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.



July 17, 2008 at 5:52 PM

We will believe this if and when we see it. With the Dept of Energy forecasting a algae oil production cost for biodiesel at $20 a gal. - this will be a neat feat. I note the article conveniently does not say where the will find the fertilizers also required to produce the algae - especially on Maui which doesn't have large centralized sewage facilities. Remember that 95% of agricultural fertilizers are made from... petroleum. As I said, we'll see,

das Kapitalist

July 17, 2008 at 10:48 PM

The exhaust from combusting fossil fuels contain CO2, phosphorous, and nitrogen, which are the primary nutrients that algae needs. But algae doesn't need a lot of nutrients, mostly just sunlight and CO2.

But you are right, we will have to see. They are building the plant so it won't be long now.