Venter Hopes For Fourth Generation Biofuel This Year

Craig Venter gave a lecture at the Oxonian Society in New York Wednesday night. During the Q&A session afterwards, an intrepid reporter from Discover Magazine asked the question about "fourth generation biofuels" that I have been wanting ask. When do we get these things?

[D]uring his talk, Venter sketched out a plan to copy genes from deep-sea microbes to produce organisms that could slurp up highly concentrated carbon dioxide and spew out hydrogen gas–killing two environmental birds with one stone by simultaneously providing clean energy and drawing down current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to more bearable levels. The first step towards this goal will be to compose a genome on a computer, synthesize it from scratch, and insert it into a microbe without killing it. I’ve been wondering when Venter will take that step (see my conversation with him last fall on Back then, Venter said some time in 2008. During the Q&A after his talk, I asked how the experiment was going. He said he still hoped to finish it this year
This year. Or within 5 months. They must be making significant progress if he hopes to have it done that soon. Which is good because I am getting impatient.

On another note, I have been describing Venter's "fourth generation biofuels" as genetically modified algae, Venter himself has referred to them as "genetically engineered algae." From the description given in Discover Magazine it sounds like the organism will have a completely synthetic genome.  More accurately it is a genome of pre-existing genes compiled in a novel way.  On the other hand, the organism mentioned above also produces hydrogen? The genetically engineered algae are designed to produce oil.  Maybe the reporter got it wrong or maybe Venter is referring to a different project.

Coalition Deaths Continue to Decline in Iraq

The above graph illustrates the decline in coalition deaths from hostile activity in Iraq since "the Surge" began in May of 2007.  Since the beginning of "the Surge," hostile deaths have declined from 123 in May of 2007 to 8 in July of 2008.  Additionally this continued decline in violence is occurring even as the five surge brigades have left Iraq.  See the link here for more statistics.   

Craig Venter's Fourth Generation Biofuels From Algae

I first heard Craig Venter discuss so-called "fourth generation biofuels" during a presentation he gave at TED, where he predicted fourth generation biofuels would exist within 18 months.  Venter's new company, Synthetic Genomics, is genetically modifying photosynthetic algae to cause it to secrete oil.  These genetically modified organisms will combine C02 and sunlight to create an oil that is passed through the membrane of the algae and into the water were it can be collected.  If successful, this will be a revolutionary method of creating biofuel. Current algae fuel methods require the algae to be harvested, dried, and then the algae is somehow either mechanically separated from its oil and processed or gasified.  With Venter's method, the algae not only does not have to be dried and separated from the oil, it doesn't even have to be harvested.  The algae excretes the oil and the oil is collected.  So rather than spend energy continually growing new algae crops, a stable population of algae spends its energy producing and excreting oil.

By far, this is the most promising scenario for algae fuel that I have heard.  However, few details have been divulged and it is difficult to know how much progress has actually been made. Today,  Popular Mechanics posted a brief interview with Craig Venter describing fourth generation biofuels.  The good parts of the interview are excerpted below, the rest of the interview is rather tedious as Venter expresses his total buy-in to the man made global warming hypothesis and how great he thinks Jimmy Carter was as a President.
And the fourth-generation fuels?

We're using a unique type of algae that we've genetically engineered to turn sunlight and CO2 into C8 and C10 and larger lipids. The people that initially grew algae viewed it as farming—you know, you grow a bunch of algae and then you harvest it. But it's totally different if the algae are chemical factories. Ours continuously secrete these molecules, so we get constant production of something that can basically be used right away as biodiesel.

So they perform better than traditional biofuels—but will they actually be better for the environment?

Because we actually have to feed them concentrated CO2, we can take CO2 streams from power plants, cement plants and other places. People view CO2 as a contaminant—they want to bury it in the ground or pump it into wells to hide or sequester it. We want to take all that waste product and convert it into fuel.

When do you hope to have these fuels in people's cars?

