. “Then, we separate the proteins from the oils and have what was unreachable at one point in time.” And because the brine shrimp’s biomass is a light oil that can be easily made into biodiesel, Brune said the final decision will be up to the masses on whether or not these oils will be the next option for consumers battling the fuel market. “The only issue is that the biomass in a brine shrimp oil is actually more valuable than fuel,” he said. “Done on a low volume, it would not make sense. It would make more sense to combine the uses for animal feeds, additives in human food and fuel.”

“Because of that, it’s going to be a matter of scale. If that’s done, then we’ll completely saturate the food and feed markets and roll the material over into fuels. That’s a priority here.”

David Brune
email : debrune [at] clemson [dot] edu

Plankton to Provide Clean New Oil
BY Tito Drago  /  Aug 4 2006

A system for producing energy from marine algae, to replace fossil fuels and reduce pollution, has been developed by Spanish researchers and will be operational in late 2007, according to its backers. Bernard Stroiazzo-Mougin, president of Biofuel Systems SL (BFS), the Spanish company developing the project, told IPS that “the system will produce massive amounts of biopetroleum from phytoplankton, in a limited space and at a very moderate cost.” On pointing out that biodiesel is already being produced in other countries, the executive explained that the photo-bioreactor to be produced by his company is not the same thing.

BFS, with the support of the University of Alicante, “has designed a totally new system for producing biopetroleum – not biodiesel – by means of an energy converter,” he explained. The new fuel will have all the advantages of petroleum, including the possibility of extracting the usual oil derivatives, “but without its disadvantages, because it will not contribute to CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, but will in fact reduce them. It will not emit SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and there will be hardly any toxic by-products.”

The raw material for the new fuel is phytoplankton – tiny oceanic plants – that are photoautotrophic, depending only on light and CO2 for their food. Among them are diatoms, a group of unicellular algae, also found in fresh water on land masses, and on moist ground. Phytoplankton produces 98 percent of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. According to Stroiazzo-Mougin, BFS’s system will produce 400 times more oil than any other source of biofuel.

For example, he said, “a surface area of 52,000 square kilometres can yield 95 million barrels of biopetroleum per day, in other words an amount equivalent to the entire world production of crude oil at present, and at a considerably lower price.” The system, he added, will ensure a permanent, inexhaustible source of energy, which also uses up excess CO2, thus helping to curb the greenhouse effect and global warming, of which CO2 is one of the main causes. In order to replace 40 percent of the world’s present consumption of petroleum with biodiesel from plant sources, the area of land currently under cultivation would have to be multiplied by three, which is “totally impossible and counterproductive for the global economy,” Stroiazzo-Mougin said.

BFS’s new fuel will be similar to the fossil petroleum that was formed “millions of years ago under immense pressure and temperature and in the context of great seismic and volcanic activity, starting from the same plant elements that we will be using now (mainly phytoplankton),” he explained. It was “biodegradation of certain plant organic compounds (fatty acids and hydrocarbons) that gave rise to petroleum, and our system will be similar to that process,” the president of BFS added.

With respect to the surface areas needed to produce biofuels, he indicated that soya produces 50 cubic metres per square kilometre per year, colza (rape seed) produces 100 to 140 cubic metres, mustard yields 130 and palm oil 610 cubic metres, while algae produce 10,000 to 20,000 cubic metres of biofuel per square kilometre per year.

BFS is also planning to develop technology to increase production of algae per hectare, before completing construction of its first factory, to be located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Production will occur in a closed circuit including vats on land, although there are plans to develop processors offshore. Asked whether BFS will be offering the formula and processing system to other countries, whether they will forge alliances with other companies, or sell the patent, or whether it will all be free, Stroiazzo-Mougin replied that “all these aspects are being carefully studied, from the point of view of the commercial structure of the company.”

“Because of the importance of the system, these are aspects that must be analysed in depth, and we do not have an answer as yet,” he said. Talking about the initiative, the coordinator of the non-governmental organisation Ecologists in Action, Luis González Reyes, told IPS that the situation “with regard to climate change is extremely problematic, and we need to buy time to move towards societies that consume much less energy, and where energy consumption is environmentally friendly.”

