Posts filed under ‘Eco’

Algae: fuel of the future?

Algae: fuel of the future?

Amanda Leigh Mascarelli
Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/es902509d
Publication Date (Web): September 2, 2009
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

Biofuels produced from algae, rather than from crops, have entered the spotlight lately, and several companies now say that they are close to overcoming the technical hurdles to making algae-derived biofuels competitive on a commercial scale. However, experts caution that significant obstacles still need to be dealt with to make algae competitive with energy from fossil fuels.

For several years, entrepreneurs, investors, and even oil companies have been quietly looking to turn the photosynthetic powers of the once lowly and obscure but now coveted green slime, algae, into energy. Industry giants such as Dow Chemical Co., ExxonMobil Corp., BP p.l.c., and Chevron Corp. have recently made major investments in companies seeking to develop renewable fuels from algae, pushing this group of prolific organisms to center stage.

With thousands of strains of algae to choose from—each possessing varying ratios of oils, proteins, and starch in their cells—experts are exploring a wide range of possibilities for harnessing energy from these microbes. For example, the algae can be indigenous strains or genetically engineered organisms. And companies can choose from a diverse range of growing techniques, from inexpensive open ponds to carefully controlled enclosed tanks, to coax algae into secreting the desired product, which might be ethanol, biodiesel, or pump-ready gasoline.

Algae thrive in the presence of sunlight, CO2, and water. They multiply quickly and can be harvested year-round. Unlike conventional biofuel feedstocks such as corn, soy, palm, and canola, algae do not require vast and often valuable tracts of land and ample freshwater to grow, advocates say. Instead, algae can be grown on nonagricultural land in a fraction of the space and with brackish water or wastewater.

Open-pond bioreactors at the PetroAlgae facility in Fellsmere, Florida.


In addition, algae are potentially far more productive than other leading oil crops such as palm, canola, and soy. Some companies are reporting that they can produce up to 6000 gallons of fuel per acre per year (gal/ac/yr) from algae, even though they’re not yet operating on a large scale. In comparison, palm yields 650 gal/ac/yr; canola, 150 gal; and soy, 50 gal. And because algae consume CO2, algae companies plan to link up with power plants, cement factories, and other industrial plants to capture heat-trapping CO2 that would otherwise waft into the atmosphere. “There are a lot of opportunities to address multiple problems that might make algae all the more attractive,” says Martha Groom, a conservation biologist who is at the University of Washington Bothell and studies land and habitat issues associated with energy development.

Although algae are relative newcomers on the alternative-energy scene, researchers have been investigating the promise of algae as an energy source for decades. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) began researching algae for biodiesel production in 1978, but the program was shuttered in 1996 when the price of oil dropped so low that growing algae for biofuels did not seem economically feasible. NREL researchers also ran into difficulties with contamination by non-native algae species and with the replication of laboratory conditions in the field.

Companies have spent the past few years grappling with such technical hurdles and now say that they expect to be able to produce algae-based biofuels on a commercial scale. Harrison Dillon, cofounder and president of Solazyme, Inc., founded in 2003 and one of the first algae companies to emerge, says that his company has used algae to produce more than 10,000 gal of oil at a quality that meets existing fuel standards. Dillon believes that the company can produce oil from algae at a cost that is competitive with fossil fuels within two and a half years. Other companies are focusing on a similar time frame. Paul Woods, chief executive of the biofuel start-up Algenol Biofuels, says, “I’m a believer that we’re one, two, and three years away from having this on a commercial scale.” And Andrew Beck, vice president of public affairs at PetroAlgae, Inc., an emerging renewable energy company, says that his company is commercial-ready today and that they have signed a license deal for 10 commercial units to be built in China. They hope to begin construction later this year and say that the system will take one to three years to be completed.

Yet some experts warn that, although there is plenty of room for enthusiasm, significant challenges remain. “Just the logistics of bringing [this technology] to a large scale are mind-boggling,” says Jergen Polle, an algae physiologist at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York who has worked on algae for nearly two decades.