Our goal is to have multiple things on the market within five years. We're looking now at how to scale this up. Our molecules are much higher energy density [than ethanol], but even so we need to produce hundreds of billions of gallons if we're really going to make a dent in oil use.
Trying to read between the lines, it sounds as if Synthetic Genomics already has the modified algae that secrete the oils they are interested in manufacturing and they are now looking for a way to grow this organism on a commercial basis.  At any rate, developments regarding this technology are eagerly awaited.

PetroAlgae's Centrifuge Oil Extraction Method

The video above is a short news clip about PetroAlgae, a company in Florida attempting to make fuel from algae. What is interesting about PetroAlgae is their method of extracting oil from the algae. They use a high speed centrifuge. PetroAlgae claims their method of growing and extracting algae oil is able to make fuel at a price competitive with gasoline. However, their goal is to use the algae to create electricity rather than power cars.  An interview today in the Orlando Sentinal with Fred Tennant, the Vice President of product development at PetroAlgae, yielded the following tidbits:
What's the problem?

It's expensive. Tom Byrne, on the board of directors of the nonprofit Algal Biomass Organization, said a pilot plant can cost from $50 million to $100 million, but as long as petroleum stays above $50 a barrel, algae can be competitive.

How's the oil harvested?

The algae are grown to their maximum density -- when their water turns a deep forest green, either in open pools or closed systems encased in plastic tubes or tanks. The water is drained and the paste is milled to separate the oil from its "meal." The crude oil is then refined at a biodiesel facility.
The question I have is what is more efficient; extracting and then refining the oil like PetroAlgae or just throwing it in the gasifier like David James?

Ride The Lightning

As oil becomes more expensive, it is becoming apparent that the most efficient method of powering our cars is electricity. An electric car is not only more efficient in the use of energy than a gasoline car, it is agnostic to the source of electricity and will therefore be relatively immune to the fluctuations in fuel price that afflict cars powered by a distinct type of fuel, i.e. gasoline, diesel, or natural gas. The problem with the electric car is that they typically have a limited range, take a long time to recharge, are underpowered, and look more like a an eco-fashion statement than a car.  All of that may be about to change.  Pictured above is the Lightning GT from the UK automotive company Lightning.  The Lightning GT is an electric car that is powered by four electric motors, one at each wheel, that combine for 700 hp.  It does zero to sixty in four seconds. The Lightning GT has 30 batteries made of lithium-titanate nanoparticles, which give the car an advertised range of over 185 miles and take only 10 minutes to recharge. 185 miles is far less than a gasoline engine but it is further than most people drive in a day. Since you can recharge it at home, visiting a gas station will be a thing of the past except on longer trips where drivers will have to stop every 185 miles or so to recharge for 10 minutes.  The GT Lightning is expected to be available in early 2009 at a price of about $250,000, so it is not exactly economical.  However, I remember when a CD player cost $10,000.  Hopefully volume production and maturation of the technology will drive the cost of a car like the Lightning GT down to a price competitive with an internal combustion engine car.

UPDATE: Motortrend has reported that the Lightning GT has a range of 250 miles. If true, that is an impressive range on par with many internal combustion engine vehicles.  Most likely, Motortrend has their facts wrong.  Nonetheless, the possibility that it is accurate makes it worth a mention.

Plasma Gasification

David James does it with algae in his backyard but the video above shows the potential for major industrial application of gasification as well as a very nice explanation of how gasification works.

Fuel From Algae By Gasification

The production values in the above video are horribly low. However, it is interesting enough to post. In the video, David James explains his gasification method and how he makes gasoline or diesel directly from dried algae in about five minutes. Gasification eliminates the need to extract oil from the algae because the algae is vaporized by the heat of the gasifier. According to James, after the algae is vaporized it is then converted directly to gasoline through the use of proprietary catalysts. I would really like to see a video of his gasifier in action but I haven't been able to find one.

