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Algae to the rescue

by Ivan Seeking
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mheslep
#487
May25-10, 03:26 PM
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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.
We describe some important properties of oil below.

Solubility. Solubility refers to the ability of a chemical to dissolve in water or solvents. Like petroleum oils, vegetable oils and animal fats have limited water solubility and high solubility in organic solvents.

Specific Gravity. Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a material to the density of fresh water. Specific gravity determines whether an oil floats on the surface of a water body or sinks below the surface and how long oil droplets reside in the water. It can also give a general indication of other properties of the oil. For example, oils
with a low specific gravity tend to be rich in volatile components and are highly fluid International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, 1987). The specific gravity of vegetable oils and animal fats whose properties we examined is within the range of specific gravity values for petroleum oils.

Viscosity. Viscosity refers to the resistance to flow. It controls the rate at which oil spreads on water and how deeply it penetrates the shore. Viscosity also determines how much energy organisms need to overcome resistance to their movement. At similar temperatures, the dynamic viscosity (shear stress/rate of shear) and kinematic viscosity (dynamic viscosity/density) of vegetable oils and animal fats are
somewhat greater than those for light petroleum oils but less than those for heavy petroleum oils. The viscosity of canola oil represents a medium weight oil and is comparable to that of a lightly weathered Prudhoe Bay crude oil after it has evaporated by 10 percent (Allen and Nelson, 1983).

Vapor Pressure. Vapor pressure is the pressure that a solid or liquid exerts in equilibrium with its own vapor depending on temperature. It controls the evaporation rate of an oil spill and air concentrations. The higher the vapor pressure of an oil, the faster it evaporates. Vapor pressure varies over a wide range for petroleum oils, from moderately volatile diesel-like products to slightly volatile heavy crude oils and residual products. The vapor pressure of animal fats and vegetable oils is generally much lower than that of many petroleum oils. Evaporation is significant for many petroleum oil spills, some of which completely evaporate in one to two days, but it is rarely an important factor in spills of vegetable oils and animal fats. In some vegetable oils, however, there is a small volatile fraction that can evaporate. Thermal decomposition can also cause the formation of many volatile degradation products.

Surface Tension. The spreading of oil relates to surface tension (interfacial tension) in a complex manner. When the sum of the oil-water and oil-air interfacial tensions is less than the water-air interfacial tension, spreading is promoted. At 25 deg.C, the oil-water interfacial tension for canola oil is far less than that of Prudhoe Bay crude oil, suggesting that canola oil could spread more (Allen and Nelson, 1983). Surface tension measurements in the laboratory, however, are not necessarily predictive of the behavior of oil that is being transformed by many processes in the environment.

Emulsions. Emulsions are fine droplets of liquid dispersed in a second, immiscible liquid. When oil and water mix vigorously, they form a dispersion of water droplets in oil and oil droplets in water (Hui, 1996c). When mixing stops, the phases separate. Small water drops fall toward the interface between the phases, and the oil drops rise. The emulsion breaks. When an emulsifier is present, one phase becomes continuous, while the other remains dispersed. The continuous phase is usually the one in which the emulsifier is soluble.
The tendency of petroleum and non-petroleum oils to form emulsions of water-in-oil or oil-in-water depends on the unique chemical composition of the oil as well as temperature, the presence of stabilizing compounds, and other factors. When an emulsion is formed in the environment, the oil changes appearance and its viscosity can increase by many orders of magnitude. Removal of the oil becomes harder because of the increased difficulty in pumping viscous fluids with up to fivefold increases in volume.
[...]

