Biofuel replacing crude oil debate – could Algae to oil help? .

The debate over biofuels has exploded over the last few months as the downside of this renewable replacement to conventional fossil fuel has emerged. While the crisis over the escalating price of crude oil has hastened the search for alternatives to fossil fuel, the diverting of arable land from agriculture to fuel production is causing food shortages that threaten the security of many nations and destroying forests in others.

Just how heated the debate has become was obvious by the headline at CNN: “Leaders clash on biofuels at summit,” just a short time ago, (link to and read the article in full here). It seems that leading biofuel producing countries are not about to give up the profitable new industry without a fight. The debate boils down to the following:

“Proponents say the fuels are a way to combat climate change and rising oil prices, while others argue they accelerate global warming by encouraging deforestation and heavily contribute to the commodities price hike by diverting production from food crops to biofuel crops”.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda called for “the speeding up of the research and introduction of second generation biofuels, which can make fuel out of various plants and not just food crops”.

Over the last year we have seen a search for alternatives to the current biofuel crops of sugar cane, corn, soybeans which are suplanting farmland and crops from food production to the more lucrative fuel market.

Such things as cellulose from green waste and algae are exciting new sources for biofuel production and it seems that over the last few days there has been a barrage of new research and potential new ventures predicted for this second wave of biofuels. In fact, biofuel made from algae is re-emerging as a cheap and environmentally-friendly way to produce liquid fuel. James Sanders of Connect Savannah Online summarised the benefits of Algae to oil biofuel:

“Algae, can be used to produce biodiesel fuel and has a potential energy yield many times higher than that of soybeans. An average acre of algae grown today for pharmaceutical industries can produce 5,000 gallons of biodiesel each year. Algae need only sunlight, water, nutrients, and carbon dioxide to grow, have extremely fast growth rates, and some types of algae comprise 50 percent oil. It should not come as a surprise, then, that algae is being viewed by some as an attractive alternative to vegetable crops for energy production.”

It is no wonder that the rush to research and development is happening and here are just a few of the stories that are being reported over the last few days:

A team of agricultural and biosystems engineering students at The University of Arizona are among several companies doing research on algae-to-biofuels technologies. The students focused on using supercritical CO2 as an alternative to harsher solvents for extracting oils from algae. In spite of the proof of concept that their research has brought it is not without its challenges. While it seems that, given a chance, algae will grow anywhere, the students found Botryococcus braunii to be particularly finicky when it came to optimal conditions. The team will continue to refine the process.

Sapphire Energy announced that they have produced renewable 91 octane gasoline that conforms to ASTM certification, made from a breakthrough process that produces crude oil directly from sunlight, CO2 and photosynthetic microorganisms, beginning with algae. “Sapphire’s goal is to be the world’s leading producer of renewable petrochemical products,” said their CEO.

WA Business News reported today that APBE Pty Ltd looking to build Australia’s first demonstration pilot plant to mass produce oil derived from algae for use as biodiesel.

In spite of all of this excitement the reality is that there are significant hurdles still to be overcome before algae can be harnessed to produce sustainable quantities of oil to replace fossil fuels. The questions are explored at these two links:

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Wednesday, 4 June, 2008.

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