Vancouver, BC - International Energy, Inc. recently announced that it has entered into a collaborative research agreement for the development of new technologies for the production of biofuels derived directly from the photosynthesis of green microalgae, which can accumulate up to 30% of their biomass in the form of valuable biofuels.
As a result of high oil prices, depleting fossil oil reserves and growing concerns about increased levels of atmospherica carbon dioxide, algae have emerged as one of the most promising sources for biofuel production.
International Energy's technology seeks to convert water and carbon dioxide into useful long chain hydrocarbons from the photosynthesis of unicellular microalgae, which offer advantages in the production, storage, and utilization of renewable biofuels, as they can be harvested easily, stored in liquid form and do not require special containment systems.
The process of industrial scale algae growth in photo-bioreactors is non-toxic and non-polluting, can be scaled up, offers a renewal energy supply and aids in carbon sequestration and the mitigation of climate change.
In contrast to food crops or cellulosic materials, certain algae produce and accumulate oil naturally and can, in the process, clean up waste by absorbing and utilizing nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. Additionally, raw algae can be processed to make biofuel, the renewable equivalent of petroleum, and refined to make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and chemical feedstocks for plastics and drugs.
"Unlike ethanol from traditional fuel crops, such as corn and soybeans, which require considerable time to grow, use large amounts of herbicides and nitrogen fertilizers and consume just as much fossil fuel as the ethanol itself replaces, algae can grow in wastewater, even seawater, and requires little more than sunlight and carbon dioxide to flourish," states Mr. Harmel S. Rayat, a director of International Energy.
Mr. Rayat continues, "While each acre of corn produces around 300 gallons of ethanol each year and an acre of soybeans around 60 gallons of biodiesel, each acre of algae has been estimated to produce upwards of 5,000 gallons of biofuel annually. Also, in contrast to corn or soybeans, which are harvested once a year, algae grows considerably faster and can be harvested every few days."
Algae to Oil
Algae have the unique capability of taking a waste (zero-energy) form of carbon (CO2) and converting it into a high-density liquid form of energy (natural oil). Additionally, oil yields from algae are orders of magnitude higher than traditional oilseeds. As a result, much research has gone into using algae as a potential source of fuel and for the biological mitigation of atmospheric CO2, including the $25M program funded by the DOE at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory ("NREL").
The NREL initiative, known as the Aquatic Species Program ("ASP"), was aimed at producing biodiesel from high lipid-content algae grown in ponds, utilizing waste CO2 from coal fired power plants.
After almost two decades (from 1978 to 1996), the ASP was terminated after concluding that the requisite technology was not feasible at a time when crude-oil prices were far too low for algae to compete. A similar conclusion was reached in Japan, but only after $117 million was spent in research.
Despite these early setbacks, current relatively high oil prices, advances in genomic and proteomic technologies and the Bush administration's increased emphasis on renewable fuels have created an unprecedented opportunity for using algae as a potentially rich source of biofuels.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush set a goal of replacing 20 percent of gasoline consumption in the United States by 2017, mostly by producing 35 billion gallons of renewable fuels.
Currently, biofuels come from food crops, such as soybeans and corn, and from cellulosic materials, such as wood chips, grass, and cornstalks. Unfortunately, rising demand for food crops in order to produce ethanol is driving prices for the food crops themselves, while cellulosic materials require special processing methods, which have been demonstrated at small plants but have yet to be proved commercially.
In contrast to biofuels from food crops or cellulosic materials, certain algae produce and accumulate oil naturally. As a result, algal hydrocarbons can be utilized for not only bio-diesel fuel in internal combustion engines, for heating or electricity generation, but also can further serve as feedstock in the synthetic chemistry and pharmaceutical industries. Portions of the remaining green algal biomass can be utilized as feedstock in biodegradable polymers and for vitamin rich animal feed.
SOURCE: International Energy, Inc.