One issue is that algae cultures grown in an open pond can easily be contaminated and overtaken by invasive species. So, some companies have opted to grow their algae in enclosed containers that allow them to precisely control the light, CO2, and water conditions needed by various strains of algae. Doug Henston, CEO of the start-up company Solix Biofuels, says, “Closed systems have shown over time that they have significant yield benefits and merits over open ponds.” But others maintain that enclosed growth systems, commonly called “photobioreactors”, are far too costly to make algae competitive with fossil fuels. In addition to production costs, Polle notes that it’s equally important to consider the energy balance of building enclosed systems. “Even if a photobioreactor is 100 times more productive than an open pond, does it then work out in the economics and the energy balance?” says Polle. “All of the materials that go into a photobioreactor cost energy to make.”

Another hurdle is choosing which species of algae to work with from the tens of thousands available. During the 18-year NREL program, researchers sifted through more than 3000 strains of algae from across the U.S. before settling on 300 species that they thought were the most promising oil producers. Some species of algae can yield more than 50% of their weight in oil, while other strains are not as bountiful.

In addition to natural and indigenous species of algae, some companies are experimenting with the genetic engineering of certain algal strains to select for production of the desired product. Solazyme’s Dillon says that after extensive screening, his company found strains that thrive on biomass materials such as corn stover, wood chips, and sugar cane and then spit out oils that can be refined into anything from jet fuel to food oils. “Once we have the feedstock chosen and the product chosen, we use a lot of sophisticated biotechnology to make the conversion of feedstock into the target oil happen very rapidly,” says Dillon. Another company, Joule Biotechnologies, Inc., recently announced that it is working to produce a variety of products, including ethanol and biodiesel, from an undisclosed genetically engineered microorganism that its proprietors will only say is “not algae”.

Although many companies are focused on harvesting oils from algae, the biofuel start-up Algenol Biofuels is betting its future on ethanol. “A lot of algae can make ethanol,” says Algenol’s Woods. “But none of them do it in industrial quantities.” Rather than the usual process of extracting oil by bursting the cells open, Algenol has selected a few strains that “sweat” ethanol through a natural diffusion process, says Woods. And PetroAlgae’s Beck says that its products include a high-carbohydrate lipid mash and a high-value protein. The protein can be sold into the animal-feed market, and eventually, as food supplements for human consumption, he says.

Among the many promising attributes of algae is their ability to harness unwanted CO2 and thrive in less-than-pristine water. Since algae can be grown in brackish and gray water, they do not compete for precious water resources, as agricultural crops do. Solix Biofuels, Inc., has just begun operating a demonstration plant on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in southwestern Colorado, where it is pumping CO2 and water from a coal-bed methane production plant into its algae growth chambers. The plant is currently producing oil at a rate of 1500 gal/ac/yr, according to Henston, and aims to produce 4000−5000 gal/ac/yr.

If algae were once considered obscure wild cards in the energy field, nobody would say that anymore. In July, ExxonMobil announced that it was investing $600 million to research algae-based biofuels in collaboration with Synthetic Genomics, Inc., a biotechnology company cofounded by genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter. In 2008, Solazyme forged a partnership with Chevron to develop oils for biofuels, and Algenol recently announced a collaboration with Dow Chemical. And in August 2009, BP announced that it is investing more than $10 million in Martek Biosciences Corp., a firm specializing in the development of nutritional supplements from algae, to research biofuels technology.

Solazyme scientist pours crude algal oil for testing and evaluation.


Dillon notes that when he got into the business in 2003, he never imagined that algae would receive so much attention. “The investment community didn’t know what we were talking about. Back then, they were like, ‘Algae? Fuel? Biology for energy? We don’t get it,” he says. “They know what we’re talking about today.”

Algae: fuel of the future? – Environmental Science & Technology (ACS Publications)


September 13, 2009 at 3:08 am 1 comment

Cleantech Investing in Israel: Phoebus Energy unveils hybrid water heating system in Jerusalem

Phoebus Energy unveiled its hybrid water heating system last week at the community center in Gilo, a neighborhood of Jerusalem, according to an article in The Jerusalem Post.