Headmaster Makes Algae Gasoline for $1.90 a Gallon

David James, the principal of a private school in Opelika, Alabama, is not content to merely administer the school.  No, he wants to make the schools energy as well. He uses biodiesel from algae to run the school's buses and machinery. Pictured above is James at his algae growing operation at Eastwood Christian School.  According to a report at RedOrbit, James claims to efficiently make gasoline from algae using a gasifier.
It takes about 13 pounds of algae, which James is growing in a greenhouse, to make a gallon of gas, which they can make for an estimated $1.50 to $1.90 a gallon, he said. He also said an acre of algae, in the low estimates, could yield five to six thousand gallons of fuel.
According to James, a gasifier is the best way to make fuel from algae,
"The answer is gasification. ... I believe the gasifier is the way of the future," he said.

Gasification is a process of converting biomass into carbon monoxide and hydrogen by exposing it to high temperatures with a certain amount of oxygen or steam. 
He said his friend at Unified Fuels, Inc. was the engineer who had built the gasifier they were converting the algae in and the specific catalysts they were using in the system were patented.
Some tantalizing quotes about the potential of algae fuels but I wouldn't bank on those numbers just yet. For more see the report at RedOrbit

Solazyme's Sugar Eating Algae

The above video shows Solazyme's mehod for creating oil from algae. It is one of the nicest productions so far regarding algae. Solazyme's algae does not use photosynthesis, which would seem to defeat the whole point of using algae for fuel. The offered reason for not using photosynthesis is that the algae produces oil more efficiently when using sugars. It seems that statement would depend on your definition of efficient. The sugars that these algae eat has to come from somewhere, so somewhere in the chain it uses land and sunlight. However, Solazyme claims that their process uses cellulosic sugars from non-food stocks. I wonder if the process can use cellulosic food stocks now or if that is something they are working towards? Anyway, it is a good video but I have become convinced that a photosynthetic algae will be the best solution. In particular, I am waiting anxiously for Craig Venter's group at Synthetic Genomics to produce their fourth generation biofuel.

Boeing Bullish on Biofuel from Algae

Algae makes good jet fuel. Good enough that Boeing is heavily promoting algae. From the Seattle Times:

"It makes extremely good jet fuel," said Darrin Morgan, Boeing's director of business analysis for environmental strategy. ...

"It grows naturally in an aquatic environment; it doubles in mass every day; it's very plant-oil dense," he said.

Morgan said the algae — grown either in shallow ponds or closed tanks — is so productive that the entire supply of fuel for the world's fleet of commercial jets could be provided in a cultivated area about the size of West Virginia.

"Of course, West Virginia may not be the right place," he deadpanned. He envisages ideal cultivation areas in such places as Australia or the desert Southwest of the United States, where crops won't grow and salty aquifers or the sea provide reusable water. ...

Morgan said Boeing isn't planning to go into the fuel business, but it will do everything it can to promote research so extracting oil from algae becomes commercially viable on a large scale. ...

Boeing's rosy forecast is that as much as 5 to 10 percent of aviation fuel could come from this source by 2015.
My question is why only 5 to 10% in seven years?  Why not more faster? Is it the cost or is it the lack of production capacity?  See the full article in the Seattle Times and another piece on the same topic in the New York Times, both of which focus on boring environmentalism and never bother to talk about the business case for algae fuel.

Ford to Manufacture European Cars in America

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Ford will retool its U.S. factories to manufacture European cars for the domestic market. Ford believes the smaller more fuel efficient cars it sells in Europe, such as the Mondeo pictured above, will do well under the current economic conditions in the United States. Europe has been a bright spot for Ford, its main European markets rose 2% in the year's first half while its U.S. sales dropped 14% in the same period. From the WSJ article:

By making its European models in U.S. plants, Ford can avoid the foreign-exchange impact and sell the vehicles at more attractive prices.

