The Efficacy of Biofuels from Algae on Cleantech.org

I usually don’t do this, but a couple of days ago we had a post on Cleantech.org’s Linked In group around algal processes, feedstocks, and the recent DOE solicitation, that engendered a lively discussion, in part taking off from the recent demise of Green Fuels.

While many of you know I am not personally a fan of algal fuels, I have posted it en masse, unedited, so enjoy, as the discussion ranges across a decent chunk of the issues facing algae processes and provides some food for thought.

Urgent – Algae Oil Production or Algae Methane Production Needed!
We are completing a DOE grant application design to meet our Notice of Intent by next Friday and need to find one or two companies with a process to make Algae Oil or Algae Methane, or either, for our process. Please email any information or contacts as our time line is running short for this grant. We believe we have lined up most all other pieces for this proposed biorefinery!

Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Make featured Delete discussion

Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur

See all Walter’s discussions »

Comments (24)
Poly Endrasik Jr.
Video/Web Conferencing & Teleworking Consultant
Hi Walter, Maybe you could pick up this technology for a song and take it somewhere:

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/greenfuel-technologies-closing-down-4670/

http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/2747/70/ – both these are the same story!

Good Luck and God bless
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Hi Poly,

That is why we turn down all VC investments into our company. They are best left to Universities and University students who manage a lot of deals that once one folds they can jump to the next one without a lot of pain. Where I come from we don’t throw other people’s money at deals…unless those investors who came in early can support those who come in later. Most VC deals are so ugly after the first and second round that who would ever want to support a technology with those types of “investors”. Not me!

Walt.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Neil Farbstein
President of Vulvox Nanobiotechnology Corporation
Algae have several problems that make them untenable. Algal production systems use so much water that they will damage the environment,competing with city municipal reservoirs, agricultural water and they will drain rivers that support wildlife. CSP solar thermal uses a lot less water and some designs use no water to generate clean cheap electricity.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Neil – I would suggest that is myopic. There are many alternatives and many end products. Saying that electricity is the only solution is impractical since electricity does not give us any near term solutions for the vast network of spark and compression based ignition systems.

Walter asked for support on algae, stick to the topic. Walter, I dropped you a parrallel note… As one of the areas I am working on is a non-proprietary solution to put algae farming in the hands of who better? Farmers. My part in the process is the development of a low cost photo bioreactor and trying to engage the agricultual extension service in the mix. If that is a help to you or others, please connect.

There are still realistic challenges like best lipid extraction mechanism. Final protocols for maximizing lipid production are also in order. Some parrallel gadgets to be built include the PBR, a low cost easy operation lipid fraction meter, an oil/lipid extraction gizmo, etc.

The more we share the more likely we are to win/win…

Leif
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Leif/Neil,

Our process produces water from the production of the methane. We could use that excess water for the algae systems if that would be helpful. We also produce near pure CO2 and we understand this could also be helpful. At this stage we just want methane sources without the algae oil if feasible. My background is oil & gas so I know methane, ethane and propane down the chain. I am not, nor my engineers, familiar with the bio/algae world as experts. We have lots of engineering firms contacting us to help us, but we really are just looking for designers who understand the algae space to complete this DOE grant. We have until next Friday for the Intent and our budget is around $25 million. We think we have a very strong chance to win this grant…but we need the CO2-algae-methane piece…or part of it to be proven. I know, contact Bill Gates and Sapphire Energy but it appears DOE grants are not going to impact their $100 million last funding round! 🙂

Walt.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Not sure I follow the direction of your need. I am not clear whether you are making methane, or consuming methane. I take it is making… I would assume you could decompose the algae to create a methane source, but like most methane sources, it wouldn’t be clear. Temp conversion/pyrolysis could be an option but certainly you know that.

Given that I am not tracking where you are heading, I am unlikely to be of help.

And I thought that while DOE expected to award some large, the easy high end was $5M and 24 months…

Leif
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Lief,

Sorry I was not clear. We need methane for our process to make methanol.

Walt.
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Yep I am of no help to you. I don’t have a good way for a clean source of methane. Lots out there, but not sure of metabolic pathway from the algae I work with.

Good luck.

Leif
Posted 2 days ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
I assume you are doing this against ARPA-E – did you catch the updated amendment on that?

Leif
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Lubo Morhac
Technology Management Consultant
Hi Walter,

I have several links for you to research relating to algae to fuel. I don’t think the following outfits have algae cultures that are capable of CH4 production, but fatty acids for sure:
This one is my favourite in terms of equipment:
http://www.algaelink.com/

also check these:
http://www.solixbiofuels.com/html/company.html
http://www.petroalgae.com/
http://www.greenfuelonline.com/
http://www.livefuels.com/

Landfill sites are an excellent source of CH4.
Some gasification systems may be of interest with Methanization back end.
but of course, best of luck with algae,

Lubo
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Lubo Morhac
Technology Management Consultant
Walter, I re-read the thread and I think this may be of interest as an alternative for turning CO2 into energy:
http://www.uafsunstar.com/20090317/sandia-technology-turns-sunshine-petrol
http://www.carbonsciences.com/

L.
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Wow, thanks for the information guys. We need methane…that is what we need. We can work with Algae oil to make biodiesel since methanol is used in the biodiesel, but right now we want the most simple system. CO2-Algae-Methane-Methanol…we will recycle our water and CO2 nicely.