Phoebus Energy, founded in 2007 with $2 million in seed funding from Terra Venture Partners, has developed a hybrid heat pump system that integrates with existing oil-based systems to make them more efficient. Newly appointed CEO Yaron Tal told The Jerusalem Post says that Phoebus Energy’s system saves between 50 and 70 percent of oil and reduces pollution by 80 to 90% compared to a traditional heat pump system.

“The Phoebus system is based on a complex algorithm that we developed which governs when to use the oil-based system and when to use the heat pump. It constantly monitors many parameters to decide which way is most efficient to generate heat,” Tal said.

“The system measures such parameters as the temperature outside, the temperature of the water, and the price of the oil. Several of the parameters change a number of times throughout the day,” he continued.

Phoebus Energy has already installed its system in eight locations in Israel, from kibbutzim to community centers to hotels, according to The Jerusalem Post. Phoebus Energy’s solution targets medium and large water heating systems, such as those found in hospitals, hotels, factories and large apartment buildings. The company is also already in negotiations with potential clients abroad, Tal told the Post.

Heat pumps had been around for a long time as a means to heat water, Tal said. Phoebus Energy heat pumps take an ecologically safe version of freon to transfer energy to water. The freon flows at high pressure at a temperature of 5º Celsius. Air is then pushed into the freon, which heats the freon. At 12º, the freon turns from a liquid into a gas. The gas is then mixed with the water, which heats the water, Tal said. The company managed to get the pumps to heat water to 55-60º Celsius, as opposed to other models that only reached 30-40º, he said.

The use of heat pumps cut oil use tremendously, thus reducing costs and pollution, he said.

Shalom Turgeman, who runs the Gilo community center, said in a statement, “The expected savings run into the hundreds of thousands of shekels, but the real point is that we are taking a step for a greener Earth and fighting the air pollution in the Gilo neighborhood.”

Until now, the community center, one of the largest in the country, burned more than 100,000 liters of oil per year to heat the swimming pool, water for the showers and bathrooms, and the gym.

Yaron Tal, previously the President & CEO of TopSpin Medical, was appointed CEO of Phoebus Energy earlier this month. Yoav Ben Yaacov, the Founder and former CEO of Phoebus Energy, is now the company’s VP Marketing & Sales.

It was reported last month that Phoebus Energy recently completed a financing round of $1 million from Galilaea Fund.

Cleantech Investing in Israel: Phoebus Energy unveils hybrid water heating system in Jerusalem

August 8, 2009 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Roof Tiles that Power Your Home? Just say, Solé! @greenUPGRADER


These days it seems there are plenty of reasons for homeowners to consider the switch to solar power, not the least of which is a pretty attractive tax rebate from the good ‘ole federal government. But for those who also take aesthetics into consideration in their home improvement decisions, there has always been the pesky issue of plunking the somewhat bulky panels on top of your roof for all the world to see…until now.

solar tiles

Thanks to the work of SRS Energy, a Philadephia-based company that develops and manufactures premium solar roofing tiles designed to seamlessly integrate with traditional roofing products. (See image above where blue solar tiles have been added to a traditional mission-style tiled roof). Marketed as the Solé Power Tile™, these SRS Energy roofing tiles are designed to capture and convert sunlight into cost-saving electricity without compromising aesthetics. The tiles are offered as an integrated upgrade to a traditional roofing purchase. Added to the protection and curb appeal expected from a premium roofing system, homeowners are able to capitalize on solar electricity as sustainable value

This lightweight, recyclable-plastic tile is the first solar roofing system designed for traditional California architecture. Its tough, molded-plastic body is fused with a sheet of flexible solar chips from Uni Solar that give it its distinctive blue color. And although its noncrystalline silicone cells gather less energy than conventional tilt-up panels with stiff crystalline cells, they react to a broader spectrum of light even on foggy, cloudy days. (Zahid Sardar, SF Chronicle)

Another huge advantage of the Solé Power Tile is that it is far less sensitive to sunlight than traditional solar cells, and thanks to the unique design that allows each tile to connect to its neighbor almost like Legos,  homeowners can be confident that the power transfer will continue, even if one tile in the chain becomes damaged or stops working.