With regard to the BFS project in particular, “I am not fully aware of the details,” said the activist. “The CO2 emission rate for the whole system should be evaluated – that is to say, the difference between the amount of CO2 fixed by the algae and the amount released later on during extraction, processing and fuel burning. The possible release of other toxic substances during burning must also be investigated,” he said.

In any case, the environmentalist said, “what’s important, as well as lowering energy consumption, is that new options should be sought and investigated, as BFS and the University of Alicante seem to be doing.” Stroiazzo-Mougin emphasised that the process would markedly lower CO2 emissions and that no other toxic substances would be released, as explained by the chemists and marine biologists who participated in the research project.


Macro-algae (seaweeds) are cultivated at sea, mainly by simply tying them to anchored floating lines. Seaweeds do not require soil, and are already provided with all the water they need, a major advantage over land production of biofuels since water is the most limiting factor for most agricultural expansion, especially with climate change.

One concern is that harvesting massive amounts of naturally occurring seaweed for bioenergy could have comparable effects on atmospheric carbon dioxide and habitat loss or fragmentation as large-scale deforestation. But cultivation is a different matter. In Costa Rica and Japan, seaweed farming has been re-established to produce energy. It can quickly yield large amounts of carbon-neutral biomass, which can be burnt to generate electricity. High-value compounds — including some for other biofuels — can be extracted beforehand.

We have calculated that less than three per cent of the world’s oceans — that’s about 20 per cent of the land area currently used in agriculture — would be needed to fully substitute for fossil fuels. A small fraction of that sea area would be enough to fully substitute for biofuel production on land.

As with land-produced biofuels, the contribution to carbon dioxide reduction would come from cutting net carbon dioxide additions via equivalent decreases in fossil fuel combustion. This happens because biofuels — fuels derived from recent photosynthesis — are basically carbon neutral because all carbon released by burning has recently been taken from the atmosphere. In contrast, fossil fuels come from ancient photosynthesis, thus the carbon released by burning had been stored for ages and thus represents a net addition into the atmosphere.

The main input needed for the large-scale farming this would require is nutrients — because large quantities of them will be removed at harvest. Common agricultural fertilisation — costly and energy consuming — could add large amounts of nutrients to the oceans, with unknown results.

But there is a great and grossly misused nutritional source on hand: domestic wastewaters or the product after their treatment. Growing large seaweed fields for energy using nutrients from wastewater could be an economically-sound use for the millions of tonnes of untreated wastewater dumped daily into our seas worldwide — and the seaweed helps clean it up in the process.

This idea has been tested successfully using human wastewater in experiments at US institutions, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.

As with agriculture, considering that seaweed production is economical for food and other products, it follows that at least some of the options should also be economical for biofuels and bioenergy. However, the analogy with agriculture does not stop there, and a careless farming of the seas could be as damaging as careless agriculture.

But the greatest spin-off from switching biofuels production to the oceans would be the return of land to food production, making food and nutrition more easily available to the world’s poor.

{Ricardo Radulovich is director of the Sea Gardens Project at the University of Costa Rica, which is funded by the World Bank.}

Ricardo Radulovich
email : ricardo.radulovich [at] maricultura [dot] net

“As land on which to cultivate such crops is limited, researchers are looking to the sea for alternative fuel resources. In March, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, the Mitsubishi Research Institute, and several companies announced a project to develop bioethanol from seaweed. The plan is to cultivate Sargasso seaweed in an area covering 3,860 square miles in the Sea of Japan. This will be harvested and dissolved into ethanol aboard ships, which will carry the biofuel to a tanker. The process is expected to yield 5 billion gallons of bioethanol in 3-5 years.”

