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## Algae to the rescue

Speaking of incentive
http://www.physicsforums.com/showthr...67#post2729867

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 Quote by Ivan Seeking Speaking of incentive http://www.physicsforums.com/showthr...67#post2729867
In the case of an offshore oil algae farm (vs ethanol) as described above producing, say 1 million bbls per year, what's implicit in the process that would stop the same kind of disaster from happening in the case of an accident during a storm?

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I will quote from the other thread and redirect any additional discussion here

 Quote by Ivan Seeking Oil from algae is just vegetable oil. It is non-toxic. You can drink it. And it degrades readily. Also, without a significant source of nitrogen and the proper temps, the algae won't survive in open water - that is, it wouldn't exist as a giant plume that kills everything else. If you have these conditions, you would already have an algae bloom, in most cases. You would certainly have a lot of fish food! Also, you wouldn't have millions and millions of gallons of oil leaking endlessly. You could only spill the oil that has been processed. The rest is still trapped in the algae.
http://www.physicsforums.com/newrepl...eply&p=2730137

 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor Staff Emeritus Note that there are some strains of algae that release neurotoxins. Obviously these strains are not considered viable candidates for fuel production. They do present a real threat, however, to anyone working with algae. It is important to know what you're dealing with. Toxic, invasive strains, could be an issue if not checked. Again, a batch process helps to minimize this concern.

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Ok moved here ...

 Quote by Ivan Seeking Oil from algae is just vegetable oil. It is non-toxic. You can drink it.
Sure, and the MHDS for motor oil lists it as 'relatively non-toxic'. A million barrels of vegetable oil dumped into the ocean could not be called harmless in my view. Covering the plumage of birds with any kind of heavy oil is going to kill them just as dead.

I might be wrong, but I believe the lightweight aromatics (e.g. benzene) are the most toxic compounds contained in the mixture commonly called petroleum. We know they evaporate fairly quickly. So, once the aromatics are gone in a spill like this, and reports suggest they are, I'm curious about the difference in toxicity, or more precisely the harm, between the petroleum products remaining after evaporation, and the oil produced by a biodeisel grade algae.

 Also, without a significant source of nitrogen and the proper temps, the algae won't survive in open water - that is, it wouldn't exist as a giant plume that kills everything else. If you have these conditions, you would already have an algae bloom, in most cases.
The cells may die but the hydrocarbon compound remains. Then there are the modified strains (from Exxon and Craig Venter) that secrete the oil outside of the cell to make oil collection more economic. In that case, the fate of the algae cells themselves is irrelevant to an accident.

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 Quote by mheslep Ok moved here ... Sure, and the MHDS for motor oil lists it as 'relatively non-toxic'. A million barrels of vegetable oil dumped into the ocean could not be called harmless in my view. Covering the plumage of birds with any kind of heavy oil is going to kill them just as dead.
This would be a simple matter of regulating the maximum quantity of oil that can be stored. That is quite a different problem from what we face in the gulf. And there is no need for the Exxon Valdez when the oil source is 80 miles offshore.

Would you drink motor oil? Don't try to spin this as if there is no difference between crude oil, and food. That is a ludicrous position to assume.

 I might be wrong, but I believe the lightweight aromatics (e.g. benzene) are the most toxic The cells may die but the hydrocarbon compound remains. Then there are the modified strains (from Exxon and Craig Venter) that secrete the oil outside of the cell to make oil collection more economic. In that case, the fate of the algae cells themselves is irrelevant to an accident.
The algae plume cannot exist without the proper nutrients. The majority of the stuff would die and sink to the bottom of the ocean; just as happens already in the normal CO2 sequestration process naturally provided by algae.

The potential problem of releasing bioengineered strains of algae into the wild, is another concern. But I would prefer that discussion be redirected to a dedicated thread, as that is a huge topic generally for all of biology. One immediate thought that comes to mind is that, if algae are famous for doing anything, it is mutating. Given the countless strains of algae found around the world. And considering the existing rate of mutation for natural algae, it seems that we would be hard-pressed, by many orders of magnitude, to pose a greater threat than already exists in nature, to produce a dangerous strain of algae. We could also design strains to be safe. Nature has no such motivation. In fact, it is my understanding that algae essentially have wars when strains are competing the wild. In effect, each strain mutates until one produces something toxic to the other.

 Quote by Ivan Seeking That is about one Iraq war every year in returns.
Since when is invading a country with crippled military infrastructure considered a war, or even a unit of measurement for that matter?

Algae is great, most of the treehuggers out there don't realize the majority of oxygen is being released by algae and not trees (I am not justifying deforestation, I strongly oppose it). Not to mention it is capable of producing bio mass as much as 30x times faster than any plant, making ethanol production from corn or soy look moronic at best.

The byproduct of oil production from algae is a good food additive for farm animals.

