Jorge Chapa

POND SCUM BIOFUEL TO POWER AIRPLANES

by , 07/31/07

airplane, air new zealand, jet, biofuel, pond scum

We’ve recently featured the 787 Dreamliner airplane from Boeing, and the Ecojet prototype from Easyjet as examples of environmentally-friendlier air travel innovations. And now comes news from the beautiful land of New Zealand that its biggest airline, appropriately known as Air New Zealand, in conjunction with Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation and Boeing, is testing the waters for a new fuel made from the algae found in pond scums, which could have the capacity to reduce the entire carbon footprint of the airline industry to zero.

The process, created by Aquaflow, involves the harvesting of algae directly from any nutrient-rich settling ponds. This process is usable in many types of waste streams such as the ones created by the transport, dairy, meat and paper industries. The process works by exploiting the capacity of algae to absorb the nutrients available in the settling ponds, cleaning up the water which can then be used on other areas. The algae is then harvested and transformed into an alternative fuel source. So not only can biofuel created from this process, but is possible to clean up and reuse the waste water streams from major industries.

Air New Zealand is just one airline in the industry focused on creating alternative fuels for airplane engines. Last April, Virgin Airlines announced that it will start trialling the use of biofuels in a 747-400.

+ World first: Flying high on pond scum @ Stuff
+ Aquaflow

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21 Comments

  1. b cole October 16, 2008 at 9:08 am

    If you want to learn more about algae to jet fuel, you may want to check out this website:

    www,nationalalgaeassociation.com

  2. Bio Texan September 22, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Stinkin’ previous post cut my links off at the knees.

    This company in El Paso, Texas is just weeks away from proving their their estimates of output are correct. They are talking about 100,000 gallons of fuel produced per acre per year. This quantity far exceeds any other estimates I’ve read about in biofuel production. I believe their process makes so much sense that every effort should be made to promote their methods with every company I can find that is looking into the change from fossil fuels to biofuels.

    Please view all the videos and materials provided below.

    I appreciate you time and consideration.

    Larry Pope
    Kyle, Texas
    512-295-7476

    Company:Valcent, El Paso, TX – Watch video on page
    http://www.valcent.net/s/Ecotech.asp?ReportID=182039

    CNN Report on Valcent:UTube Video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-GpX3oJFTU&feature=related

    Local Texas TV Report:UTube Video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYURCN7o-Mk&feature=related

    Contacts: info@valcent.net
    Valcent Products Inc.

  3. That green stuff in you... October 2, 2007 at 8:07 am

    [...] read more | digg story [...]

  4. That green stuff in you... August 3, 2007 at 8:00 am

    [...] read more | digg story [...]

  5. Episode 51 - Mind Shots... August 2, 2007 at 6:33 am

    [...] Pond Scum Biofuel to Power Airplanes [...]

  6. naturcomments™ - a fi... August 1, 2007 at 9:01 am

    [...] First posted at Inhabitat.com here  [...]

  7. to the two guys who kno... July 31, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Look up cultural eutrophication on Wikipedia. Algae in mass quantities, especially downstream from waste sources (eg pig farms) is an indicator of the death of that body of water. In excess, and this happens often from human activity, algae throws the system out of balance and often wipes it out entirely.

    This doesn’t imply that taking all of the algae out of ponds and lakes to make jet fuel is a good idea, you’ve got to remember that anything in an ecosystem in too large a quantity is severely disruptive. And so before you go off and speak about how tight algae is and how we need to keep it all in the system, hold your tongue.

    From a biomass standpoint, using algae for fuel is a terrible idea, because the lifecycle of the nutrients needed to make algal blooms in those quantities is so large. That said, there exists a huge problem of excess nutrient runoff and it’d be nice to recoup some of that for productive means. With proper research and responsible action, airlines might be able to do a small bit of good. But if I thought they were going to do that, I’d be pulling a Lunsford

  8. to the two guys who kno... July 31, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    algae that appears as a result of downstream nitrogen deposits (eg pig farms) are NOT good for the environment. If found in abundance, algae is indicative of the future death of most living beings in that body of water. Look up cultural eutrophication on Wikipedia. Algae that accumulates from nitrogen actually uptakes so many nutrients that they sequester it from the rest of the organisms, destroying the ecosystem.

    This doesn’t imply that taking mass quantities of algae from ponds for jetfuel is a good idea (it’s vital to an ecosystem, in moderation). You ought to remember that too much of a good thing, in any ecosystem, is harmful. With tons of research and responsible harvesting, airlines could do some good, essentially by taking excess nutrients out of systems in the form of algal blooms. But if i thought that’d happen, I’d just be pulling a Lunsford.