Learn more about the Solé Power Tile’s partnership with US Tile and whether your home can benefit.

(Image Credit: SRS Energy)

Roof Tiles that Power Your Home? Just say, Solé! @greenUPGRADER

August 8, 2009 at 8:51 am Leave a comment

Eco Tech: Energy-producing Microbes Generate Electricity From Mud – Ecofriend

Eco Tech: Energy-producing microbes generate electricity from mud

Anupam | 5 hr. ago

Eco Factor: Energy scavenging microbes use mud for electricity, ready for use in microbial fuel cells.

The latest research conducted at the University of Massachusetts could herald new fuel cell designs that generate electricity from mud. Geobacter, a microbe that generates electricity when placed in mud and wastewater, is about 20,000 times finer than a human hair and according these researchers it has a unique ability to transfer electrons which enables it to extract energy from biomass.


August 6, 2009 at 3:14 pm 1 comment

Solar-powered Air Conditioner Aims To Reduce Your Electricity Bills

frost 4

Eco Factor: Concept air conditioner powered by solar energy.

With the summer sun getting hotter each year due to global warming and the rise in pollution, it gets really tough to stand all that heat without turning on the air conditioner. However, like most energy-eating appliances, cooling your interiors using an air conditioner shows its end impact on your electricity bills. Industrial designer Philip Stankard has tried to prove that you can remain comfortable during the summer months without exactly worrying about the utility bills. Philip has designed a concept air conditioner, dubbed Frost, which works by converting solar energy into electricity and using it to keep your home’s interiors cool.


July 27, 2009 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment

Eco-Friendly Alternatives To Bleach

While I am finishing up my vacation, hope you find this post from 2007 helpful in your “green” quests!

By now I am sure that most of you know that bleach is incredibly toxic to both you and the environment around you. As I have mentioned before, chlorine bleach releases dioxin, furans and other organochlorines into the air, can cause sore throats, coughs, wheezing, shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs and studies have shown a relationship between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects, and developmental/reproductive disorders. Sounds like something you should be using to wash your clothes in, right? And although the above is all true, bleach is still the chemical of choice for whiter whites…but there are alternatives that are much safer for your family that you could be using. Let’s take a look.

First up, you should look at the ingredients in whatever product you use. The following ingredients can be used in varying amounts to whiten and clean your clothes: vinegar, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, oxygen, borax, washing soda, sodium hydrosulfite (salt & water). Do not combine them all together…who knows what would happen! I just wanted to let you know that these ingredients are much safer alternatives to chlorine bleach. Hydrogen peroxide, which sounds the most dangerous of all the above, breaks down into water and oxygen in the wastewater.

Besides making your own versions of whiteners from lemon or vinegar or borax, there are several brands available that come pre-made and ready to use. They are proven to be very effective in getting your clothes whiter while being safe for use around your family.


Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Bleach – Is color safe, non-toxic, biodegradable, phosphate-free, safe for septic systems and is not tested on animals. Consists of natural oxygen safe bleach, oxygen bleach stabilizer, deionized water.


Ecover Non-Chlorine Bleach – No chlorine or optical brighteners, completely biodegradable, not tested on animals and is even approved by the Vegan Society. Consists of 100% percarbonate, which is composed of salt, limestone and oxygenated water.


Bi-O-Kleen Oxygen Bleach Plus – No chemical cold-water activators or optical brighteners, no metasilicates, borax, or caustics, chlorine and borine free.


Earth Friendly Oxo Brite Non-Chlorine Bleach – Ingredients are sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate. Free of enzymes, phosphates, chlorine, DEA and petroleum ingredients.

