# Algae to the rescue

by Ivan Seeking
Tags: algae, rescue
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 Quote by dlgoff 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
Anything that can burn diesel should work. I know some specialized systems can but I don't know about typical oil burners. Like diesel, biodiesel and algae oils require high compression or very high temperatures to burn.

As for me, I have all of my eggs in other baskets now.
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 Quote by Ivan Seeking Anything that can burn diesel should work. I know some specialized systems can but I don't know about typical oil burners. Like diesel, biodiesel and algae oils require high compression or very high temperatures to burn.
Thanks for the info Ivan. I'm not a user of "home heating oil", unless propane is considered to be, so I'll have to do some checking on how the burners deliver the fuel. Probably similar to how these work.

 PF Gold P: 5,458 Whilst I can imagine future reasons to follow this path like aviation fuel, I'm wondering if things like if getting enough CO2 to the algeae photo assimilation process has been thought of.
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 Quote by Andre Whilst I can imagine future reasons to follow this path like aviation fuel, I'm wondering if things like if getting enough CO2 to the algeae photo assimilation process has been thought of.
Yes. Some of the photosynthetic plays have deals with local power plants and have built their demo operations immediately adjacent one, with the limitation that they become dependent on such sources. Then there are the bio fuel approaches fed by carbohydrates, i.e. they get their carbon direct from feedstock, and that approach thus becomes dependent on the transportation of biomass. Also note the concentration of CO2 in water, where the microorganism are grown, is several multiples of that which is present in the atmosphere.
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 Quote by mheslep Also note the concentration of CO2 in water, where the microorganism are grown, is several multiples of that which is present in the atmosphere.
Sure, but consider some algae growing device in the ocean. I see 28 ppm carbon for seawater, so that would be 28 gram per cubic meter, but when you have converted that to algeae, it's essentially done. So if you want more yield, you'd need to provide carbon in some form.

Edit: Obviously more CO2 will enter from the atmosphere. But the total per year seems in the order of magnitude of 100 PgC (1017 gram) per year, the ocean area is about 361,132,000 km2 so the average flux would seem to be in the order of magnitude of 280 gram carbon per square meter per year. That seems a lot.
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 Quote by Andre Sure, but consider some algae growing device in the ocean. I see 28 ppm carbon for seawater, so that would be 28 gram per cubic meter, but when you have converted that to algeae, it's essentially done. So if you want more yield, you'd need to provide carbon in some form. Edit: Obviously more CO2 will enter from the atmosphere. But the total per year seems in the order of magnitude of 100 PgC (1017 gram) per year, the ocean area is about 361,132,000 km2 so the average flux would seem to be in the order of magnitude of 280 gram carbon per square meter per year. That seems a lot.
I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Are you taking the amount of CO2 that enters the water naturally? As was discussed beginning at about post 340, CO2 is provided through forced aeration. Growth rates are too slow otherwise. And the aeration is ideally CO2 enriched. If we assume a nominal value of 60% processing efficiency for a farm, then we would expect 40% of all carbon could be returned to the system through the exhaust gases from combustion for power generation. So any farm could have it's own CO2-enriched supply of air.
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 Quote by Andre Sure, but consider some algae growing device in the ocean. I see 28 ppm carbon for seawater, so that would be 28 gram per cubic meter, but when you have converted that to algeae, it's essentially done. So if you want more yield, you'd need to provide carbon in some form. ...
See further down in your reference. The percent CO2 of dissolved gasses in seawater is 15%, versus 0.04% in the atmosphere.
 Emeritus Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 12,500 Two things that caught my attention were the optical density of their algae solution, and something he said. In my testing, the algae was taken to about a 1% solution by weight. And it was like thick pea soup. He mentioned a 0.1% solution, which surprised me. But their algae solution looks more like tea than pea soup so they do seem to be operating with a comparitively dilute solution, and I'm wondering why. Running a thinner solution would likely reduce clogging issues and such, and perhaps their process of coaxing the algae out of solution requires a lower density of algae than traditional techniques.
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I just heard about these yesterday.

I think I'll make 5 dozen.

Algae Lamp

How to Grow Bioluminescent Algae at Home

Green Light! Algae-Powered Lamp Needs TLC to Provide Light

Ha Ha!

Sometimes the world mimics PF:

This Micro-Algae Lamp Absorbs 150-200 Times More CO2 than a Tree! (Video)
 French biochemist and Shamengo pioneer Pierre Calleja has invented this impressive streetlight that is powered by algae which absorbs CO2 from the air. We have featured algae-powered lamps before but this one takes out 1 ton (!) of CO2 per year. This is as much CO2 as as a tree absorbs on average during its entire life.

