Ali Kriscenski

POWER YOUR CAR WITH ALGAE: Algae Biocrude by LiveFuels

by , 10/22/07

algae, biofuel, biocrude, LiveFuels, algae-based fuel, bio-based fuel, biodiesel, Solix, Greenfuels, NREL, US DOE, Department of Energy
Image by John MacNeill, commissioned by Solix Biofuels

If you think algae is just that green grime that dirties up your pool, think again: it’s also a surprisingly viable source for biofuel. The LiveFuels Alliance, funded by LiveFuels Inc based in Menlo Park, CA, is tapping into the oil producing potential of algae with an ambitious initiative to replace millions of gallons of fossil fuels with algae-based biocrude by 2010.



algae, biofuel, biocrude, LiveFuels, algae-based fuel, bio-based fuel, biodiesel, Solix, Greenfuels, NREL, US DOE, Department of Energy

While several companies like Algae BioFuels and Greenfuels and Solix Biofuels are working on algae cultivation research for biofuel, the LiveFuels Alliance differs in that it is a national initiative. Lead by Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory, the collaborative will sponsor dozens of labs and hundreds of scientists within the next three years making it the largest endeavor focused on commercial biocrude from algae.

The current research builds off of a U.S. Department of Energy funded study that ran from 1978-1996. Through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the 18-year-long ‘Aquatic Species Program’ focused on high-oil algae cultivation for biodiesel. At the time the program was canceled, algae was competing against low oil prices. However, surging oil prices and advances in biotech over the past decade have refueled the algae biocrude race. LiveFuels aims to infuse U.S.-based research and refine the processes to increase algae oil production at competitive prices.

The scientists involved in the LiveFuels project are focusing on specialized aspects of the algae-to-biocrude process. Some are breeding algae to find the best high-fat strains, others are refining the fat and oil extraction process and others still are developing cost-effective harvesting techniques. The biggest challenge is to make algae biocrude within a fraction of the time that nature’s biomass decomposition occurs and to do it economically, for less than $60 a barrel.

The process of extracting oil from algae is basically the same as other biofuel technology. However, algae doesn’t require prime agricultural land and has a potential yield that far exceeds other renewable sources. For instance, algae yields 10-200% more oil per acre than soy which produces about 117 gallons of oil per acre. Another perk is that under the right conditions algae grows rapidly. It’s also non-toxic, biodegradable and can be grown in fresh, brackish or wastewater.

Theoretically, algae can yield between 1,000 to 20,000 gallons of oil per acre, depending on the specific strain. The potential yield from 20 – 40 million acres of marginal land in the U.S. could produce enough algae to replace imported oil and leave 450 millions acres of current farmland for use as food crops. Turning that potential into a domestically-grown reality is the goal of the LiveFuels Alliance.

+ LiveFuels
+ Sandia National Laboratories
+ DOE NREL Aquatic Species Program: Biodiesel from Algae (PDF)

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45 Comments

  1. Luis Aponte January 31, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    As my favorite form of alternative fuel, I would be very interested in taking a tour of this place in person. Is that a possibility?

    Sincerely,
    Luis Aponte, author of “Death of a Gas Guzzler: A Controversial Approach to Reducing Foreign Oil Dependence”

  2. loomy1990 May 28, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I’m a Motorsport Engineering student and doing a project on the different fuels and I say that Algae is the way forward. It shows may qualities and benefits that will see the internal combustion engine keep on living rather than converting to electric motors which are crap anyway. People have been saying it’s coming too late and that it will only be for a niche market but it isn’t too late due to the fact that they still have to perfect these electric cars for the range that they last on one charge. Along with that can anybody see fully electric F1 cars, I can’t, the whole point of motorsport is for the speed, sound and the smell of burning rubber.

    So my verdict: Electric BAD, Algae AWESOME!!!!!