Of course, this post is mostly about bleach alternatives for washing your clothes, but the same type of ingredients can be used to clean your kitchen and/or bathroom. Bon Ami makes a great safe scrubber and vinegar makes a real good mold killer. So the next time you are about to pick up a bottle of bleach, do yourself a favor and try out a bleach alternative…your family and the environment will thank you!

Eco-Friendly Alternatives To Bleach. | The Good Human

July 25, 2009 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

Cash for Clunkers: Get the Best Car for Your Money with New Calculator

Magnify your government check by buying a fuel-efficient car, truck or SUV that will save you over time.

var isBlog = false; var imageUrl = “/cm/thedailygreen/images/Wl/Cash-for-clunkers-md.jpg”; var path = “/environmental-news/latest/”; var pathArray = new Array(); pathArray = path.split(‘/’); for( i = 1; i < pathArray.length; i++){ if(pathArray[i] == 'blogs'){ isBlog = true; } } if(isBlog == false && imageUrl != ""){ document.write('‘); } <!–A Cash for Clunkers program envisioned by Congress would pay up to $4,500 for scrapping a gas-guzzler like an SUV or truck, and buying a new car that isn't all that fuel-efficient. Here's how to magnify your savings.–>

When Congress approved hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out Wall Street by buying subprime mortgage derivatives and other “toxic” assets, economists and moralists worried over the “moral hazard.” Do you encourage bad behavior by saving those who have made bad decisions, and lost because of them?

When Congress passed a smaller-scale bailout for regular Americans who made a bad choice by buying a gas-guzzling SUV, truck or sports car that they don’t need, lawmakers rewarded the bad decision with a check for as much as $4,500. The reason, ostensibly, was to improve fuel economy by getting old cars off the road, but the law was written so weakly that it will still subsidize the purchase of new clunkers that get as little as 15 mpg (for a truck, 18 mpg for an SUV and 22 mpg for a car).

Granted, there are barely a dozen 2009 cars and SUVs that get 30 mpg or better, and only two (the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrid) that get better than 40 mpg — a sad enough fact. But why not subsidize those vehicles, to the exclusion of gas-guzzlers? Ford — remember Ford? that other, healthier member of the Big Three? — even makes three SUVs that get better than 30 mpg (the hybrid Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner and the Mazda Tribute).

All in all, Cash for Clunkers is clearly another bailout for automakers — who need to sell more vehicles, particularly those gas guzzlers sitting on the lot. It’s not really designed to limit pollution or gas consumption.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t trade in a clunker for a fuel-efficient vehicle, and still cash in on the government check. Now, the Sierra Club has helpfully created a Cash for Clunkers Calculator shows how to magnify your savings by simply quantifying the savings you can enjoy every year with a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Aim for the top, with a 2010 Toyota Prius, for instance, and you’ll save almost $1,500 a year on fuel costs, compared to buying a car with the minimum qualifying fuel economy (18 mpg).

First, see if your junker is clunky enough to qualify for the Cash for Clunkers program at the government’s site.

Then, use this Kelly Blue Book calculator to see if your car is worth more as a trade-in.

Then, use the Cash for Clunkers Calculator to determine the best fuel-efficient vehicle to purchase, and find dealers that sell it.

The Sierra Club adds these two nifty little bits of negotiating advice that should help you get the best deal:

  1. Talk to multiple dealers before you mention you have a guzzler to trade in. Find out which offers the best deal for your vehicle, and work with that dealership.
  2. Your guzzler will be crushed and recycled, not resold, and you will get a voucher toward the purchase of your new car. Be sure to talk to your dealer about the scrap value of your guzzler — you can apply some of the scrap value toward your purchase.

Do You Think a $4,500 Trade-in Credit for Gas Guzzlers Is a Good Idea?

Tell us by commenting below, or take the poll.


Print Cash for Clunkers: Get the Best Car for Your Money with New Calculator

July 25, 2009 at 2:31 pm Leave a comment

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