There are also many more potential benefits, what is critical is the actual execution, as we, humans have a history of misusing everything good we come in contact with.

Genetic engineering should be outlawed, its potential benefits far being far exceeded by its potential harm. No need to play gods and trying to better nature, all we need is to stop destroying it and if we have the resource - helping out a bit, but without playing Dr. Frankenstein

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 Quote by Ivan Seeking This would be a simple matter of regulating the maximum quantity of oil that can be stored.
If one wants to seriously explore using offshore algae farms at a scale capable of replacing the global petroleum industry, I see nothing 'simple' about avoiding temporary storage of, say, a 1. 7 million bbl/day rate of production (Gulf of Mexico production). In fact I suggest it is a practical impossibility to avoid having at least a significant fraction of a day's oil production on the water at a given moment.

 That is quite a different problem from what we face in the gulf. And there is no need for the Exxon Valdez when the oil source is 80 miles offshore.
Eh? The Valdez (ship) collided with the shore (essentially), hence the concentrated damage at Valdez (port/town)

 Would you drink motor oil? Don't try to spin this as if there is no difference between crude oil, and food. That is a ludicrous position to assume.
I'm not. I'm attempting to explore the technical difference in degrees of harm which means going past hand waiving about what one can drink in small qty. Petroleum oil spills are visibly harmful. I now am asking why a hydrocarbon like CnH2(n+1-g) (naphthene from petroleum) is credited with ruining the Gulf but the same amount of hydrocarbon C3H5O6C(CnH(2n+x))3 (Canola) is somehow harmless fish food?

Edit: Another point as to why quantity must be important: there's always some background natural seepage of oil, several million bbl per year worldwide, which the oceans seem to have well tolerated long before oil rigs appeared.

 The algae plume cannot exist without the proper nutrients.
We've already been there. The disposal of the oil itself, once created, does not depend on the health of the algae. The difference from offshore petroleum production would be two fold, I believe: one, the continuing production of algae oil could be stopped almost immediately, but two, a realistic algae farm would necessarily have an enormous amount of oil present on the surface at any one time which all could be theoretically released, worst case, into the ocean.

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On this subject, this study is interesting to me for two reasons: 1) the background material gives some chemical description of what components of a petroleum spill actually end up on the beaches, and tangentially 2) it turns out biodiesel has been shown effective in breaking up the 'waxy' components. The study also notes that biodiesel is readily biodegradable, but I'm not clear that this means its parent triglyceride are also equally degradable before transesterification.

Stimulating the Biodegradation of Crude Oil with Biodiesel Preliminary Results
Spill Science & Technology Bulletin
Volume 5, Issues 5-6, 1 October 1999, Pages 353-355

 Abstract Experiments using biodiesel derived from vegetable oils have demonstrated the considerable potential for removing crude oil from contaminated beaches. During laboratory studies in small boxes, contaminated sand treated with biodiesel also demonstrated the rapid biodegradation of the crude oil. Water soluble components were washed through the sand columns and these components subsequently precipitated with cold storage. This solid fraction was not soluble in organic solvents but could be re-dissolved in dilute acid. The sediments after four weeks were black in colour due to the precipitation of metal sulphides although no H2S was generated because the pH of the seawater kept the sulphides in solution. Further work is investigating which components of the oil were degraded and what products were formed
 Introduction Previous work has demonstrated the usefulness of biodiesel, the methyl derivatives of vegetable oils, in the removal of crude oil from intertidal sediments (Miller & Mudge, 1997; Mudge and co-workers, unpublished reports). Biodiesel acts as a non-volatile organic solvent and dissolves the crude oil, including weathered oil. In most cases of crude oil contamination on beaches, the oil has been at sea and most of the volatile compounds (e.g., BTEX, short chain aliphatics) have evaporated off and only the less volatile components (e.g., PAHs, long chain aliphatics) reach the shore. Biodiesel is able to dissolve these waxy components and make them more mobile in the environment. Experiments are in progress to determine the best application methods and efficiencies of removal. As part of this work, a biological side-effect has been observed which makes biodiesel even more useful than originally thought. Biodiesel has been used as a diesel fuel substitute or additive for many years (see Louwrier, 1998 for a review) and previous work has demonstrated the rapid degradability of biodiesel in the environment; 95% after 28 days in an aqueous environment.[*] More recent work by the same group (Zhang, X., Peterson, C., Reece, D., Haws, R. and Moller, G., 1998. Biodegradability of biodiesel in the aquatic environment. Trans. ASAE 41, pp. 1423–1430. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (34)Zhang et al., 1998) has examined the degradability using EPA methods and concluded that biodiesel is “readily biodegradable”. [...]
[*] So what is the 95% breakdown time of the crude oil products?

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EPA to the rescue with the answer to my question and then some. Apparently the answer is quite complex.