  3. Moghead88 February 20, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Hey- any of you interested in getting together and trying to actually do this? I am a business student and driven to see great things happen so if we can do this and make it work we can start our own algae fuel refinery and lobby to begin having our own algae stations everywhere in America. I’m from Pennsylvania hit me up at moghead88@gmail.com

  4. 5161440 March 13, 2010 at 6:36 am

    Hi,
    m afzaal and m bsc chemical engg. final yr student.
    m now a days working on thesis of production of bio-diesel from algae.
    i need ur help in this;
    can u pls send me the data regarding followin;
    - how many processes which are used in different industries to produce bio-diesel from algae including ur process discription.and which is most ecominal method in all of these?
    -2nd one is the total cost involed in process(including capital cost,algae production cost,oil process into algae cost,martket,advertising and texes)
    i wll be very thank full to u
    wll wait for ur response;
    God bless u;
    regards;
    afzaal
    00923345104098

  5. Eclipse Now Eclipse Now December 31, 2009 at 12:26 am

    The internal combustion engine is just SO energy inefficient it is a crime to promote all the extra work algae production for cars would be. Scientific American recently ran a piece on getting off oil in 20 years. They concluded that with economic growth we’d need 16TW energy per year, but that would only be 11TW if most of our transport energy came from electric systems of transport! That’s less than today’s world energy consumption!

    ELECTRIC transport is the *most energy efficient, most “green”* form of transport energy possible, and trolley-bus systems are 5 times cheaper than trams, which also encourage New Urbanism which is even better!

  6. Eclipse Now Eclipse Now December 31, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Algae has severe nutrient, water, and refining problems that will limit its ability to compete with the Better Place electric car international battery-swap standards that are being installed in Canberra, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Israel.

    Algae is too little too late. It might one day help keep *some* of us flying in jets, but my bet for future transport is electric cars, fast rail for intercity transport (which is often quicker than airlines as well) and trolley-buses for inner city public transit.

    It will be interesting to see which form of ELECTRICITY runs most of our transport: Baseload renewables like solar thermal or CETO wavepower, or Generation 3 nuclear reactors that can ‘eat’ radiactive waste from old Gen1 & Gen2 reactors. (Nuclear waste from older reactors becomes a FUEL RESOURCE that could power the WHOLE WORLD’s energy needs for 700 years! ‘Burning’ it again in Gen3 reactors ends up making the waste so hot it safe within 500 years after use. No storing fuel for 100 thousand years!)

    So algae fuel will probably be a niche energy market grown from local county sewerage waste waters and nutrients, in local areas that will supply local fuels for what remains of the airline industry in a post peak-oil world. This will require some sort of county-planning waste water to energy corporation venture, but such things will no doubt be worked out in a big hurry in a post-peak world of $350 dollar a barrel oil.

  7. JocsanAxel August 11, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Hi! I`m marine biology also! from BCS. MX
    First, you need, know what kinds of species produce in body percentage more of fats!
    Isolate and cultivate them! in ideal conditions! (is different for each organism)
    Then exist different types of methods for extraction and process these fats!

    For people that usually work with microalgae is easy know this!
    Lucky! Bye!

    More doubts!
    negaprion21@gmail.com

  8. emilio lopez December 14, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    hello: i am student biology and i want know how many types of species may cause biodisel?

  9. catmichelle November 6, 2008 at 7:48 am

    im still confused about the CO2 issue
    i know it eats alot of CO2 during its growth
    but what about its conversion to oil isnt it still releasing CO2
    and what its use in cars
    doesnt it require something to be done to the car before it can be used and can the fuel operate at different temperatures

  10. michel October 19, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    I think that algae will be the way to go with regards to alternative fuels.

  11. puffin101 May 8, 2008 at 11:26 am

    A conceptual design to produce about 130 gal. a month could use rather primitive manual methods and still provide most to the needs for transportation for a family. If done as an open source project a lot of hands on research would soon refine and improve the process. This blog could be the spark for such a group effort.

  12. b cole February 20, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    National Algae Association

    Algae: The Next Biofuel

    Inaugural

    Algae Commercialization
    Business Plan and Networking Forum

    April 10, 2008

    http://www.nationalalgaeassociation.com

  13. randy February 20, 2008 at 12:47 am

    The ideal solution would be to develope an algae that can both produce fuel and clean and process sewage and wastewater. Don’t see why it can’t be done.