The move was pushed by Chief Executive Alan Mulally and met resistance from others in the company, people familiar with the matter said. Opponents questioned whether Ford can meet the timetable for the effort -- possibly as soon as 18 months -- and worried it could ultimately fail, as did previous efforts by Ford to sell European models in the U.S., these people said.

But Mr. Mulally, who spent his career at Boeing Co. before taking over the second-largest U.S. auto maker in 2006, decided to push ahead, they said.
I think this is a no-brainer for Ford. However, I wonder why they don't manufacture in the U.S. for the European market? With the lower cost of employment and favorable exchange rate you would think that exporting from the U.S. to Europe would work well. It seems to work for BMW, as I reported previously. If Ford doesn't export cars from America to Europe, my guess is that it is because the labor unions in the U.S. make it uncompetitive. BMW makes it work but those are newer and undoubtedly nonunion factories that it uses.

Jesse Jackson Paved The Way For Osama bin Laden?

Okay, this is a little off topic for this blog, however, I think this is interesting and it is getting surprisingly little publicity. Drudge hasn't even picked it up.  In this clip, Dan Rather refers to Barack Obama as Osama bin Laden and ends up saying that Jesse Jackson paved the way for Osama bin Laden. Funny stuff. But the irony is that had a Republican or a Conservative made this gaffe it would be all over the news with the worst intentions gratuitously inferred. As it is, there is not a peep in the media. Watch how the hosts of the show don't even flinch as Rather says "Osama bin Laden" instead of "Barack Obama." Are they covering up or did they just not notice?

There Is No Consensus On Global Warming

DailyTech is reporting that the American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, is recognizing that many of its members disbelieve in anthropogenic global warming. The APS had previously called the evidence for anthropogenic global warming "incontrovertible."

The article quotes APS editor Jeffrey Marque as saying,

"There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution."
The APS is publishing a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that IPCC modeling has grossly overstated the amount of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause. The paper implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on climate.

Monckton told DailyTech,
"I was dismayed to discover that the IPCC's 2001 and 2007 reports did not devote chapters to the central 'climate sensitivity' question, and did not explain in proper, systematic detail the methods by which they evaluated it. When I began to investigate, it seemed that the IPCC was deliberately concealing and obscuring its method."... "in the peer-reviewed literature, most articles on climate sensitivity conclude, as I have done, that climate sensitivity must be harmlessly low."
See the whole article at DailyTech here.

Oil From Algae at Half the Cost of Fossil Oil

Four companies, HR BioPetroleum, Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., Maui Electric, and Hawaiian Electric Col, announced this week that they have joined together to produce biodiesel from algae at a facility on Maui. HR BioPetroleum will maintain the facility and grow the algae while Maui Electric and Hawaiian Electric Co., will provide carbon dioxide for the algae to feed on.

According to the CEO of HR BioPetroleum, the company has developed techniques to achieve at least a 50 percent improvement over the price per barrel of fossil fuel today. According to the company's website, they intend to harvest 60 tons of oil per hectare and to construct a 1,000 hectare facility on Hawaii. This would produce 60,000 tons of oil annually or about 432,000 barrels per year. At $140 per barrel, that would be over $60 million in fossil oil.

Here is how HR BioPetroleum plans to grow the algae:

HR proposes to pump brackish water at Ma'alaea, which will be put into long, clear plastic tubes along with a starter batch of algae.

Algae grow with sunlight, water and carbon dioxide and a small admixture of nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorous.

HR will get carbon dioxide from the stacks of MECO's diesel-fired generators at Ma'alaea. That is why the farm must be close to the power plant. ...

After multiplying for a short while in closed reactors, the inoculation of algae soup will be poured into long shallow growing ponds. These will be about 100 feet long by 30 feet wide and 8 inches deep. ...

The ponds will multiply the algae quickly and, to keep them from being infected from things in the air, they will be harvested every day. ...

