Tag Archives: biofuel

At least 10 more years of R&D needed, but algae biofuels could be major contributor (particularly for jet fuel): study

If you want a comprehensive snapshot of the state of algae biofuel development you may want to read a 178-report put out by the Energy Biosciences Institute in California. RenewableEnergyWorld.com hits the key findings in this article, but the general observation is that the market is in “early gestation” and there’s at least a decade to go before algae biofuels — specifically, those based on algae oils — achieve the production economics that make them competitive with conventional fuels. “It is clear from this report that algae oil production will be neither quick nor plentiful — 10 years is a reasonable projection for the R&D to allow the conclusion about the ability to achieve relatively low-cost algae biomass and oil production, at least for specific locations,” according to the report, which also goes far in separating hype from reality. “Despite the scores, if not over 100, companies in the U.S., and more abroad, now in this field, there are as yet (mid-2010) no pilot plants (> 100 mt algae biomass/yr) for autotrophic algae biofuels production operating in the U.S. or elsewhere… The total output from all experimental facilities over the past year was only a few tons of biomass and less than 100 gallons of actual algae oil, if that much.”

I should point out that the report specifically excludes analysis of algae-to-ethanol production, such as that being pursued by Algenol, which says it is only a few years away from commercial-scale deployment.

Overall, I found the report to be a bit of a downer. “The availability of the resources required for microalgae production — land, climate, water, and, perhaps most critically, carbon dioxide — at the same site, will likely limit the U.S. potential for algae oil production to less than a few billion gallons annually. While minor compared to total U.S. transportation fuels consumption (about 200 billion gallons per year), renewable algae oil could be a major contributor to biofuel resources, particularly in specific markets, such as aviation fuel.” I agree on the last part with regards to jet fuel, but I’m a bit more optimistic on the overall market impact. The good news is that 10 years isn’t such a long time to wait, unless you’re a VC firm waiting to cash out.

Green jet fuel making headway, closer than thought

Those who read this blog know from past posts that I support development of biofuels as one of many climate-change solutions, but strictly conditional on how it’s made and how it’s used. Cellulosic ethanol can play an important role when we move to plug-in hybrids that still require gasoline, though to a much smaller extent. And, of course, I’m a big fan of developing biofuels as a climate-friendly alternative to jet fuel.

Air New Zealand has been making some serious progress on that front with its partners Boeing, Rolls-Royce and UOP (Honeywell). A team led by Rolls-Royce is putting a jatropha-based jet fuel through rigorous tests to further validate what preliminary data has so far shown: that the fuel meets all required specifications for commercial aviation. Once testing is completed later this fall, and assuming all conditions are met, the new fuel will be tested on an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 sometime in December. The jetliner will be powered by four Rolls-Royce engines, one of which will run on the Jatropha-based jet fuel. Continue reading Green jet fuel making headway, closer than thought