 Quote by Jenna Boyd • 2 days ago Oh no, where will one ton of CO2 fit in that tiny lamp!? What happens when it's full!? Seriously people? Google photosynthesis, then comment. The CO2 isn't "captured". It can't get "full". It uses the CO2, breaks it down to feed itself, and releases O2, just like every other plant. (headbang)

I love Science.
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 Sara Volz, who investigated increasing the oil content of algae to create an economically viable source of biofuel, received the top award of $100,000 at the Intel Science Talent Search 2013, a program of Society for Science & the Public. http://newsroom.intel.com/community/...talent-search/ http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/this-cou...165831291.html PF Gold P: 1,431  Quote by Astronuc That is awesome! I really like the fact that her lab is under her bed. This young lady is the embodiment of science. Someone go find her and sign her up for PF! I'll pay for her lifetime membership!  Emeritus Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 12,500 Based on a preliminary look, I am quickly becoming a fan of Origin Oil.  P: 57 So, I've heard there are some challenges with algae biofuels. How serious are they as far as getting in the way of harvesting? Challenges: 1. Algae are very sensitive to environmental conditions such as temperature, salinity, pH, etc. A slight change in one of them can kill it (depending on the species). The more resilient species that grow anywhere are not necessarily the ones that yield high lipid counts. 2. Diseases such as fungi and other aquatic microbes can ravage and perhaps even erradicate algae populations, especially if the algae is GMO and the genetic changes made to it have a drawback as far as natural defenses go. 3. Once the algae has been successfully grown in the desired quantity, there is still a harvesting step and an oil/lipid separation step. This can require a fair amount of energy for the process. 4. CO2 supply required, which can also require a fair amount of input energy to the process (pumps, etc). Algae is sometimes also circulated via pump, which requires energy. So, all of these affect the EROI of algae biofuels and its viability as a future energy source. Will these obstacles be overcome anytime soon? (I think it would be awesome if they can.) Also, is it possible to harvest existing algae directly from the ocean, and then process them? Wouldn't that save a fair amount of time and resources? PF Gold P: 1,431  Quote by jlefevre76 So, I've heard there are some challenges with algae biofuels. How serious are they as far as getting in the way of harvesting? Challenges: 1. Algae are very sensitive to environmental conditions such as temperature, salinity, pH, etc. A slight change in one of them can kill it (depending on the species). The more resilient species that grow anywhere are not necessarily the ones that yield high lipid counts. Do you have a source for this? It is my recollection that an experiment done a few years ago indicated that the rapid reproductive rate of algae yielded an evolution of the source strain to a species that was quite happy with their ultimate environment.  2. Diseases such as fungi and other aquatic microbes can ravage and perhaps even erradicate algae populations, especially if the algae is GMO and the genetic changes made to it have a drawback as far as natural defenses go. 3. Once the algae has been successfully grown in the desired quantity, there is still a harvesting step and an oil/lipid separation step. This can require a fair amount of energy for the process. This is true of everything. As long as the net algae energy/$ output is greater than the net human energy/$input, then the system will be profitable.  4. CO2 supply required, which can also require a fair amount of input energy to the process (pumps, etc). Algae is sometimes also circulated via pump, which requires energy. That is a problem. One of my PF friends is working on that problem. (The crazy one....)  So, all of these affect the EROI of algae biofuels and its viability as a future energy source. Will these obstacles be overcome anytime soon? (I think it would be awesome if they can.) It would require someone with math skills greater than mine, but my guess is; Yes.  Also, is it possible to harvest existing algae directly from the ocean, and then process them? Wouldn't that save a fair amount of time and resources? I posted something to that effect a few years ago. The local river runs green with algae in summer. As I recall, the ROI was not worth it. Emeritus Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 12,500  Quote by jlefevre76 So, I've heard there are some challenges with algae biofuels. How serious are they as far as getting in the way of harvesting? Challenges: 1. Algae are very sensitive to environmental conditions such as temperature, salinity, pH, etc. A slight change in one of them can kill it (depending on the species). The more resilient species that grow anywhere are not necessarily the ones that yield high lipid counts. Yes, this is why I have previously argued that closed systems are the only practical way to do this. To my knowledge no open system has ever proven to be sustainable.  2. Diseases such as fungi and other aquatic microbes can ravage and perhaps even erradicate algae populations, especially if the algae is GMO and the genetic changes made to it have a drawback as far as natural defenses go. I don't know about GMO but yes, the answer is the same as the previous question.  3. Once the algae has been successfully grown in the desired quantity, there is still a harvesting step and an oil/lipid separation step. This can require a fair amount of energy for the process. This has been a key aspect of driving down the price. If you watch the videos linked above, Origin Oil claims to have a process that allows them to produce algae oil at$5.75 a gallon, which is down from $20-$30 a gallon just a few years ago.

