• Nov 26th 2007 at 5:44PM
  • 8
I wonder if this is the kind of thing the San Francisco Green Party would have a problem with: according to C-NET, two companies in Australia announced they will work together to run emissions from a coal plant through a bioreactor to make biodiesel. C-NET's Martin LaMonica writes that Linc Energy and Bio Clean Coal will create a prototype bioreactor (cost: $1 million) that will grow the algae that eat the carbon from the coal plant's emissions. Dry those suckers out and you've got a biomass that can be turned into biodiesel (or fertilizer; or even burnt to produce more power). One more step in the road to turn waste into fuel, one more step to turn algae into biodiesel.

[Source: C-NET]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago

      I see your point...it does makes some sense.

      Bare with me here for some statistics....Based on year 2000 DOE figures, the transportation industry generates 42% of total CO2 emissions in the US and the US coal industry generates 37%. Based on your train of thought, Dave, a shift from using petroleum (aka gasoline) in our cars to biofuels produced from algae would reduce the net CO2 emmissions of the US as a whole.

      So I guess the question really here is, if algae tech were to be employed at all coal reactors in the US, how much biofuel could be produced to displace petroleuem (gasoline)? Could all petroleum be displaced? And even more important, if all petroleum use were displaced, would that be enough to offset global warming and climate change? In my mind, even with 100% displacement here in the US, we'll still have CO2 concentrations going up in the atmosphere, due to coal and natural gas use (the remaining pieces of the CO2 emmissions pie...which is 58%). Another question that comes to mind here is can this algae technology be employed on all those natural gas plants in the US?

      In the end, I just don't see how we can make a dent in the CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere. WE're still going to be a net emitter, right?

      Another sad fact to all this is that the use of algae, in effect, reinforces the need to use coal for power production, preventing any real means of reducing CO2 emmissions from coal.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I must disagree - using algae fed with CO2 released from coal to make fuel which _replaces_ other fossil fuels does decrease the total CO2 emitted from fossil sources - which is where the _extra_ CO2 causing climate change is coming from.

      It is in the _replacement_ that you achieve the gain.

      Or to put it in even simpler terms:

      The algae recycles the CO2 released from the coal.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Troy, drying the algae and extracting oil works - if you want to make biodiesel. If your goal is to generate more power, burning the algae is a viable option.
      • 7 Years Ago
      After reading th article that has initiated thuis thread, I wanted to say that the article itself is factually innaccurate. The process does not use the algae in this way - " Dry those suckers out and you've got a biomass that can be turned into biodiesel (or fertilizer; or even burnt to produce more power)." Oil is extracted from the algae and the oil is converted to Biodiesel. The algae is not burned for it's biomass.

      Algae is the most efficient producer:

      Oil in liters per hectare:

      Castor 1413
      Sunflower 952
      Safflower 779
      Palm 5950
      Soy 446
      Coconut 2689
      Algae 100000
      • 7 Years Ago
      Here is a response I posted on another article earlier today about Algae production using CO2 from coal plants. It applies here to this article as well. Somebody needs to explain what the net effect will be of using algae to produce biofuels. It makes no sense to me if the goal is to reduce carbon-based emmissions.

      See below:


      Can't say I blame you for not seeing the main problem with algae in this discussion about "sustainability". Don't be fooled into believing algae is a sustainable solution. It's actually Alchemy. There is little to no scientific information on exactly how algae will affect global warming, which I think is the gist of this "sustainable" conversation, right.

      Until somebody produces some hard data, I can only conclude two things about Algae:

      1. Algae used to absorb CO2 from coal plants can only help global warming if the algae ends us sequested underground. (BTW- The utilities aren't just going to install algae technology and then sequester all that algae underground, all in the name of solving global warming. That would result in a huge, expensive endeavor, that generates nothing of value to them, except for perhaps avoiding possible future carbon taxes.)

      2. Growing algae using the effluent CO2 from coal plants, and then using that algae to produce biodiesel will not do anything to solve or slow global warming. (It just adds another link in the carbon chain. Ultimately it will lead to the release of CO2 into the atmosphere as vehicles combust the biofuel.)

      Do the real math people and you will see that the end-game of this subject has not been discussed in any detail. This so-called "sustainable" scenario where you take coal (hydrocarbons) from underground, burn it to make electricity, and then use the effluent CO2 to grow algae, only to make biofuel from the algae cannot be sustainable. It still leads to a release of net new CO2 into the air. 1+1 does not equal zero.....it equals 2.

      Don't be brainwashed RAy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It is obvious that giving carbon a second time around reduces the overall CO2 load on the atmosphere. So long as we are burning coal we would do better to capture end reuse the CO2 than dump it in the atmosphere. Coal buring plants also produce secondary heat that caould be used to warm the ponds for year around production.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sorry folks, I thought I'd make another post to show that I'm not a cynical person who only rants and raves about problems and proposes no solutions to this endless discussion about how our energy needs can be met in a sustainable and earth-friendly manner. To prove it, here's my solution to this discussion about how to meet our power and transportation needs in a sustainable way while fighting global warming:

      Electrify the transportation industry through the mass production of electric vehicles. These vehicles will get their power directly from a grid that is in rapid transition away from carbon-based fuels like coal and natural gas, towards a network of renewable energy resources like wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear. This movement will completely eliminate the problems with CO2 emmissions that come from refining oil, burning gasoline, and burning coal, thus helping to reverse global warming. This movement will rely only on renewable energy resources. Therefore, it is the most efficient and most sustainable energy solution.

      For the naysayers who believe that "electric vehicles are not ready for primetime because of battery technology" [which is not true] or that "coal CO2 sequestration is the future" [which has not yet been proven to be safe or effective].....fine...then, at a minimum we should move towards the mass production of plug-in hybrid vehicles right now; cars that can be plugged in to an electrical outlet and run by electricity from the grid, with an internal combustion engine as back-up range extender. Additionally, these plug-in hybrid vehicles could be engineered to run on a number of biofuels like ethanol or biodiesel. If these biofuels came from, say, cellulosic biomass like switchgrass, this movement then becomes moderately sustainable. What keeps it from being totally sustainable is that the grid is primarily powered by Coal. This is where you "coal guys" come in and either sequester your CO2 emmissions, or by making algae that is to be sequestered. Either way, the CO2 from burning coal has to be sequestered some way for us to be sustainable.

      . 2. If you don't believe EV's are practical (which I believe they are), then at least employ an auto fleet tha
      • 7 Years Ago
      Coal + intensive algaculture does indeed mean each carbon atom brought to the surface is put to work twice, which means more of the oil already sequestered by mother nature can stay underground. For a given level of electricity production and transportation service, total CO2 emissions are reduced. Not zero, though.

      In CCS, the fossil carbon from coal is sequestered in underground brine aquifers or spent oil fields - at significant energetic expense. In theory, CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants could then be zero. However, the transportation sector would then remain as dependent as ever on oil from the Middle East, Russia etc. The climate doesn't care which fossil source a given CO2 emission came from. The economy very much does, so intensive algaculture - if it proves feasible at industrial scales - is preferable. One major technical challenge is finding algae that can tolerate cooled flue gases from coal-fired plants.

      Even then, it will still be no more than a temporary fix. Ultimately, we'll have to figure out a way to produce both electricity and move our vehicles using no fossil carbon at all. Extensive algaculture, which relies on CO2 in the atmosphere or dissolved in the oceans rather than flue gases, might play a significant role. It only has to be substantially cheaper than PV solar and traction batteries.
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