• Study
  • Sep 24th 2013 at 11:56AM
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Algae-derived biofuel burns cleaner than petroleum fuels and is often less resource-intensive than first-generation biofuels. That's the conclusion the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) reaches from the first-ever study that analyzed results from an existing algae-to-energy demonstration scale farm.

Algae biofuel can reduce vehicle lifecycle CO2 emissions 50 to 70 percent compared to petroleum fuels when using an Energy Return on Investment (EROI) model. "With significant emissions reductions, a positive energy balance, nutrient recycling and CO2 reuse, algae-based fuels will be a long-term, sustainable source of fuels for our nation," Mary Rosenthal, ABO's executive director, told Hybrid Cars.

The study, with the easy-to-remember names of, "Pilot-scale data provide enhanced estimates of the life cycle energy and emissions profile of algae biofuels produced via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL)," comes from a new peer-reviewed paper published in Bioresource Technology. Authors of the study did a lifecycle analysis of an algae cultivation and fuel production process currently used at pre-commercial scales by Sapphire Energy.

Field data for the study came from two of Sapphire's New Mexico facilities – one in Las Cruces and the other in Columbus – that grow and process algae into Green Crude oil. Sapphire's Green Crude can be refined into gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. Once the fuel reaches commercial scale, it's expected to produce biofuels with lower greenhouse gas emissions and EROI comparable to first-gen biofuels. That EROI is also expected to be close to petroleum and three times higher than cellulosic ethanol. The findings also give Sapphire's system kudos for recycling nutrients and producing significant energy savings during the process.

First-gen biofuels in the US are made up mostly by corn-based ethanol, which makes up to 10 percent of "normal" gasoline and, in some cases, up to 15 percent. The flex-fuel-vehicle specific E85 is made up of 85 percent biofuel and 15 percent petroleum product.


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  • 13 Comments
      2 wheeled menace
      • 8 Months Ago
      That's great. What does the final product cost per gallon again? .... yeah, i thought so.
      • 8 Months Ago
      The real news in this study is the EROI (energy return on investment) that the researchers found possible for algae-based fuels. The range was between 1:1 and 3:1. A minimum of 6:1 is necessary to fuel the post-industrial economy of a modern developed nation like the USA. EROI can be understood as the fraction of a nation's GDP that must be dedicated to producing the energy needed to run its economy and produce that GDP. Whenever that fraction has exceeded 10% (i.e., an EROI less than 10:1) in the past, the US economy has entered recession or depression. A 6:1 EROI represents a tipping point between survival at current quality of life and regression to a lower quality of life. A 3:1 EROI (1/3 of the economy purely dedicated to producing new energy) represents the cutoff where modern civilization cannot sustain itself and begins to starve and collapse. Petroleum fuels today deliver EROIs between 10:1 and 20:1. A nation's economic health and quality of life are directly correlated to the EROI of its primary energy sources. Algae and corn ethanol with energy balances barely above break-even and with no hope to achieve EROIs exceeding 3:1 can only support pre-industrial civilizations. This study proves that modern civilization will starve to death on algae fuel.
      Allch Chcar
      • 8 Months Ago
      The Prius engine is a perfect starting point for using E85. The high compression "miller cycle" engine is capable of making adjustments to improve performance on E85 while maintaining it's excellent engine efficiency. Granted, fuel efficiency isn't nearly as impressive. But I have heard that the MPG loss isn't nearly as severe. It's a shame that Toyota won't get on board with the FFV movement. The EPA has submitted proposals to test new cars on E15 and allow testing FFVs on E85. The Prius engine could overcome some of the BTU loss while providing more Power and Torque.
        Smoking_dude
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Allch Chcar
        My prius went up to E70 without any problems. the atkinson cyclus really helps. also the mpg loss is smaller with this lean running engine than with regular cars. and it becomes very quitet compared to gas. you did not her it running. algea instead of corn to make e85, well now i am really for it
      Spec
      • 8 Months Ago
      I'm pretty skeptical about these algae systems making cost-effective fuel. I think we'll do it when we've sucked out almost all the oil we can find and are desperate for an energy dense liquid fuel. But for now, I don't think the economics of these algae biofuels make sense.
        Allch Chcar
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Spec
        The technology isn't ready nor is is cost competitive with current prices. We need a bigger market for Ethanol to even consider supporting these sort of advanced biofuels en masse. Ethanol can allow for drastically improved engine efficiency by offering cheap octane. So it is imperative to increase future Ethanol adoption, making new cars compatible with higher % Ethanol blends while increasing access to blender pumps.
      Marco Polo
      • 8 Months Ago
      Like Spec, I have grown skeptical of the potential for Algae based fuel. I try not to disparage R&D into any fuel alternatives, but the history of Algae is not good. Algae is a feedstock that has been under development for so many years, with billions spent on attempting to make commercially viable. (or even available on a large scale.) Every couple of years, a promising "breakthough" is announced and the bio-fuel fan base gets all excited, only for the " breakthrough'' to disappear , until the next announcement. Currently, most serious investors have written Algae off as a feedstock, with only governments, idealistic hopefuls and the inevitable scamsters, still confident of eventual success. I'm not saying Algae bio-fuel feedstock will never happen, just that it's very improbable.
        Allch Chcar
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Marco Polo
        It's a lot of work to be done while interest is, as you said, very limited. I don't know how much longer they have to get it to market. But it's going to take even more money to get this economical for mass production. I only support Corn Ethanol as a stepping stone. Advances like this are the only way to sustain higher % blends without eating into farmland intended for our food supply. Which is a very distant but a very real long term concern. We are only able to utilize Corn for Ethanol now due to excess Corn supply and high Oil prices. Ethanol is absolutely the near future for liquid fuels until we find something better.
          Marco Polo
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Allch Chcar
          @ Allch Chcar I applaud your desire to support a more environmental fuel Perhaps you should look into the terrible environmental and economic harm created by the US corn-based Ethanol industry, and you would rapidly stop supporting this insidious industry. Every gallon of US corn based ethanol is more harmful to the environment than the gasoline it replaces. Since ethanol is a poorer quality fuel, uneconomic, and without the government mandate would disappear, what is it exactly that you support ? NG is better a alternative, but the real future for passenger transport lies in EV technology.
      • 8 Months Ago
      hi Allch Chcar, i need the specifications of this algae oil, if possible kindly let me know, i am willing to import this,,
      joeboarder108
      • 8 Months Ago
      False. E85 is made up of 85% ethanol, not biofuel per se. The green crude mentioned above is intended to replace the petroleum portion, not the ethanol portion.
        Wm
        • 8 Months Ago
        @joeboarder108
        So ethanol from corn is no longer a biofuel? I never got the impression from the article that algae base fuels were intended for ethanol replacement.
          Allch Chcar
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Wm
          Gasoline made from a renewable source is considered a biofuel. Ethanol can be made from non-renewable sources. Corn based Ethanol is a biofuel.
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