Algae Biofuel From Sewage
New Zealand’s Aquaflow Bionomic Corp. has become the World’s first producer of biofuel from sewage-pond-grown algae (well, the first to announce it anyway).
This certainly caught my attention since it sounds like an interesting variation of the algal-biofuel idea we’ve been discussing in several posts on the blog.
Aside from the fact that expensive reactor systems are not required (presumably some sort of effective harvesting system would however be needed), unlike other algal-biofuel technologies this approach relies on ‘wild algae’ – ie. algae that naturally colonize sewage ponds already.
According to a brief blurb on Radio New Zealand, Aquaflow thinks this approach has the potential to fulfill up to 80% of New Zealand’s diesel needs.
Here are some interesting exerpts from a more substantial article on Red Herring (link to follow):
Many consider algae to be an attractive alternative to current biofuel materials—such as corn, soybeans, and palm—because the slime has a high lipid density (read: it’s oily) and could theoretically produce far more oil per acre, reducing the cost of biofuels.
At a panel last week, Martin Tobias, CEO of biodiesel company Imperium Renewables, said algae could theoretically produce 10,000 gallons of oil per acre, compared with 680 gallons per acre for palm, the current highest-oil-yielding crop (see Biofuels Smackdown: Algae vs. Soybeans).
That’s important because a major obstacle to biodiesel is the fact that the same land used to grow biodiesel crops is also needed to grow food. And, as Rona Fried, editor of the green investing newsletter Progressive Investor, said: “People need to eat more than they need to use fuel” (see Waste-Based Ethanol $30M, Iogen’s Ethanol Ploy, The Fuel of the Future?).
According to Mr. Gerritsen, a co-founder, the company originally started with the idea of making ethanol. Then, he saw U.S. Department of Energy research on aquatic species. He himself owned a mussel farm, and ran into an agriculturalist with a background in cultivating algae for fish food (now an agriculturalist for Aquaflow.)
Mr. Gerrisen said he believes Aquaflow’s technology could supply 10 percent of America’s biodiesel requirement in five to 10 years.
The U.S. biodiesel market grew from 25 million gallons in 2004 to 78 million gallons in 2005, according to a report by Emerging Markets Online, and that number could grow enormously as the U.S. aims to replace 30 percent of its transportation fuel with biofuel by 2030.
Joel Makower, a principal at Clean Edge, said waste streams are a great untapped resource. “I welcome this,” he said.
Unlike the idea of turning algae into hydrogen, using algae from sewage ponds to make biodiesel represents “a much straighter path,” he said.
One particular advantage of the human-sewage approach is that algae from sewage tends to have a lot of oil, said Cary Bullock, CEO of Greenfuel Technologies, a company cultivating algae to convert emissions into biofuels (See Ethanol: Cellulose Break Down).
However, it’s a limited opportunity, because waste facilities are generally not huge, he said.
Sewage-treatment plants with open ponds make up only about a third of New Zealand’s plants, and with Aquaflow’s technology, that would make a potential supply of 20- to 30-million liters a year. That’s not much compared to a 3.1-billion-liter worldwide biodiesel market, itself a tiny part of the diesel market.
Aquaflow isn’t limited to New Zealand, however. Just this week, the company has gotten inquiries from the U.S., Portland, Scotland, Italy, and South America, Mr. Gerritsen said.
It also isn’t limited to poop. Aquaflow hopes to tap into other waste streams, such as dairy, wine, and food.
Well this definitely seems to be another interesting development in the algae-biofuel arena. I like the idea of combining waste management with fuel production. Undoubtedly there be considerable research and experimentation needed before any of these concepts really comes to fuition on a large scale, but thus far I think it looks quite promising.
I highly recommend you check out the Red Herring article (source of exerpts above): Poop-Grown Algae to Fuel Cars?
Also, another very interesting Red Herring article I highly recommend: Biofuels Smackdown: Algae vs. Soybeans
On a related note, I came across an article on News.com discussing similar research being conducted by others. Here is an exerpt:
LiveFuels is partnering with Sandia National Labs to devise a version of car fuel out of algae. The algae would be grown in ponds and then sold off to refiners who could turn it into petroleum. The science comes from Sandia; LiveFuels handles the business side of things.
The company has already trademarked the name Supercrude (which, I think, was also the name of a Redd Foxx album in the ’70s.)
LiveFuels says it can, potentially, get 10,000 gallons of useable hydrocarbons for an acre-size pond a year. The hydrocarbons will be boiled down into useable diesel or petroleum. The ponds will be fed by farm waste water.
Very interesting stuff (well I think so anyway), and a topic I know we will be revisting again before too long.