Adhesions. Although the ability to form adhesions is difficult to measure and predict, adhesions influence the ease with which spilled oil can be physically removed from surfaces. When water is colder than the oil pour point, oils become viscous and tar-like or form semi-solid, spherical particles that are difficult to recover. Weathering and evaporation are slowed, and oils may become entrapped or encapsulated in ice and later may float on the surface when ice breaks up. In ice adhesion tests, canola oil and Prudhoe Bay crude oil had the same tendency to coat the surface of sea ice drawn up through an oil/water interface (Allen and Nelson, 1983). Neither oil adhered to submerged sea ice even after surface coating. This study suggests that some vegetable oils and petroleum oils have a similar ability to form adhesions under certain environmental conditions.
Ivan Seeking
#488
Mar11-12, 12:07 PM
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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
OmCheeto
#489
Mar11-12, 01:17 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
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!
Ivan Seeking
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Mar11-12, 06:22 PM
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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.
dlgoff
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Mar11-12, 09:45 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
It looks like Obama finally read my letter.


http://www.realclearpolitics.com/vid...e_alright.html
I thought of you Ivan when I heard
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. ...
Maybe you should write him and ask for a grant.
mattlomb
#492
May31-12, 03:42 PM
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Has research gone into coupling algae growth and fuel production with today's biggest human emitters of carbon dioxide - i.e. power stations? It seems to me that this could simultaneously solve three problems - the problem of what to do with the carbon dioxide emitted from these power centers, the problem of where to get free carbon for algae growth, and the problem of transporting the fuel required to generate electricity.
Ryan_m_b
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May31-12, 04:51 PM
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Interesting analysis of biofuels in general by Dr Tom Murphy, essentially whilst they're good they don't get round the problem of needing vast amounts of space
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/...biofuel-grind/

Personally I'm more interested in the idea of artificial photosynthesis. If we could cut out the middle man and just make solar panels capable of taking in water and CO2 and secreting Oil and O2 and do it cheaply and efficiently our problems will be greatly mitigated.
mheslep
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May31-12, 09:41 PM
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Quote Quote by mattlomb View Post
Has research gone into coupling algae growth and fuel production with today's biggest human emitters of carbon dioxide - i.e. power stations? It seems to me that this could simultaneously solve three problems - the problem of what to do with the carbon dioxide emitted from these power centers, the problem of where to get free carbon for algae growth, and the problem of transporting the fuel required to generate electricity.

A browse through some of the single cell biofuel companies (algae, bacteria) will turn up references to where they claim to have agreement with some large CO2 emitter such as a large power plant to supply the required carbon. It seems though that the more direct solution would be to eventually use biofuels in a (tighter) closed loop: grow them from the power plant carbon and then burn as fuel in the power plant; the power plant electricity is then used instead to run the (future electrified) transportation system instead of biofuels.
OmCheeto
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Jun1-12, 01:05 AM
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Quote Quote by mattlomb View Post
Has research gone into coupling algae growth and fuel production with today's biggest human emitters of carbon dioxide - i.e. power stations? It seems to me that this could simultaneously solve three problems - the problem of what to do with the carbon dioxide emitted from these power centers, the problem of where to get free carbon for algae growth, and the problem of transporting the fuel required to generate electricity.
I saw a video once of researchers at MIT doing this. As I recall, the heat loving algae progeny survived their cold blooded brethren, and did quite well.

It gave me hope.

But then, I'm that way.
Ivan Seeking
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Jun1-12, 02:05 AM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
Interesting analysis of biofuels in general by Dr Tom Murphy, essentially whilst they're good they don't get round the problem of needing vast amounts of space
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/...biofuel-grind/

Personally I'm more interested in the idea of artificial photosynthesis. If we could cut out the middle man and just make solar panels capable of taking in water and CO2 and secreting Oil and O2 and do it cheaply and efficiently our problems will be greatly mitigated.
I didn't read the link entirely yet bt I saw that he goes right to corn-ethanol. That is a horrible example that is well known to be a loser. The increased yield per acre-year is one of the biggest advantages algae [and perhaps bacteria] has over other biofuel technologies.

As for the closed-loop power-plant concept mentioned above, note that in a closed loop, not only the water, but also the nutrients could in principle be preserved. Nitrogen fertilizer alone is a significant cost for an algae farm. So it seems to me that a closed loop power scheme may be the first viable option [economically] for a practical algae farm.