With food, light and warmth, the algae produce proteins. By putting them under stress (by limiting nutrients), the algae can be induced to shift production to lipids - vegetable oils.

The oils are equivalent to oils from seed crops and are converted into biodiesel by the same process.

Depending on the refining process, they can be made into diesel, jet fuel or feedstock for other industrial products, like plastics.

Other products can be recovered, like astaxanthins for use in pharmaceuticals and feed additives.

At best, the algae produce about 35 percent lipids.

The remainder is largely protein, which can be processed into animal feed, and some carbohydrates, which could be made into ethanol.

What is More Cost Effective, Algae or Bacteria Fuel?

One of the primary costs of deriving fuel from algae is the space required to grow the algae. Productivity of algae is calculated per acre. Algae requires sunlight and the amount of algae that can be grown on an acre is limited. Synthetic Bacteria on the other hand can produce oil without sunlight, so in comparison to algae the productivity per acre can be very high. One could theoretically grow bacteria in giant silos many stories tall. However, in order for synthetic bacteria to produce oil without sunlight they must consume sugar for energy. According to a recent article in Popular Mechanics, current technology still requires sugars to come from an easy to use source of sucrose such as sugar cane or corn.  This means that synthetic bacteria fuel will compete for food stocks much the same way ethanol does,  driving up the price of both.  Technologies to easily derive sugars from nonfood stock cellulosic material, such as corn's remaining stalks, leaves and cobs, do not yet exist. Furthermore, even when they are developed, it estimated that it would take one acre to produce 2,000 gallons of fuel.  Algae by comparison is expected to yield over 30,000 gallons per acre.  On the other hand, cellulosic materials may be cheaper and easier to grow and harvest than algae.

There are, however, fuel producing bacteria that derive their energy from the sun using photosynthesis.  Such bacteria would not have the advantage over algae of growing in the dark but there may be other advantages over algae.  According to Bruce Rittman of the ASU BioDesign Institute,
Algae and bacteria both accumulate a lot of lipids, but they do so for different reasons. When bacteria accumulate a lot of lipids, they do it when they are growing fast. That is ideal. Algae do the opposite, and produce high lipids when under stress, and are not growing very well.
In other words, bacteria can produce lipids (oil) faster. Furthermore, bacteria excrete their oil which floats to the top of their bioreactor whereas algae requires costly extraction methods.   It would be nice to see a method that use both algae and bacteria.  The algae to grow and produce oil along with cellulosic material that can be metabolized by bacteria to release the oil in the algae and create even more oil.

The Pickens Plan

T. Boone Pickens explains his plan to reduce American dependence on foreign oil. I like it.

LS9 Makes Oil from Bugs at $125 a Barrel

LS9 has been called the leading company in developing fuel from synthetic bacteria.  Recently, the President of LS9, Robert Walsh, appeared for an interview on CNN and gave us some numbers.  Here is the money quote:

Right now, later this summer, we'll be making barrels a week of that. And 2010, we'll be making millions of gallons. And in 2011, hundreds of millions of gallons as we continue to scale up this process.

I think the other thing that's important is that right now this costs me $125 to make this a barrel. Our goal is to get to $50 a barrel so we can help everyone out.
If true, those are quite frankly some world changing statements. The next question of course is does the bacteria consume feed stocks to make petroleum?  According to Robert Walsh, they do not.
[O]ne of the things we have designed into this, the bacteria, that they can use nonfood feed stocks. It's actually agricultural byproducts, wood chips, wheat straw, rice straw, that are collected already. I think that's the big plus. You have to disconnect yourself from the food crop issue.

Also, you're not going to be able to drive economics without doing that, which is important for the consumer.
Amazing. Why is this not front page news? I don't know but The Times of London has a slightly more sober analysis:
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.