 4. CO2 supply required, which can also require a fair amount of input energy to the process (pumps, etc).
CO2 is required to accelerate the growth rate as well as to balance the Ph. Given that at best we might hope for a processing efficiency around 60%, we might expect that 40% of oil could be burned to power the farm, which would provide a ready supply of CO2 from the generator's exhaust gases. The same might be true for Nitrogen. It seems that diesel engines could be used to produce a good percentage of the required nitrogen in the form of oxides of nitrogen, that in turn could be reacted with water to produce nitrates.

 Algae is sometimes also circulated via pump, which requires energy.
Yes, in particular this is required because only the algae at the surface [the top fraction of an inch of water] are active.

 So, all of these affect the EROI of algae biofuels and its viability as a future energy source. Will these obstacles be overcome anytime soon? (I think it would be awesome if they can.)
Companies like those linked above claim to be getting close to a competitive price.

 Also, is it possible to harvest existing algae directly from the ocean, and then process them? Wouldn't that save a fair amount of time and resources?
The energy density and yields likely make this impractical. As you indicated, dominant strains tend to be poor producers. But some companies are wanting to produce large algae blooms in the ocean in order to gain CO2 credits. The algae absorbs large quantities of CO2 and then sinks into the cold deep ocean, where the captured CO2 ideally remains trapped.
 P: 57 Thanks OmCheeto and Ivan Seeking. Both responses are appreciated. It looks like I'll be attending ASU soon, and I will be interested in working with their algae biofuel lab if the opportunity comes up. My background is in heat transfer and thermodynamics, and my MS thesis was on solar distillation (for desalination). I hope to work on the radiation analysis of the algae, maybe optimizing the geometry of a bioreactor to improve light absorption. Or maybe something totally new to me. I've done some raytracing and things like that, and I'm interested to see if I can apply some of what I've done to this area of research.
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 Quote by jlefevre76 Thanks OmCheeto and Ivan Seeking.
You're welcome. But looking at the two responses, you should recognize that Ivan is an expert, and I'm an armchair quarterback. The only algae experiment I've done has a bunch of fish swimming around in it.
 Both responses are appreciated. It looks like I'll be attending ASU soon, and I will be interested in working with their algae biofuel lab if the opportunity comes up. My background is in heat transfer and thermodynamics, and my MS thesis was on solar distillation (for desalination). I hope to work on the radiation analysis of the algae, maybe optimizing the geometry of a bioreactor to improve light absorption. Or maybe something totally new to me. I've done some raytracing and things like that, and I'm interested to see if I can apply some of what I've done to this area of research.
One of my ideas was to harvest automotive exhaust. Burning hydrocarbons creates CO2 and H2O. Extracting the water is easy. All you have to do is cool the gas below 212°F. Collecting the CO2 is going to require some energy. How much, I have not a clue. Separating out the N2 is also a problem I would imagine.

Also, algae is pretty old, and appears to have originated when there was no free oxygen in the atmosphere, so a diet of carbonated water might be to their liking. It may just be my imagination, but the Horsetail plants I've been watching over the last ten years seem to be growing bigger every year. They originated when CO2 levels were much higher. I can imagine that algae all over the world are cheering the increasing levels of CO2. Food!

Anyways, good luck with your studies.
 Emeritus Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 12,500 While I appreciate Om's kind words, I am no expert. But I did start a company and formed a group, and worked hard for two years towards the practical implementation of existing technologies to produce biodiesel from algae. In the end it was obvious that this was too big of a problem for the little guy attack yet - probably hundreds of \$millions of research was still needed back in 2007/2008, but it wasn't long before Exxon, BP, DARPA, and a number of major players started coming onto the scene. So I would bet that a career slanted towards this problem will eventually produce good employment opportunities. If you go back to about page 20, http://www.physicsforums.com/showthr...211274&page=20 I discuss in detail my logic and efforts, which had a heavy emphasis on the energy side of the equation - the energy per net gallon yield required to run a farm and produce fuel. The other major consideration is the cost per square foot for the bioreactors as this is likely the greatest long-term cost in producing algae fuels. When you do the math, the bioreactors have to be either fantastically inexpensive or have a very long life. While I focused entirely on a land-based system, I would emphasize that in the end, my best estimate of the problems suggests that the best option is to grow algae in large bladders in the ocean [or perhaps in some lakes], as NASA is now exploring.

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