Invention: Biofuel from the oceans
BY Justin Mullins  /  21 January 2009

Almost all commercially produced liquid biofuels come from either sugary crops like sugar beet or cane, or starchy ones like potatoes or corn. But every acre used to cultivate those crops uses one that could grow food – potentially causing food shortages and pushing up prices. Using woody material instead of crops could sidestep this to some extent by using biomass from more unproductive land. And producing biofuels from freshwater algae cultivated in outdoor ponds or tanks could also use land unsuitable for agriculture. But neither approach has been made commercially available.

Now a group at the Korea Institute of Technology in South Korea has developed a way to use marine algae, or seaweed, to produce bioethanol and avoid taking up land altogether. The group says seaweed has a number of advantages over land-based biomass. It grows much faster, allowing up to six harvests per year; unlike trees and plants, it does not contain lignin and so requires no pre-treatment before it can be turned into fuel; and it absorbs up to seven times as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as wood.

The group’s patent suggests treating all sizes of algae – from large kelp to single-celled spirulina – with an enzyme to break them into simple sugars, which can then be fermented into ethanol. The resulting seaweed biofuel is cheaper and simpler to produce than crop or wood-based fuels, and will have no effect on the price of food, says the group.









Algae have gotten short shrift in the decade or so since the Clinton administration axed its research funding at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But could these tiny, ubiquitous plants, which come in a rainbow of colors and varieties, get us off of foreign oil some day? “One of the big challenges — price, price, price,” said Michael Webber, a professor at the University of Texas. Right now, he said, algae could make fuel for around $10 a gallon, whereas the objective is to get the price down to $1.

The University of Texas is home to what is probably the world’s largest algae collection, with close to 3,000 different strains. Many are little green or red plumes in tubes; others sit in a liquid nitrogen deep-freeze — so cold that if you were to stick a finger in there for a few seconds, it might get lopped off if you banged it against something, according to Jerry Brand, the collection’s director.

Algae — whose predecessors helped make oil tens of millions of years ago — are already used in vitamins and other nutritional supplements. But the price is too high and the scale too small to meet the nation’s energy needs. “The trick is to transform what we know about algae already into these better prices and larger scales for our energy. That’s just starting,” said Mr. Webber. Land- and water-use impacts will also require further study. A number of start-ups are trying to commercialize algae for fuels, as my colleagues Clifford Krauss and Matthew Wald have reported.

Algae could be better positioned as a fuel than ethanol because their lifecycle carbon footprint — the energy and emissions required to grow them — seems likely to be lower, since algae grow so easily. Another advantage is that biodiesel derived from algae can usually be transported in pipes, unlike ethanol which often must be trucked.

Mr. Webber argued that Texas was well positioned to work on algae because it had three key ingredients in abundance: carbon-dioxide (Texas is the nation’s larger emitter — ironically an advantage here); sunlight; and brackish or saline water. Algae biofuels plants could potentially be located near waste-water treatment facilities, cleaning up the wastewater while also providing fuel, said Mr. Webber. The industry is still in the early stages, but interest is picking up. One sign of the times: the Department of Energy is hosting a workshop this week to discuss how to accelerate algae research.

Michael Webber
email : webber [at] mail.utexas [dot] edu

Jerry Brand
email : jbrand [at] mail.utexas [dot] edu

Super-biofuel cooked up by bacterial brewers
BY Colin Barras  /  08 December 2008

Bacteria have been genetically rewired to produce “non-natural” alcohols that would make ideal biofuel. In a new study, researchers show that it is possible to push bacterial metabolism beyond its natural limits in the search for cheap ways to produce useful chemicals. It is another example of how synthetic biology is helping to redefine life. Living cells have already been engineered to metabolise unusual sugars, and James Liao’s team at the University of California, Los Angeles, has now engineered bacteria to convert standard sugars into unusually long-chained alcohols.

‘Promiscuous’ enzymes
Bacteria such as Escherichia coli – a bug commonly linked to food poisoning outbreaks – naturally convert sugar into alcohol, but those alcohols tend to be short-chain molecules. Long-chain alcohols, each containing more than six carbon atoms, are more energy dense – packing more power into a smaller space – and hence make better fuels. They are also easier to isolate than short-chain alcohols because they are less soluble in water. So Liao’s team looked closely at the metabolism of E. coli to see if it could be redesigned to produce these longer chains.