  14. bcohen January 26, 2008 at 10:31 am

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    National Algae Association
    4747 Research Forest Dr., Suite 180
    The Woodlands, Texas 77381
    inquiries@nationalalgaeassociation.com

    National Algae Association, The Woodlands, Texas
    (February 1, 2008)

    Announces the opening of its new headquarters serving all areas of the Algae industry.

    Algae researchers and producers can come together to exchange ideas concerning the latest developments in Algae production and the products made from Algae. The Association provides an open exchange forum for the publishing of technical papers and the announcement of the results of research into the latest Algae related technologies. The Association also supports discussion and development of new markets that take advantage of the tremendous potential of Algae, not only as a source of renewable energy, but also in the exploration and development of other markets for algae products, such as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers.

    For more information contact: inquiries@nationalalgaeassociation.com or 936.321.1125

  15. Harry January 6, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Pump the sunlight through fiberoptics and build closed system bioreactors that go skyward instead of spread out across the land. Closed bioreactors keep unwanted species from outcompeting the designer algae.

  16. Laak November 26, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    This would be a great system for alternative energy on all scales, which is what makes it could make it powerful.
    A module that can be built on huge industrial level, and in the home grown backyard market is really what has potential.

    how exactly do the last few steps work?

  17. Biofuels a Threat to Hu... October 29, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    [...] no sugar content which is what makes the ethanol although you could use algae and get biodiesel. Inhabitat POWER YOUR CAR WITH ALGAE: Algae Biocrude by LiveFuels Of course you could use the algae to scrub the CO2 from power plant exhausts before you make your [...]

  18. Raja Roux October 27, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    I remember, sometime in the 80′s I think, a 4/6 inch spiral transparent tube wound 6/8 foot high and 4/6 foot diameter, destined for the ‘back yard’ market. A slow flow through the tube for growth then the mature algae is dried and powdered and burned in the engine as a fine powder. Maybe, instead of powder, we could run a distiller in the centre. Oops, it’s already way too complicated for my back yard!

  19. Wineman October 26, 2007 at 9:49 am

    Raja Roux Says:
    Who is going to produce the first DIY kit for my back yard?

    They do… $60,000and you can have the small one delivered next month. Some assembly required.

  20. nathan October 25, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Raja Roux Says:
    Who is going to produce the first DIY kit for my back yard?

    If only that were true. Someone has to get the early subsidies to really research it, and those will mostly go to the research arms of larger companies. Those same companies are the ones currently accepting subsidies so that they can make a profit on the (as of yet) economically non-viable ethanol and soy-diesel they are producing. They will perfect the system, figure out how to make it viable, and begin producing it on a large scale. They won’t bother to stop accepting subsidies to help their own bottom line. Most of us who have room for this in our backyards won’t have the capital to get started, and the distribution channels will already be owned by the major corporate producers.

    The worst part of this whole thing? The companies who are getting these subsidies and starting biofuel production facilities are subsidiaries of the “Big Oil” companies. (They no longer call themselves Oil companies; they are Energy companies now.) They don’t care if you burn biofuel instead of oil, they make money either way. They might even make more. And they don’t care if farmland is lost to producing food that the world needs, because they are getting richer.

  21. Raja Roux October 25, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Who is going to produce the first DIY kit for my back yard?

  22. Steve October 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    In response to anna:
    **************************************************************************************
    better to use algae to create hydrogen (different strains can do this), which doesn’t release any CO2 unlike oil (from any source).
    **************************************************************************************

    Not exactly. Algae biofuel would be CO2 neutral because the algae would use a lot of CO2 via photosyhthesis in order to produce the fuel.

    Someone also asked “what solvent and where does it go.” In most cases the solvents are recaptured so that they can be used again and are not allowed to freely escape.

  23. Wineman October 25, 2007 at 9:49 am

    development of a bacteria or a yeast to separate the oils and sugars from the algae would be better and cheaper than a solvent.