Sequesco's Grow in the Dark Synthetic Super Bugs

Craig Venter, world famous biotech scientist extraordinaire, has for the last year been a high profile advocate for the potential of synthetic biology to create what he calls a "fourth generation biofuel" which are bacteria that eat carbondioxide and turn it into fuel. His company, Synthetic Genomics, has been hard at work on the problem for some time and a product is expected any minute now. Meanwhile, a company called Sequesco claims to have a synthetic bacteria that is already a fourth generation fuel. Here is the description by science writer Jeremy Jacquot, whose article has appeared on a number of blogs yesterday, that caught my attention.

Sequesco’s bacteria grow 10 times faster than most algae raised for biodiesel, and because they are non-photosynthetic, they can be grown 24 hours a day, rain or shine. Area isn’t a constraint for the bugs (only volume is), so they can be cultured in conventional, low-cost bioreactors. Since space isn’t an issue, there’s great potential for scalability, and the bioreactors can be installed almost anywhere.
As usual, we don't have any cost estimates about how much it costs to grow these bugs.  Since these bugs do not use photosynthesis for energy, they must metabolize something for energy.  What do they eat and how much does that food source cost?  Nonetheless, the potential for cost effectiveness is there.  The CEO of Sequesco, Lisa Dyson, is quoted by the Jacquot article as saying that the company plans to have a demonstration facility up by the end of 2009, to be followed in short succession with small and large commercial-scale plants in 2010 and 2011, respectively. It would be nice to see some peer review publications related to Sequesco's technology as well.

A Tale of Two Graphs

The image above is the most recent prediction of sunspot activity from NASA. The graph below is NASA's prediction circa March 2006. Notice any differences? Cycle 24 has produced only a few minor sunspots and solar activity has been well below the predicted amount for years. In fact, a recent paper published by the Astronomical Society of Australia warns we are now in danger of global cooling.

Hydrogen from Algae at MIT.

Shown in the video above at what is described as "the power plant at MIT," gases from a flew are piped through tubes filled with algae. Alan Alda interviews a researcher who wants to use the algae to consume C02 and nitrous oxide and release hydrogen. Interesting.

12,000 gallons of algae in 3 days?

According to an article in the Current Argus, a research group in New Mexico, CEHMM, claims to have harvested 12,000 gallons of algae in 3 and a half days. CEHMM partners with the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Carlsbad office and the New Mexico State University Agriculture Science Center in its algae research. CEHMM grows algae in two large ponds. I could only find a small picture of the pond at right.  By the looks of it, I would guess each pond is a quarter acre in size. If CEHMM is in fact getting 12,000 gallons in half a week from two such ponds it is truly remarkable.  Assuming the species of algae that is used is 50% oil and if they are able to extract 90% of the oil, that works out to about 257 barrels of oil a week from a half acre (almost 14,000 barrels per year).  It is rather hard to believe frankly.  Consider that Valcent only claims to get 33,000 gallons of oil or 785 barrels per year from a one acre vertical bioreactor.  CEHMM also claims to have a proprietary method of extracting oil from algae that they are keeping a secret. From the Current Argus,

At the Agriculture Science Center in Atoka, 5 miles outside the Artesia city limits, brooder ponds, incubators and two large harvesting ponds are dear to the heart of Lynn and researchers with the demonstration project. They have been working on the project since 2006, and they are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The challenges have been many. The first was to grow algae that are stable and highly productive in our climate and provide them with optimum nutrients.

The second challenge was the ability to harvest the micro algae, which is so small the human eye can't see it, other than knowing it is in the pond by the greenish color of the water. But filtering and capturing the algae on a large scale looks promising, Lynn said.

The third, and biggest challenge, will be the extraction of the algae's desirable oil and developing the techniques for mass extraction in a cost-effective manner.

Lynn said CEHMM is fortunate to have NMSU's infrastructure, its researchers and Los Alamos National Lab working with his organization. "I honestly think we have the best staff in this industry," Lynn said. "No one else is trained in this industry like the people that we have." Lynn said because of the advances CEHMM has made since it began the research, the entire process of converting algae oil to biofuel is being kept under wraps. "We have actually had people representing companies come to the agriculture science center and try to find out how we are doing it," Lynn said. "Some have even come with cameras. We asked them to leave."