Enzymes in the bacterium encourage one particular keto acid – a precursor to an amino acid – to undergo an “elongation cycle”, increasing its carbon content. The researchers reasoned that those enzymes might be “promiscuous” enough to elongate a different keto acid. The product could then be converted to a six-carbon alcohol using two more enzymes – one borrowed from another bacterium and another from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is commonly used in baking and brewing.

Tricky process
So the researchers engineered E. coli to over-express all of these enzymes, and tests confirmed that it could then convert glucose into the target six-carbon alcohol, known as 3-methyl-1-pentanol. Production levels were low, however. When fed 20 grams of glucose, these bacteria produced just 6.5 milligrams of the target alcohol. To improve that figure and reduce the quantity of unwanted by-products, Liao’s team had to engineer the two foreign enzymes. That enabled the bacteria to produce 384 milligrams of fuel from the same dose of sugar.

Optimising the process is tricky, because this is a non-natural metabolic pathway, says Liao. But he thinks that further research will improve on the initial success. “This work shows that one can take a synthetic biology approach – integrating efforts in metabolic engineering and protein engineering – to construct novel biosynthetic pathways,” says Jim Collins at Boston University, who was not involved in the study. Liao’s work will open the door for engineering microbes to produce many novel chemicals and materials, he adds.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0807157106, in press)
BY Kechun Zhanga, Michael Sawayab, David Eisenbergb, James Liaoa

Nature uses a limited set of metabolites to perform all of the biochemical reactions. To increase the metabolic capabilities of biological systems, we have expanded the natural metabolic network, using a nonnatural metabolic engineering approach. The branched-chain amino acid pathways are extended to produce abiotic longer chain keto acids and alcohols by engineering the chain elongation activity of 2-isopropylmalate synthase and altering the substrate specificity of downstream enzymes through rational protein design. When introduced into Escherichia coli, this nonnatural biosynthetic pathway produces various long-chain alcohols with carbon number ranging from 5 to 8. In particular, we demonstrate the feasibility of this approach by optimizing the biosynthesis of the 6-carbon alcohol, (S)-3-methyl-1-pentanol. This work demonstrates an approach to build artificial metabolism beyond the natural metabolic network. Nonnatural metabolites such as long chain alcohols are now included in the metabolite family of living systems.

James Liaoa
email : liaoj [at] seas.ucla [dot] edu

Montana researcher finds diesel-producing fungus
BY Susanne Retka Schill  /  Nov. 12, 2008

Gary Strobel has dubbed his discovery myco-diesel — a hydrocarbon-producing fungus he found growing in a tree in a Patagonian forest. The endophytic fungus, Gliocladium roseum has been shown to produce many of the same hydrocarbons found in diesel, growing on cellulosic material.

Strobel, a professor in the plant sciences and plant pathology department at Montana State University, explained that many organisms produce the shortest chain hydrocarbon, methane, and a number of organisms make longer-chain hydrocarbons that become increasing wax-like as the carbon chains get longer. However, in an extensive search of the literature, no other organism has been identified that produces as many short-chain hydrocarbons as Gliocladium roseum.

“How long it will take to make it practical to use is anybody’s guess,” Strobel said. “My son is doing the genetic profile and genetic sequencing. Perhaps these genes could be moved into other organisms like yeast or E coli that grow faster.” His son, Scott Strobel, is chair of Yale University’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.

Strobel’s paper detailing his discovery was published in the November issue of Microbiology. After a week of numerous phone calls following the publication of the paper, Gary Strobel is off to the rain forests of Borneo to look for more interesting specimens to test. Shortly after that trip, he will return to Patagonia. In his work, he has identified a number of potentially useful organisms that produce antibiotics, anti-fungal agents and other compounds. “Here I am 70 years old and still tromping around,” Strobel said. “I want to teach people in tropical countries how to do this so the pressure builds to save native forests.”