  24. Wineman October 25, 2007 at 9:46 am

    The system shown above is a model for a modular design build. Meaning it can be as big a faculity as you want to add modules. Got more money, add more modules. It is proposed not built yet. The system is a closed loop system, no water is lost to evaporation because it’s contained in 10″ clear piping. Algae doubles in 24-48 hrs provided enough feed stocks, which by the way the major part is CO2, which you reclaim in mass from the local power plant, one in each town and usually coal fired. Grow the algae, squeeze it into a moist/dry cake, extract the oils and refine. The theoretical yield is 5-10,000 gallons per acre per year. Nothing to sneeze at. How many sand farmers do you know? How many of them make $10,000 per acre of sand per year, assuming a $1.00 per gal profit? The major issues right now are not the system or the algae, but the method of extracting the oils and sugars present from the mass. That’s where they’re at right now.

  25. Naomi October 24, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Reading so many of these postings… reminded me again of how many alternative energy technologies there were on the fast track back in the 70s that were “mothballed” simply because the oil prices went down again.

    I bet we wouldn’t be in this literal race for our very survival as a species, if we had just kept on developing and refining all of these various alternatives. And fear that this short-sightedness may result in the end of us.

    I believe in the genius of human-kind, I really do… but fear that the time is so alarmingly short for stopping this runaway train of climate change. And I write this as Southern California burns, btw.

  26. RBoyd October 24, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Joe says that the photo can’t have been taken in the desert because there are too many clouds in the sky. Here’s some news for you, Joe: deserts get cloudy too.

  27. A. G. Walker October 23, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Interesting idea. Quaere: are we feeding cars, etc., rather than feeding people? I know that some algae can be a source of essential Omega 3s usually found in fish (BHA) – necessary for proper brain function. For those concerned about depleted stocks, concentrations of heavy metals in fish, or for those who choose not to eat fish, this is important. Might even be a good additive to put into mass-produced food. Perhaps the BHAs could be extracted somewhere in the process? …assuming the process otherwise viable/sustainable, etc…. Think we must be trying to find processes that address more than one problem if we’re ever to have anything to pass on to future generations.

  28. Joe October 23, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    In response to:
    **************************************************************************************
    RBoyd Says:

    October 22nd, 2007 at 11:59 am
    Based on the photograph, this facility appears to be located in the desert.
    **************************************************************************************

    For starters, it obviously isn’t in a desert because there are way too many clouds in the sky. The article says that this location is in Menlo Park, California, so I Google it. Turns out it is on the same peninsula as San Francisco. That means IT IS SURROUNDED ON THREE SIDES BY WATER, It’s less than a mile from the San Francisco Bay, and there is plenty of agriculture in that region. Also, they are most likely COVERED to prevent evaporation and contamination from other organisms who would love to live in the medium for these algae.

    Please do not call something “short-sighted” if you yourself are not going to actually look at the picture as a whole yourself. This is a great idea and I wish them the best of luck with their attempt to keep our pathetic species alive before we kill the whole planet with our stupidity.

  29. More About Wonderful Al... October 23, 2007 at 10:32 am

    [...] has a post about how algae is being converted into crude biofuel. The scientists involved in the LiveFuels project are focusing on specialized aspects of the [...]

  30. Steven October 23, 2007 at 8:24 am

    If the algae’s in glass tanks or the like, evaporation should be close to negligible.

  31. anna October 23, 2007 at 8:14 am

    better to use algae to create hydrogen (different strains can do this), which doesn’t release any CO2 unlike oil (from any source).

    there is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere, we can’t add any more even if it is ‘carbon neutral’ we need to be looking at things that are carbon positive, i.e., that suck up more CO2 or other greenhouse gas, than they produce.

    but hydrogen from algae to power fuel cells would be brilliant.

  32. Remi October 23, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Very cool!

  33. October 22, 2007 at 11:45 pm

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

  34. Russell October 22, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    I have enough of algae in my back yard pond that I can donate to the cause…Help your selves.

  35. rasheman October 22, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    The perfect place for this would be the surface of the moon someday.

  36. Ryan October 22, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    People have had concrete ideas about using algae as a biofuel to replace oil since the 1970′s. They said with their ideas at the time it was possible then, and it most definitely is more than possible now.

  37. Rob October 22, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    One of the advantages of several strains of algae is that they can be grown in salt water. Some of the biodiesel proposals call for piping large amounts seawater to the desert where land is cheap and sun is plentiful. There are a few stumbling blocks. First open algae ponds tend to become contaminated with less desirable algae varieties and loose efficiency. Second, most existing approaches don’t take the process from beginning to end. The last part appears to be more difficult than described.