Poly, I spoke to my licensing friend at MIT and article you posted, “GreenFuel Technologies Closing Down” was just searched and there is no reference to that project at MIT. He called Harvard for me and they have no mention of it, but they have heard of it. They believe it was something a student started on the roof, and MIT says that any student who develops anything at their University is the owner of the IP. Thus, the article says it is an MIT-Harvard algae project that crashed, but my friend said there is no record of the project he could find, nor at Harvard…so maybe the author was mistaken…

Yes, finding Algae to Methane is not so easy!
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
The problem in part is that your target their is “swamp gas” from algae rather than the oil output. My challenge is that is a different species, in fact I have no clue what species that might be, vs the standard oil rich species e.g. chlorella …
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Leif,

Here is the acceptable feedstocks from the grant…consider we need methane:

“Using the definitions of “renewable biomass” as stated in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007), and the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, Title IX, Sec. 9001, as guidance, for the purpose of this FOA, the acceptable feedstocks will be those listed below:
(A) materials, pre-commercial thinnings, or invasive species from National Forest System land and public lands (as defined in section 103 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1702)) that –
(i) are byproducts of preventive treatments that are removed –
(I) to reduce hazardous fuels;
(II) to reduce or contain disease or insect infestation; or
(III) to restore ecosystem health;
(ii) would not otherwise be used for higher-value products; and
(iii) are harvested in accordance with –
(I) applicable law and land management plans; and
(II) the requirements for
i. old-growth maintenance, restoration, and management direction of paragraphs (2), (3), and (4) of subsection (e) of section 102 of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6512); and
ii. large-tree retention of subsection (f) of that section; or
(B) organic matter that is available on a renewable or recurring basis from non-Federal land or land belonging to an Indian or Indian tribe that is held in trust by the United States or subject to a restriction against alienation imposed by the United States, including –
(i) renewable plant material, including –
(I) organic material grown for the purposes of being converted to energy; and
(II) algae; and
(ii) waste material, including –
(I) crop residue (including cobs, stover, bagasse and other residues);
(II) other vegetative waste material (including wood waste and wood residues);
(III) food waste and yard waste.

No plant based material that is generally intended for use as food can be employed as a feedstock except as noted below under “Additional Feedstocks Acceptable For Topic Areas 5 and 6.” Hence, sugars derived from sugarcane or beets and oils derived from soy, canola, sunflower, peanut, etc. normally recovered using conventional food processing methods will be excluded from eligibility for this FOA. The determining factor will be the typical use of the material in commerce. Use of excess oil production of food-grade oil also does not constitute an acceptable feedstock. Distillers Dried Grains with Soluble (DDGS) is also excluded. Additional information regarding the use of algae as a feedstock is included in Appendix J.

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is not an acceptable feedstock. However, biomass as defined in EPAct 2005 (Public Law 109-58) Section 932(a)(1-2) that is segregated from the MSW as a separate stream, could be employed as a feedstock with appropriate considerations for the costs of such segregation, collection, processing, and transportation. Hence, post-sorted MSW, where all recyclables and non-biomass components have been removed, would qualify, but only the remaining dry material that meets the above requirements would qualify as a feedstock for purposes of this FOA. Allowable costs include processing (such as, chipping or grinding) the feedstock into a form that can be fed into the reactor. Processing costs for MSW are restricted to post-sorted materials.”

That is not an easy list to find methane…except here:

“A new method for converting algae into natural gas for use in pipelines and power generation has been transferred to the marketplace under a license between Genifuel Corp. and Battelle. Genefuel is based in Salt Lake City, and has an exclusive license for the technology.”

http://www.genifuel.com/ – maybe this is the only one?
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Karel Beelaerts van Blokland
Dutchmen Absolute Return F: 07-37% /08-100% /09- 5,4% – dutchmencapital.web-log.nl / kacobeelaerts@zonnet.nl
AlgaeLink N.V. is a Dutch Company that designs and manufactures algae growing equipment. Algaelink are building a world-wide supply chain and network that is sustainable and delivers value to our global customers . Our operations cover algae production, equipment, consultancy, installation support and training.

Fuel Green energy, biodiesel, bio-ethanol, bio-gas, bio-oil, and jet fuel (JV with AirFrance-KLM).
www.algaeLink.com
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Walt – my point is in part to explain the tangential answers. Most of us (with all the negative broad brush implications that implies) are focused on the extraction of the large lipid fraction from algea and therefore area focused on microalgae – commonly Chlorella, and other variants of the small motile buggers since lipid fractions can reach 50% in some claims. That oil then become the feedstock for a biodiesel process.

The algae you are after are just different. You are looking for a swamp/march algae (or pnd scum), likely long strain clumpy stuff most people try to kill. A source would be https://ccmp.bigelow.org/ which is a national repository for many such things.