Quantum Fracturing

Extracting oil from algae is one of the more costly steps in producing fuel from algae. A method of efficient oil extraction is critical to making algae fuel cost competitive with fossil fuels. Yesterday, OriginOil, a company in Los Angeles, announced the filing of its fourth patent for a method of extracting oil from algae called Quantum Fracturing.

OriginOil's latest invention builds on the company's first patent, Quantum Fracturing, in which ultrasound from intense fluid fracturing breaks down algae cells much in the same way a high-frequency sound wave breaks glass. In the new patent filing, the flowing algae biomass is first sent through a shielded wave guide system where it receives low-wattage, frequency-tuned microwave bursts, breaking the cell walls. Quantum Fracturing is then applied to these pre-cracked cells to complete the oil extraction. The result is a system that makes low-energy and environmentally-safe algae oil production a reality.

"High energy and operating costs defeat the goal of a cost-effective alternative to petroleum", commented Paul Reep, OriginOil's senior technical advisor. He continued, "The OriginOil extraction system is effective, safe and energy-efficient. I'm proud of the team of lead inventor Steven Shigematsu and co-inventor Nicholas Eckelberry, who have demonstrated, once again, their ability to combine lateral thinking with solid engineering advances."
It would be great to know the actual cost of this method of extracting oil from algae in contrast to the more common methods of expeller and/or solvent.

C02 Bioreactors

The video above explains the design of a patented bioreactor from GS CleanTech. It illustrates how a very fancy and hightech C02 bioreactor might work. Below is an example of a bioreactor in the real world that is actually being used. It is not as fancy as the CleanTech design and the harvesting of the algae seems less efficient, nontheless it is a real world example of the concept and has been successful enough that the project is being expanded. These videos give a lot of emphasis on the environmental aspects of the technology, which is not as interesting as a cost effective source of fuel.

Thermometers Not Cooperating With Global Warming

Anthony Watts has been on a tear recently of excellent posts concerning global warming over at his blog "Watts Up With That?".  The above graph created by Anthony Watts shows global temperatures since 1978. Do you see a warming trend? You might notice that the current temperature is within less than one tenth of a degree of where it was in 1978. In a period of rapid global industrial expansion and sky rocketing carbon emissions - world temperatures during that period peaked in 1998, that's a decade ago for you non-math majors. As Brett Stevens recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal in regard to the absence of evidence for global warming:

NASA now begrudgingly confirms that the hottest year on record in the continental 48 was not 1998, as previously believed, but 1934, and that six of the 10 hottest years since 1880 antedate 1954. Data from 3,000 scientific robots in the world's oceans show there has been slight cooling in the past five years, never mind that "80% to 90% of global warming involves heating up ocean waters," according to a report by NPR's Richard Harris.

The Arctic ice cap may be thinning, but the extent of Antarctic sea ice has been expanding for years. At least as of February, last winter was the Northern Hemisphere's coldest in decades.

Global Warming: The Anti-Capitalism

Bret Stevens writing in the Wall Street Journal hit the nail on the head in regards to what motivates the hard core believers in global warming- and it isn't scientific evidence.

Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism. Take just about any other discredited leftist nostrum of yore – population control, higher taxes, a vast new regulatory regime, global economic redistribution, an enhanced role for the United Nations – and global warming provides a justification. One wonders what the left would make of a scientific "consensus" warning that some looming environmental crisis could only be averted if every college-educated woman bore six children: Thumbs to "patriarchal" science; curtains to the species.
That is exactly right. Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic recently wrote
As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.

The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment. They are Malthusian pessimists
I do not expect that global warmists will be happy with the recent technological improvements in solar energy and algae fuel that I have been writing about on this blog. Because while these technologies address the issue of carbon emissions they do not address what really motivates the climate change alarmists - dislike of capitalism.