    This research is worth doing, while the current goal is $60 a barrel, many analysts are predicting prices over $100 dollar a barrel for crude oil next year!

  38. b0gart October 22, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I think the solvent comines with the sugar molecules to make — *COTTON CANDY!!* Everybody wins! It’s a cotton candy party!

  39. laser eye surgery scott... October 22, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    This technology is all still kind of in it’s infancy, but man is it taking off. The cool thing is that using biofuels in made for existing vehicles capitalizes on a hundred years of R&D that went into those cars. Now if more companies would get it together to sell really cheap, efficient, diesel economy cars in the us to couple with this technology we might be looking at a very viable alternative to fossil fuel

  40. carole October 22, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    very cool idea, I’m just wondering what the solvent is, and where the evaporated solvent goes…

  41. b0gart October 22, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    The location is not “just plain silly”.
    It is the perpect location. It is the reason that this technology is such a better solution compared to corn and soy ethanol.
    Ethanol requires prime agricultural land that is needed for food production. There is not enough farmable land in the us to meet our oil producing needs with corn and/or soy, even if we turned over our entire food producing land and farmed out farming to China.
    The promise of algae is that it can be located anywhere that gets lots of sun. No rain or soil requirements. Just truck (and,eventually, pipe in) waste water from neighboring cities and towns.
    The wastwater is used to fill clear bags which the algae eventually grows in. The use of the bags keeps evaporation to a level that it’s not an issue. The bags require LOTS of sun and periodic rotations which could be operated mechaniclly using wind power. Picture in your mind a hot, sunny, windy, godforsaken desert-like most of nevada, for instance.
    wer

  42. Asa October 22, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Dear RBoyd
    I dont think you have to divert any more water then we do for curent agriculture. Sure it requires water but we dont have to produce the entire supply in one area in one fell swoop. Also with global warming and the increaseing presence of water vapor in the air we might be able o farm it from the sky! And we dont have to build it in a dessert either. that would be plain silly. Use your imagination, please. Assuming local requirements one could foreseably see small scale operations run locally to meet demand. Considering that within 50 miles of the ocean you have a huge percentage of the population living. Then ocean based farms could be viable as well as others. Also at this point us your head, if you have to clean up an alge spill or an oil spill, which one can you want to do? the amoutn o energy we exude now to bring the oil from far off places to the places its consimed are astronomical. Have you seen the size of oil tankers, the steel they are made with, the refineries these behomoths of piping and fumes and consumers of electrical power to boot! If you want to debate the consumption and mis-use of raw materials in correlation to end product, bring it on.

  43. Ben N October 22, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Is that an actual photograph?

    Algae can probably grow off of treated wastewater, and there’s plenty of that to go around, especially since algae isn’t a food crop.

    Also note the “separation of fats from sugars”: the sugars can be processed to make ethanol! Technology is gradually moving towards towards the advent of biorefineries, the plant equivalent of oil refineries, capable of receiving a variable feedstock and producing a variety of desirable products.

  44. RBoyd October 22, 2007 at 11:59 am

    Based on the photograph, this facility appears to be located in the desert. So my first question is: WHERE DOES ALL THE WATER COME FROM?

    Does it make sense to grow algea in a desert? Assuming that the water is being transported from far-away lakes and diverted rivers, how much energy is being used to water the algea? And what about the costs born by our natural environenment by diverting all that water and depleting the ground-water reserves? Furthermore, building vast ponds in a desert makes even less sense when one considers that the rate of water evaporation must be astounding – thereby requiring that even MORE water be diverted and transported….

    All in all, this idea strikes me as being incredibly short-sighted! The cure seems to be much worse than the illness!

  45. My Personal “Keep... October 22, 2007 at 4:13 am

    [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptIf you think algae is just that green grime that dirties up your pool, think again: it’s also a surprisingly viable source for biofuel. The LiveFuels Alliance, funded by LiveFuels Inc based in Menlo Park, CA, is tapping into the oil … [...]

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