Gary Strobel
email : uplgs [at] montana [dot] edu

Scott Strobel
email : scott.strobel [at] yale [dot] edu

Tree fungus could provide green transport fuel
BY Alok Jha  /  4 November 2008

A tree fungus could provide green fuel that can be pumped directly into tanks, scientists say. The organism, found in the Patagonian rainforest, naturally produces a mixture of chemicals that is remarkably similar to diesel. “This is the only organism that has ever been shown to produce such an important combination of fuel substances,” said Gary Strobel, a plant scientist from Montana State University who led the work. “We were totally surprised to learn that it was making a plethora of hydrocarbons.”

In principle, biofuels are attractive replacements for liquid fossil fuels used in transport that generate greenhouse gases. The European Union has set biofuel targets of 5.75% by 2010 and 10% by 2020. But critics say current biofuels scarcely reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cause food price rises and deforestation. Producing biofuels sustainably is now a target and this latest work has been greeted by experts as an encouraging step.

The fungus, called Gliocladium roseum and discovered growing inside the ulmo tree (Eucryphia cordifolia) in northern Patagonia, produces a range of long-chain hydrocarbon molecules that are virtually identical to the fuel-grade compounds in existing fossil fuels. Details of the concoction, which Strobel calls “mycodiesel”, will be published in the November issue of the journal Microbiology. “The results were totally unexpected and very exciting and almost every hair on my arms stood on end,” said Strobel.

Many simple organisms, such as algae, are already known to make chemicals that are similar to the long-chain hydrocarbons present in transport fuel but, according to Strobel, none produce the explosive hydrocarbons with the high energy density of those in mycodiesel. Strobel said that the chemical mixture produced by his fungus could be used in a modern diesel engine without any modification.

Another advantage of the G. roseum fungus is its ability to eat up cellulose. This is a compound that, along with lignin, makes up the cell walls in plants and is indigestible by most animals. As such, it makes up much of the organic waste currently discarded, such as stalks and sawdust. Converting this plant waste into useful fuels is a major goal for the biofuel industry, which currently uses food crops such as corn and has been blamed for high food prices. Normally, cellulosic materials are treated with enzymes that first convert it to sugar, with microbes then used to ferment the sugar into ethanol fuel.

In contrast, G. roseum consumes cellulose directly to produce mycodiesel. “Although the fungus makes less mycodiesel when it feeds on cellulose compared to sugars, new developments in fermentation technology and genetic manipulation could help improve the yield,” said Strobel. “In fact, the genes of the fungus are just as useful as the fungus itself in the development of new biofuels.”

“Fungi are very important but we often overlook these organisms,” Tariq Butt, a fungus expert at Swansea University, said: “This is the first time that a fungus has been shown to produce hydrocarbons that could potentially be exploited as a source of fuel in the future. Concept-wise, the discovery and its potential applications are fantastic. However, more research is needed, as well as a pilot study to determine the costs and benefits. Even so, another potential supply of renewable fuel allows us to diversify our energy sources and is certainly an exciting discovery.”

John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre, also welcomed the discovery but noted it is at its earliest stage of development. “This appears another encouraging discovery that natural processes are more capable of producing materials of real value to mankind than we had previously known. It’s another piece of evidence that there is real potential to adapt such processes to provide energy sources that can help reduce our need for, and dependence on, fossil fuels.”

The next stage for Strobel’s work will be to refine the extraction of mycodiesel from the fungus. This requires more laboratory work to identify the most efficient ways to grow the organism and, perhaps, genetic modification of the fungus to improve yields. If successful, Strobel’s technology will then need to be tested in a large-scale demonstration plant to solve any problems in scaling up to to commercial production.

Strobel also said that his discovery raises questions about how fossil fuels were made in the first place. “The accepted theory is that crude oil, which is used to make diesel, is formed from the remains of dead plants and animals that have been exposed to heat and pressure for millions of years. [But] if fungi like this are producing mycodiesel all over the rainforest, they may have contributed to the formation of fossil fuels.”

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