The entire farm would be, in effect, a biological solar cell farm.
Ryan_m_b
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Jun1-12, 03:27 AM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
I didn't read the link entirely yet bt I saw that he goes right to corn-ethanol. That is a horrible example that is well known to be a loser. The increased yield per acre-year is one of the biggest advantages algae [and perhaps bacteria] has over other biofuel technologies.
It starts with that but then goes onto algae which he does admit is better but has it's own problems.
Ivan Seeking
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Jun2-12, 02:21 AM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
It starts with that but then goes onto algae which he does admit is better but has it's own problems.
He seems to be too reliant on the notion of genetic engineering for solving the problems. Then he dismisses GE as a deal breaker without considering that other options exist.

The numbers for algae are certainly more favorable than for traditional (proven) biofuel sources. But keep in mind that we don’t see a clear path yet to squeeze useful juice from algae at appropriate scales/efficiencies. Much of the talk is around genetic engineering to make the algae excrete something useful in quantity. I need not repeat my case for non-complacency regarding this prospect. Also, anyone who has failed at aquarium maintenance (everyone who has tried?) knows how pernicious algae can be at clogging the plumbing and sticking to tube walls, etc. So they should also be working on genetically engineered teflon-coated algae. By that time I’ll also be able to enjoy that three-headed goat!
I can tell you first hand that he's right to express these concerns. But these are not insurmountable problems that can only be solved with genetic engineering. Note also that algae is already grown commercially, so some of these problems have already been managed for decades.
Ivan Seeking
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Nov1-12, 11:37 PM
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ievolve brought to my attention this recent breakthrough in processing algae, announced today. Thanks ievolve!

The Michigan team’s findings will be presented today, Nov. 1 at the 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.
http://newenergyandfuel.com/http:/ne...l-in-a-minute/

I also spotted this encouraging interview from last April


He mentions that NASA is playing with growing algae in big bladders in the ocean, which was suggested and discussed earlier in this thread. Based on my experience, temperature stability is a huge advantage in partially submerged bladders, nevermind the endless supply of water.

When asked, if he had all the money he needed, how long would it take to start producing 100,000 barrels of fuel [oil] from algae a day, the answer he gave was - one year.
mheslep
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Nov9-12, 01:45 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
...
When asked, if he had all the money he needed, how long would it take to start producing 100,000 barrels of fuel [oil] from algae a day, the answer he gave was - one year.
Given your background knowledge, and that they currently have zero production capability, what credence do you give such a claim?
Ivan Seeking
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Nov9-12, 02:16 PM
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Quote Quote by mheslep View Post
Given your background knowledge, and that they currently have zero production capability, what credence do you give such a claim?
I don't know the inside story with Origin oil but it has always been a matter of the cost at the pump. And I believe that is just a problem of throwing enough money at this to work through the mechanics of it. So given a Manhattan Project... sounds pretty optimistic but they clearly know more than I do about this. By March of 2008 I was arguing that given a Manhattan project, we could do this in five years.

What did he say the price was for pure algae oil, I think $5.25? At that price they are almost competitive at the pump now.
Ivan Seeking
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Nov9-12, 02:48 PM
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When he mentioned that NASA's approach looks very promising, that suggested to me that they recognize the cost and other practical problems with land-based systems.

It will be intersting to see how NASA plans to manage heavy seas and storms. The only solution that made sense to me was to have a simple ballast system that allows you to submerge the containers to a safe depth until conditions are calm again.
Ivan Seeking
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Nov9-12, 03:29 PM
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One last thought. It seems to make sense that retired oil platforms could be used as the hub of the farm. I did a quick google and found this. I got a number of other types of hits including converting retired platforms into luxury resorts.

The nonprofit Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute wants to use Venoco Inc.'s decommissioned Grace platform, in waters about 10 miles west of Ventura, to build an experimental operation that could produce up to 300 tons of fish annually.
http://articles.latimes.com/2004/feb...e-vnfishfarm13
dlgoff
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Nov9-12, 07:52 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
I don't know the inside story with Origin oil but it has always been a matter of the cost at the pump.
Gasoline is one thing but could existing "home oil heating" users benefit? Wouldn't that cost be competitive?

BTW Have you considered getting back into this somehow; invest, develop, etc?

Regards


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