In 1994 a gaggle of agricultural associations attempted have the EPA change the Clear Water Act rules and label them (oils and fats vendors) more or less harmless, as different from the 'bad' and 'toxic' petroleum products industry. The 'petitioners' were
the American Soybean Association, the Corn Refiners Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the Institute of Shortening & Edible Oils, the National Cotton Council, the National Cottonseed Products Association, and the National Oilseed Processors Association.

http://www.epa.gov/EPA-WATER/1999/Ap...y-08/w8275.htm
 a. Petitioners' request. [...] Based, in part, on these studies, the Petitioners asked us to create a regulatory regime for response planning for non-toxic,'' non-petroleum oils separate from the framework established for petroleum oils and toxic'' non-petroleum oils. They suggested specific language[...] For facilities that handle, store, or transport animal fats and vegetable oils, their suggested revisions would: modify the definition of animal fats and vegetable oil (set out in Appendix E, Section 1.2 of the FRP rule); allow mechanical dispersal and no action'' options to be considered in lieu of the oil containment and recovery devices otherwise specified for response to a worst case discharge; require the use of containment booms only for the protection of fish and wildlife and sensitive environments; and increase the required on-scene arrival time for response resources at a spill from 12 hours (including travel time) to 24 hours plus travel time for medium discharges and worst case Tier 1 response resources.
and the EPA response:
 c. Denial of petition. On October 20, 1997, EPA denied the petition to amend the FRP rule. We found that the petition did not substantiate claims that animal fats and vegetable oils differ from petroleum oils in properties and effects and did not support a further differentiation between these groups of oils under the FRP rule. Instead, we found that a worst case discharge or substantial threat of discharge of animal fats and/or vegetable oils to navigable waters, adjoining shorelines, or the exclusive economic zone could reasonably be expected to cause substantial harm to the environment, including wildlife that may be killed by the discharge. We pointed out that the FRP rule already provides for different response planning requirements for petroleum and non-petroleum oils, including animal fats and vegetable oils. We also disagreed with Petitioners' claim that animal fats and vegetable oils are non-toxic when spilled into the environment and should be placed in a separate category from other toxic'' non-petroleum oils. Information and data we reviewed from other sources indicate that some animal fats and vegetable oils, their components, and degradation products are toxic. Furthermore, we emphasized that toxicity is only one way that oil spills cause environmental damage. Most immediate environmental effects are physical effects, such as coating animals and plants with oil, suffocating aquatic organisms from oxygen depletion, and destroying food supply and habitats. We noted that toxicity is not one of the criteria in determining which on-shore facilities are high-risk and must prepare response plans. Rather, the criteria for determining high-risk facilities are certain facility and locational characteristics, because we expect that discharges of oil from facilities with these characteristics may cause substantial harm to the environment
Further down in bullet form:
Like petroleum oils, animal fats and vegetable oils and their
constituents can cause toxic effects that are summarized below. They
can:
• Cause devastating physical effects, such as coating animals and plants with oil and suffocating them by oxygen depletion;
• Be toxic and form toxic products;
• Destroy future and existing food supply, breeding animals, and habitat;
• Produce rancid odors;
• Foul shorelines, clog water treatment plants, and catch fire when ignition sources are present; and
• Form products that linger in the environment for many years.

The EPA's exploration of the technical background is very interesting.

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Technical section:
 While the physical and chemical properties of vegetable oils and animal fats are highly variable, most fall within a range that is similar to the physical parameters for petroleum oils. Common properties--such as solubility, specific gravity, and viscosity--are responsible for the similar environmental effects of petroleum oils, vegetable oils, and animal fats. In one respect, however, many petroleum oils differ from most vegetable oils and animal fats. Unlike most vegetable oils and animal fats, many petroleum oils have a high vapor pressure. The high vapor pressure of petroleum oils can lead to significant evaporation from spills. It may also produce exposure of nearby populations through the air pathway.

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It looks like Obama finally read my letter.

 "We're making new investments in the development of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel that's actually made from a plant-like substance. Algae. You've got a bunch of algae out here, right?" President Obama said at a campaign event in Coral Gables, Florida. "If we can make energy out of that, we will be doing alright," Obama said.
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/vid...e_alright.html

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 Quote by Ivan Seeking It looks like Obama finally read my letter. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/vid...e_alright.html
One of the things I've learned from my recent classes, and from experience over the last 30 years, is that if you put out an incredibly great idea, and then give leadership a long enough time lag, they will eventually think it was their idea to begin with, and it will get done.

 There are innovators, there are entrepreneurs, and there are leaders.
shhhhhhh!

 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor Staff Emeritus I don't know if Chu has given up on his cellulosic ethanol but I'm glad to hear Obama talking about algae. Chu was definitely driving things the other direction - towards ethanol - as that was his focus before becoming the Energy Secretary.

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