Wall Street Journal On Scum Power

The Wall Street Journal has done a report on algae fuel and it wastes no time getting right to the heart of the business case for algae energy.
The truth is, it is too good to be true -- at least right now. While engineers can grow small batches of algae in beakers in laboratories and convert it into fuel, re-creating that process on an industrial scale has proved elusive and expensive when compared with the price of gasoline. ...

"Growing the algae in a controlled way at commercial scale is a big challenge," says Randy Balik, vice president of business development at GreenFire Energy, which is seeking additional funding for its effort to find a way to do just that. "We are, optimistically, two to three years away, maybe four to five, from realistic, large-scale commercialization." ...

Today, the cheapest algae production -- done for the food-supplement industry -- costs $5,000 per ton, says F. Blaine Metting, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy facility in Richland, Wash. Still, he believes that if the crude oil stays at its current lofty price, algae-based oil could be competitively priced in five years if engineers and scientists can improve algae productivity per acre. "There are fundamental biological questions that need to be answered," he says.
According to the WSJ article, the optimistic outlook is two to five years for commercial viability for algae fuel.  That does not make algae energy too good to be true in a realistic business sense, in the world of biotechnology and energy development this is actually quite short. Nonetheless, the take away point from the article is that algae fuel is still not yet commercially viable.

Investment in Renewable Energy Skyrockets

We could call it "green" energy but I don't like the phrase for the simple reason that it smacks of environmental "glowball warming" nonsense.  C02 is not a pollutant anymore than water vapor is a pollutant. If the earth is warming it will probably result in a net benefit to humanity rather than a negative. However, renewable energy has become a business proposition that stands on its own merits. I perceive renewable energy as the next big thing in capitalism. My suspicions have been bolstered by the fact that investment in renewable energy surged some 60 per cent to $148 billion in 2007. From the Times.
Global investment in renewable energy surged 60 per cent to $148 billion (74.3 billion) last year and is still accelerating despite the slowdown in the wider economy, according to the United Nations.

Wind energy attracted the biggest amount of around $50.2 billion and solar, the fastest growing area, attracted investment of $28.6 billion. Since 2004, the global market for solar energy has grown by annual rate of 254 per cent.

The report from the UN’s Environmental Programme (UNEP) likened the flood of investment to the renewable energy sector to a “green gold rush”.

“Just as thousands were drawn to California and the Klondike in the late 1800s, the green energy gold rush is attracting legions of modern day prospectors in all parts of the globe,” said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.

Public investment in renewable energy via the markets more than doubled to $23.4 billion, up from $10.6 billion in 2006, the report said.

While there was strong growth in wind and solar energy, the biofuel sector was weaker with funds dropping by nearly one third to $2.1 billion.

The report indicated that the renewable energy sector is set to expand to $450 billion by 2012, and $600 billion by 2020.

“We have a significant economic signal here, that goes well beyond what, 10 years ago, energy thinktanks or international financial institutions thought would happen,” Mr Steiner said.

Vertical Algae Bioreactor

A one acre pond of algae produces up to 20,000 gallons of oil per year. A closed system vertical bioreactor such as the one shown in the above video can use land even more efficiently. According to Valcent, a company developing algae related energy solutions, if an area one tenth the size of the state of New Mexico were committed to algae it could supply the entire energy needs of the United States. Valcent anticipates that it can achieve yields of 100,000 gallons of oil per acre per year.

Valcent recently issued a press release regarding the productivity they were seeing with their bioreactor:
The research and development team of Valcent Products Inc. has now completed twelve months of the algae vertical bioreactor development program. During a 90-day continual production test, algae was being harvested at an average of one gram (dry weight) per liter. This equates to algae bio mass production of 276 tons of algae per acre per year. Achieving the same biomass production rate with an algal species having 50% lipids (oil) content would therefore deliver approximately 33,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year.