WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ALGAL BIOFUEL ENVIRONMENTALISM HYPE????
THE ASSESSMENT BY LABROOTS:
During the first decade of the 21st century, the world saw a rapid surge of research and development activities surrounding algae biofuel. The concept, which combines biological carbon capture and accelerated fossil fuel creation in its essence, has the environment-friendly appears.and advantages over the production of fossil fuel and energy source from other types of biomass. After dozens of organizations spending hundreds of millions of dollars-worth investment, a significant portion of which came from Exxon Mobile and the Department of Energy, the bubble burst as no one managed to achieve a commercial scale process. The idea of extracting fuel oil from algae was since considered neither commercially viable nor environmentally responsible. The boom started when algae were discovered to be much more efficient in capturing carbon and turn them into biofuel, as compared to terrestrial plants such as palms and corns. Algae do not require good quality land, so using algae as a source for biodiesel can alleviate the competition with food crops. The genetically diverse, lipid-rich watery plant is not picky about water either: wastewater from farming, contaminated with fertilizers can be used as its primary source of water and nutrients. Since many algae species are excellent bio-fixers, meaning the production process of algae biofuel can be a carbon-negative process, even though about a good percentage of the carbon will be released back to the atmosphere during fuel consumption. But the byproducts and scrap from algae can be easily buried as composting. Later on, as more R&D was carried out, it turns out that growing algae in the industrial scale would require about the same footage of land if not ocean as other traditional fuel crops. It was calculated that an algae pond would need to suck around 4g of carbon from the atmosphere and transformed that into biomass per square meter (or 11 square feet) every day, in order to sustain fuel production and extraction. From the biochemistry point of view, the amount of fertilizer that the growth of algae would need in an industrial setting is also astounding and may result in unhealthy competition with the need for food crop farming. Some of the biofuel startups survived the burst, but they all switched gears to focus turning algae into other high-value products such as cooking oil, dietary supplement, and food coloring products. Meanwhile, algae biofuels research and development is still alive, with a smaller amount of funding dedicated to plausibly breakthroughs, in both biology and engineering. For instance, chemical engineers from the University of Utah reported a new, energy-efficient method to extract lipids from the watery plant: they developed a new mixing reactor in which jets of the extraction solvent run against jets of algae, creating turbulence that “suck out” liquid from algae with ease. As many are hopeful that more innovation will put us closer to turning algae into a viable, cost-effective alternative fuel, it is important to bear in mind that any breakthrough in industrial technology takes time, money, and careful, lengthy R&D.
THE ASSSESSMENT BY GREENTECH MEDIA
From 2005 to 2012, dozens of companies managed to extract hundreds of millions in cash from VCs in hopes of ultimately extracting fuel oil from algae. CEOs, entrepreneurs and investors were making huge claims about the promise of algae-based biofuels; the U.S. Department of Energy was also making big bets through its bioenergy technologies office; industry advocates claimed that commercial algae fuels were within near-term reach. Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest authored what was possibly history’s least accurate market forecast, projecting that algal biofuel capacity would reach 1 billion gallons by 2014. In 2009, Solazyme promised competitively priced fuel from algae by 2012. Algenol planned to make 100 million gallons of ethanol annually in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert by the end of 2009 and 1 billion gallons by the end of 2012 at a production rate of 10,000 gallons per acre. PetroSun looked to develop an algae farm network of 1,100 acres of saltwater ponds that could produce 4.4 million gallons of algal oil and 110 million pounds of biomass per year. Nothing close to 1 billion (or even 1 million) gallons has yet been achieved — nor has competitive pricing. The promise of algae is tantalizing. Some algal species contain up to 40 percent lipids by weight, a figure that could be boosted further through selective breeding and genetic modification. That basic lipid can be converted into diesel, synthetic petroleum, butanol or industrial chemicals. According to some sources, an acre of algae could yield 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of oil a year, making algae far more productive than soy (50 gallons per acre), rapeseed (110 to 145 gallons), jatropha (175 gallons), palm (650 gallons), or cellulosic ethanol from poplars (2,700 gallons). The question is: Can algae be economically cultivated and commercially scaled to make a material contribution to humanity’s liquid fuel needs? Can biofuels from algae compete on price with fossil-derived petroleum? Once capital needs, water availability, energy balance, growing, collecting, drying, and algae’s pickiness about light and CO2 are factored in — the answer, so far, is an emphatic no. There is incredible potential for algae technology in drug discovery and production, specialty oils and a range of chemicals. Will we be running commercial engines on algae-derived fuels in the 21st century? Nope.
THE ASSESSMENT BY THE CONVERSATION
Algal biofuels are in trouble. This alternative fuel source could help reduce overall carbon emissions without taking land from food production, like many crop-based biofuels do. But several major companies including Shell and ExxonMobil are seemingly abandoning their investments in this environmentally friendly fuel. So why has this promising technology failed to deliver, and what could be done to save it? Algae are photosynthetic organisms related to plants that grow in water and produce energy from carbon dioxide and sunlight. Single-celled microalgae can be used to produce large amounts of fat, which can be converted into biodiesel, the most common form of biofuel. There are many possible ingredients for making biofuels, from corn to used cooking oil. But algae are particularly interesting because they can be grown rapidly and produce large amounts of fuel relative to the resources used to grow them (high productivity). In the last decade or so, vast amounts of money have been invested in the development of algae for biofuel production. This made sense because, ten years ago, there was a need to find alternatives to fossil fuels due to the high oil price and the increasing recognition that carbon emissions were causing climate change. Algal biofuels were touted as the answer to these twin problems, and huge investment followed. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite to plan. Companies making algal biofuels struggled to retain their high productivity at a larger scale and found predators often contaminated their farms. They also found that the economics just didn’t make sense. Building the ponds in which to grow the algae and providing enough light and nutrients for them to grow proved too expensive, and to make matters worse the oil price has plummeted. But algae don’t just produce biofuels. In fact, algae are like microscopic factories producing all sorts of useful compounds that can be used to make an amazingly diverse range of products. This means that the “biorefinery” concept can bring the algae revolution back as a new wave of the algae revolution.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
THE ALGAL BIOFUEL MOVEMENT OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS THAT WAS PROPOSED AS A SOLUTION TO ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE HAS FAILED BECAUSE OF HIDDEN COMPLEXITIES AND COSTS NOT TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION IN ITS INITIAL EVALUATION. A THOROUGH ANALYSIS OF THE ISSUE IS PROVIDED IN THE BOOK “THE MYTH OF ALGAE BUIFUELS” AND SUMARIZED IN THE HARVARD POLITICAL REVIEW LINK: https://harvardpolitics.com/the-myth-of-algae-biofuels/ WHERE WE FIND:
The Myth of Algae Biofuels: The algae that has received the most attention is microalgae, single-celled photosynthetic organisms that live on the water’s surface. Microalgae are one of the most abundant and important organisms on the planet. They play a significant role in balancing marine ecosystems and regulating global nutrient cycles. To transform these tiny plants into fuel, researchers typically grow microalgae in large, open ponds. Scientists harvest the algae, break down the plants’ cell walls using a chemical solvent, and then extract their inner lipids, proteins, and carbs, which undergo a final processing step that turns them into biofuel. But energy companies have long since given up on algae biofuels. Despite industry optimism, decades of research seem to have converged upon a disappointing reality: The economic and biological limitations of algae make it an unrealistic fuel alternative to fossil fuels.
via Thongchai Thailand