  9. kerry francis July 31, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Best anything that gets us away from fossil fuels whether they be kerosen , coal or gasoline.
    The greener we are the better it will for for the enviornment.

  10. Marlin July 31, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    I think the idea might be good if the issue of agriculture runnoff can be addressed at the same time. Currently excess fertilizers are having a negative impact on fresh water by encouraging algae growth, which in turn, causes oxygen depletion. If mass quantities of algae are required for jet fuel, then the harvest of harmful algae can solve two problems at once.

  11. Vik Olliver July 31, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    “An area the size of Switzerland” says Simon. Sounds scary. But is this larger or smaller than the amount of land that will be flooded or rendered unsuitable for human habitation by global warming from aircraft?

  12. Tyler July 31, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Daniel, I wanted to share my thoughts on your comment. While I completely agree that the removal of such a large quantity of biomass would severly damage any ecosystem, we have been “harvesting” algae for many years now for uses such as waste treatment and antibiotics. If the airline companies planned on collecting all the pond scum from around the globe, this project would be destroying the very ecosystems they were trying to protect. As you said, I can only imagine the amount of pond scum needed to power all of our aviation needs. I would hope that part of this project would be to develop a system where the required algae could be produced in an artificial system.

  13. simon July 31, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    it was said in a study that so many thousands of square kilometres was required to power the whole industry, basically this area was equivalent to the size of switzerland

  14. Jim July 31, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Wow, this is great. But if a demand is created for a byproduct that is not good practice. Then the demand will drive worse behavior. Does that sound right?

  15. Shalin July 31, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Rock on! I really look forward to hearing more ideas on using algae to produce energy. One concern of mine is how much water it will take and how that will affect availability for humans and other animals/mammals of the land and sea.

    One issue with biofuels is that it requires much water… It seems better to use the waste products like corn husks or waste oil…

    –Shalin

  16. melissa July 31, 2007 at 11:05 am

    “…which could have the capacity to reduce the entire carbon footprint of the airline industry to zero.”

    Wow – any chance of using this cars? Zero is a wonderful number…

  17. Kate Andrews July 31, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Great post Jorge! What a suprising and magnificent source of fuel.

  18. Green News Roundup July 31, 2007 at 10:22 am

    [...] brings us the delightfully titled “Pond Scum Biofuel to Power Airplanes. (Hmm… I wonder if they use the leftover pond scum as an ingredient in their yummy airline [...]

  19. Daniel Lunsford July 31, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Great concept, but in practice I don’t think we’ll be seeing this. The amount of biomass that would be required to produce enough fuel for a single trans-continental flight would likely be more than all the floating algae in nearly 100 acres of pondwater. If even one or two of these planes are in existence we’ll have the problem of running out of pond scum!

    In addition, let’s remember that the pond “scum” and algae often serve an incredibly vital role in the initial treatment of wastewater and nutrient runoff. While some use of biomass is indeed valuable, I believe that there will be many unintended consequences of removing large quantities of the duckweeds, algae, etc from these ponds. These plants are primarily responsible for the uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (not to mention many types of industrial waste) that is discharged. The amount of time that it would take for a lake to recover from losing 75-90% of its plant matter could result in the organic compound concentration building up and overwhelming the remaining biomass (essentially killing the lake). Lastly, remember that the biomass accumulation assists in keeping the pondwater temperature in check. Removal of the protective layer will likely throw off the entire balance.

    Again, great in theory, but more than likely only applicable to small-scale endeavors such as powering farm equipment or single-home power production. (I.E. not flying a jumbo-jet from Florida to California and back)

    Thoughts?

    – Daniel Lunsford

  20. Michael July 31, 2007 at 9:34 am

    After nearly a century of building airlines that have polluted the entire planet, I am supposed to impressed with a 17% more efficent and “eco-friendlier” Boeing plane? What a great marketing and PR stunt for Boing! Considering the FACT that the airline industry has ABSOLUTELY NO environmental regulations in place and DOES NOT adhere to any clean-air policies worldwide DO NOT believe anything that comes out of Boeing!

    Another case of “GREEN WASHING”…

    ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing#Environmental_record

  21.   Air New Zealand ... July 31, 2007 at 3:57 am

    [...] Inhabitat. Stem op dit artikel of voeg het toe [...]

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