Biofuels Digest ran a long article last week covering most if not all the leaders in algae to fuel production. The lead for the article is the government of Mexico has announced it will support project work to yield 1% of the country’s jet fuel by 2015. OriginOil is the first to sign up.
Origin’s CEO Riggs Eckelberry said, “By the end of this decade, the project must produce nearly twenty times that amount, propelling Mexico to the front rank of bio-fuel producing nations.”
Mexico’s Economy Ministry provided a grant through The National Council for Science and Technology for its first site. The project operator is Genesis Ventures of Ensenada, Baja California. Genesis will develop the site as a model for numerous additional projects to be co-located with large CO2 sources.
Ensenada’s Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education will operate the Genesis site. Genesis will also invite University of Baja California algae researchers to collaborate in the project.
The commonly identified problems, growing stable algal cultures, finding strains that have the most optimal combinations of lipids, carbs and proteins, an economically viable system of harvesting, getting the algae out of the water or the water out of the algae, and finding sustainable and affordable sources of nutrients and CO2 are still on everyone’s mid.
Then there are the eternal bugaboos, sources of water, CO2 in better than atmospheric concentrations, and – Money, great wads of it.
Article author Jim Lane detours out from the basics with a long critical quote that opens the door for the target, Algenol to respond. Algenol is a firm going for algae direct to fermentation of ethanol. That target solves the major separation of water and algae problem and take the firm direct to revenue. Algenol hopes to hit ethanol sales prices at about $1 per gallon – if they do, and sell into a $2.40+ market they’ll do very well. Algenol is definitely worth a look. It just might complicate the biomass to ethanol effort is a very unpleasant price structure for competitors.
Page two of the article looks at some algae leaders each with longer synopsis than the truncation offered here. If algae is an interest, page two is a must read.
First up, Sapphire Energy. These guys are researching the whole production chain with 230 patents or applications in hand. They’re confident too, projecting they’ll be at 1 billion gallons in the 2020 decade.
Next is Solzyme, a familiar name because of the promotional work on the products already offered instead of the process. Solazyme has a lot of good partners; it expects to have its Initial Public Stock Offering by April 1st of 2011, not far off. The odd thing about Solazyme is they grow heterotrophic algae, the ones that don’t need sunlight. With production contracts in hand from the U.S. Department of Defense, Solazyme is the most real of the companies, already competing.
Joule, the firm of great press releases last year, estimates of 15,000 gallons per acre, bugs happy with fresh, salt or brackist water, and the ‘Solar Converter’, is now operating a pilot plant in Leander, Texas. They say they have demonstrated proof of concept on 10 renewable chemicals back in the lab they describe as “blendstock for end products. Joule offers disruptive technology, scalable to commercial size, competitive with a $30 per barrel price, and patent protected technology. It’s an investors dream and it’s too late to get in early.
Aurora Algae comes next. Aurora seems the oddest of the lot with an optimized strain of pale green, salt-water algae, lighter in color than wild-type algae. That allows deeper penetration of sunlight, thereby extending the zone for algae reproduction and increasing yield. The product line isn’t primarily fuel, though. Aurora is shooting for proprietary algae products, including high concentration eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA Omega-3 fatty acids), high-density proteins, fishmeal and biodiesel. The Aurora commercial production facility in northwestern Australia should be built and setting up as you read this.
More Algenol Biofuels news –Algenol and Dow Chemical are building a $50 million pilot algae biofuels plant in Freeport, Texas. The plant will be located with Dow’s existing chemicals complex that supplies the CO2 as well as land for the pilot algae facility. Dow said that it was interested in Algenol’s ability to use algae to produce ethanol, which could be used as a base for making ethylene, which is in turn a feedstock for many types of chemicals. At a cost between $1 and $1.25 Algenol could have a commercial base to leap from quite soon.
PetroAlgae doesn’t actually use algae – they’re working on duckweed, a tiny flowering plant in a drive to protein and biocrude. PetroAlgae is already setup for animal feed and human protein concentrates. The ‘pilot’, if it can be called that at 12,500 acres, is said to produce 60 million gallons of fuel and protein revenue of about the same value.
OriginOil’s main business is in the systems, focusing on commercializing its industry leading algae extraction technology platform. This new single focus on extracting oil from algae strategically positions the company to provide the critical connection between algae growers and refiners. In a collaboration such as Mexico is setting up, OriginOil is a natural fit and likely, essential.
Phycal is going where the oil price is high – Hawaii, because Hawaii generates electricity primarily with oil the competitive bar is high.
The NAABB consortium, with $44 million U.S. taxpayer dollars in hand, a very long list of collaborators has been setting up for over a year. A bureaucratic device, what happens, one hopes, is at least some of the money is spent on research that makes it back to the industry and economy. Time will tell, one does wonder what the cash burn rate there might be.
Photon8 is facing straight into the “photobioreactor systems aren’t economic” wind. The company’s model suggests a reactor producing 1.5 gallons per square meter per year going to nearly 10,000 gallons per acre at perhaps $1.25 per gallon. Photon8 also is said to have a bug the produces hydrocarbons – no refining needed.
The UK’s Carbon Trust might be on hold. The latest UK budget has a 40% cut for the Carbon Trust now.
There are others. Put your favorites in the comments. If you have a link, it will be held up until moderated. I’ll put through all the ones that are related.
Algae looks a lot better than many would expect from all the quiet and difficulties. In fact though, Algenol and Joule are using cyanobacteria, and Solazyme is using microalgae. Algae for biofuel is getting a to be a label more than a description of the species. But, does that really matter?