My issue is I just haven’t focused on it. You might be able to find help and support in the reverse from your local agricultural extension agent.

I think I had misread the feedstocks grant to assume it precluded algae – not 100% which one you are pursuing.

Given the time and the inclination, you or I could come up with the right kind of algae and the people involved. You are looking for the swamp biology professor – not anyone talking about algae for biofuels. Not a bad thing, just a different thing.

You are welcome to call me if it would help – 540 847 5343.

Leif
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Leif,
I will see if I can get my engineer to call you as he is just now getting started on all these calculations. We know how much methane we need to produce methanol. We know how much methanol is needed to produce biodiesel. We know how much oil is needed to produce biodiesel. We will likely need 5-10 times more oil-algae than methane-algae to have a tight, packaged CO2-to-biodiesel system. We wonder if that amount exists already in stable systems (i.e. before they go in and kill off the “bad” algae)? Interesting dilemma…I’m sure the answer is out there at some of these Universities and DOE labs who get all the “fun money” to do the R&D.
Walt.
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
That is part of the dilemma – there is much talk and speculation, but other than a haxane oil extraction standard, the only thing that is talked about is pyrolysis to derive a clean oil residue and that is a piss awful waste of energy. Ultimately that is why I think that is why some folks are tanking, because without extraction mechanisms, algae is a tough nut.

The one I am holding out for is algae ‘milking” to extract the oil while the algae is still alive. But I fear that may turn our processes from open to proprietary.

To be fair from your earlier post, you can decompose algae, food, and other wastes that aren’t muni solid – so you should be able to leverage sewage or other feedstocks. I think those folks are really your targets and the organisms in the Archaea group are the metanogens you seek…

Leif
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Matt Sloustcher
Account Executive at Peppercom Strategic Communications
Walter,

Nobody has mentioned the heterotrophic “in the dark” method of algae oil production Solazyme employs. I suggest you review the following blog post, and check out Greentech Media’s analysis of the industry.

http://www.oilgae.com/blog/2009/02/advantages-of-heterotropic-algae-for.html
Posted 1 day ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Christine Harmel
PR
I would suggest OriginOil http://www.originoil.com/
Posted 22 hours ago Reply Privately Delete comment

Comments (24)
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Has anyone studied the cost accuracy associated with this Algae-methane process? Everything boils down to CAPEX and OPEX in these models, and this looks interesting.

http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/pdf/algae_salton_sea.pdf
Posted 20 hours ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Leif Johnston
Technology Consultant and Serial Entrepreneur
Big picture you are still decomposing the algal as the methane creation process with techniques not 100% clear to me and combine with complicating compounds in the decomposition gases, sulpher containing mercaptans etc. Which still leaves you with the need for a decomposition specialist…
Posted 17 hours ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Frédéric Vogel
Research group leader at Paul Scherrer Institut
Dear Walter,

I know that I’m too late for your grant application. Nevertheless, you might be interested to know that we are developing a process similar to the one Genifuel has licensed from PNNL. The strong feature of our process is the recovery of all nutrients in a concentrated brine, besides the efficient production of methane. We have recently published a paper accessible to anyone:

http://www.rsc.org/Publishing/Journals/EE/article.asp?doi=b819874h

Feel free to connect if you think some further discussion might be of interest.

Frédéric
Posted 1 hour ago Reply Privately Delete comment
Walter Breidenstein
Professional Entrepreneur
Frederic,
Thank you for the very interesting information. We have not reached any agreement with Genifuel yet, but I have had one brief discussion and a couple email exchanges. I get the feeling they are at the top of their game and have their own uses for methane from their website. I’m not convinced as I know the methane markets extremely well and not a day passes that I don’t hear of another methane technology that will be “easily converted to liquids”. I’ve traveled the world on researching and studying methane conversion, and it just is not as easy as some would have you believe. Therefore, I would be most interested in your technology. We remain open and ready to do business with anyone that can integrate their value chain into ours. Further, the grant is not due until June 30 (so you are not too late) while the Notice of Intent is due by next Friday. We remain committed to find some help in Algae to Methane technologies. We think we can add value to whatever is the methane source.
Walt.
Posted 42 minutes ago Reply Privately Delete comment

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners and Chairman of Carbonflow, Inc. and Cleantech.org.

3 replies
  1. CKWR
    CKWR says:

    I think that these parties should make contact with Prof John Benemann JBenemann@aol.com; nnot only is he a respected world authority on micro-algae he has some interesting research as well a complete buisness plan for methane colection from land fill management techniques.

  2. ramen
    ramen says:

    Very interesting. I'm not for algae biofuels too right now, but i guess that it's our responsibility to take a look into all possibilities and to see what can be done to help our planet breath a bit. This article is very good food for though, always hungry for more info on how to build a greener world!

  3. sao paulo architect
    sao paulo architect says:

    interesting use of algae. There are a lot of studies of integration into architecture. There is a trend in graduate student architectural projects now, using algae as biofuel, able to grow it on building surfaces.

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