Carl Sagan can change his mind

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.  — Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP address

Succinct goal to stabilize CO2

NASA’s Gavin Schmidt quote from his comment at 10:17 in a March 7 Congressional hearing live blog:

CO2 stabilisation requires cuts of 60-70% in emissions at some point in the next few decades (and the sooner it occurs the lower the stabilised value will be). That *will* require concerted international action, which is made up of national actions. The only ethical response is to work towards building the conditions for international action.

Marine algal biodiesel in Bermuda

Marine algae paste

Marine algae paste

Just caught this April, 2010, video of Dr. Michael Lomas making biodiesel from marine algae of the Sargasso Sea.  He’s getting yield of “about 1/2 coffee cup or 4-6 oz” of concentrated (1/100th human hair mesh opening) paste from an 80 liter culture.

Still no mention of open-ocean culture.  It’s all about scaling closed incubators up by 1000x volume.

State of the algae industry

Notes from a meeting of the Northwest Biodiesel Network during which Dr. Margaret McCormick, COO of Targeted Growth Inc. (TGI), spoke about the “State of the Algae Biofuels industry”

My notes:

TGI buisiness model —

  • Increase yield w/genes
  • Camolina and algae (focus on Cyanobacteria because easier to engineer — just pour genes on!)
  • Sustainable fuels

During meeting, UW Professor Rose Anne Cattolico stood out as expert on algae
Her friend Brian had strong opinions and insights into Imperium and investment activity in the sector

Bioalgae is a local company which sent a couple reps to this meeting.

Algae Biodiesel Organization (ABO) is national organization that promotes the development of viable commercial markets for renewable and sustainable commodities derived from algae.  They have run 4 Annual Algae Biomass Summits.
Slide regarding theoretical (yet to be reached) yield of oil from algae vs other plants (in gallons/acre):

  • 2-3000 algae
  • 635 palm
  • 202 jatropha
  • 127 canola
  • 61 mustard
  • 48 soy
  • 35 cotton
  • 18 corn

Other corporations focusing on GMO:
Sapphire, algenol, solazyme

Pipeline of algae industry:

  • Biology (auto vs hetero)
  • Cultivation
  • Harvesting
  • Extraction (Cold press gets 33% of seed oil, rest w/solvents)
  • Conversion to products; examples:
    • Some corporations focusing on ethanol from algae
    • TGI jet fuel 10^5 gal production in Texas
    • Darpa funding of General Atomics to produce $2/gal jet fuel
  • Sales & distribution (likely to happen through existing infrastructure controlled by big petroleum companies)

Biofuels road map

  • 200 M$ DOE
  • USDA loan to Sapphire
  • DOD jet fuel purchase from Solazyme
  • 52 M$ Solazyme (Branson)
  • 15 Aurora biofuels
  • 30 Joule
  • PetroAlgae filed IPO

Pilots (online in next 2y):

  • Sapphire
  • Algenol/Dow ethanol cyanobact
  • Phycal  24$M hawaii sequestratn
  • 300 M$ Synthetic Genomics/Exxon
  • 300 M$ Exxon marketing
  • Solazyme

Existing projects and other players —

  • Cyanotech 93 acres HI
  • MarTec omega3/6 for babies
  • Unilever
  • Dupont
  • Lindy
  • Solix
  • Solana

The future?

  • ABO forecast 2015 — 300,500 Mgal/yr prodctn/capacity
  • 2020 Sapphire 1 Bgal/yr
  • 2015 220 in/direct jobs

Co-products —

  • Fodder, fish  (livefuel biomass)
  • C capture
  • Fertilizer
  • Chemicals
  • Neutraceuticals
  • Fresh H2O remediation
  • Food ingredients
  • Health food
  • Pharmaceuticals

Meeting announcement:

Is Algae close to being a viable commercial feedstock for the biodiesel/biofuel industry? What is the reality and what is the hype? What can we expect to see in the near future? Where is the algae industry headed? What are the environmental implications of Algae?

The NW Biodiesel Network is pleased to present John Pierce, co-founder and Board member of the Algal Biomass Organization. This organizations mission is to promote the development of viable commercial markets for renewable and sustainable commodities derived from algae. Get your questions answered! 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Phinney Neighborhood Center, 6532 Phinney Ave. North, Seattle WA 98103 (click image to the left for a map to the PNA).

Update: About Our Speaker

John F. Pierce sends his regrets, but he was called away on business on very short notice.
But in his place will be Dr. Margaret McCormick of Targeted Growth Inc..  We are very pleased to have her come present to us, and are looking forward to getting her perspective on the state of the Algae Biofuels industry!  Thank you Ms McCormick, for filling in on such short notice!

Dr. McCormick is on the Board of the Algal Biomass Organization, and has been with TGI since 2008, managing the company’s Bio-Based Materials program as well as leading various company-wide efforts including legislative and intellectual property strategy.  Prior to joining TGI, Dr. McCormick was a partner with Integra Ventures where she led Integra’s biotechnology investment strategy and its investment in TGI.  Prior to joining Integra, she was the founding president and COO of Sapphire Therapeutics (formerly Rejuvenon Corp.). Earlier in her career she was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Dr. McCormick earned a Ph.D. in Biology (with a focus on metabolic engineering) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

NASA working on algae filtering

Interesting idea (from this shareable.net article) to use a membrane suspended in water to isolate the crop, but it’s equivalent to a greenhouse in the ocean — a biofouling nightmare me thinks.

There has got to be a way to do it — sustainably farm the open HNLC expanses of ocean — with all the right analogs: organic fertilizer, crop rotation, natural biocontrols (“beneficial planktivores?”), windrows and combines, watermills and composting.

Excerpt from the Berkeley algae lab story:

LabBench

AC: What are you doing for NASA?

AB: We’re developing large-scale systems that are combining biofuel and fertilizer production with wastewater treatment and production of fresh air and fresh water. We’re using large membrane enclosures floating in bodies of water. It’s a low-energy, low-resource way of growing algae.

One budding thing of NASA technology – we’re working on a clever way of removing algae from water.

We’re focused on the biofuel aspect at NASA. For biofuel, you want a species that produces a lot of oil. Many species of algae can produce huge amounts of oil — they can be more than 50 percent oil by weight, compared to normal plants that only produce a few percent.

Algae can produce about 100 times more than typical oil plants like soybeans, on a per acre basis. You can grow enough algae to replace all of the fossil fuel in an area that’s small enough to be manageable. You don’t need to use farmland, there’s not much remaining in the world ready to be used, and you don’t need fresh water. The nice thing about algae is while they cleans water and air, they can produce very valuable things like fuel, fertilizer and food. They’re precursers for bioplastics, cosmetics and medicines.

It’s a new kind of farming, potentially very low impact and sustainable.

U Mich makes algal crude in minutes

A Wired article (thanks Mike!) that got me thinking about how much of crude oil’s energy is geologic, rather than photosynthetic.  Upon deposition of biogenic sediments, there is tectonic transport, geothermal heating, and compression in subduction zones or beneath additional deposits.  How to account for these energetic contributions?

Also, the researchers’ general approach seems sort of sloppy.  A good terrestrial farmer would harvest a crop (of plants), mechanically process it into products, and compost/recycle the “waste.”  Here the crop of algae appears to be simply cooked en mass (including with water) into crude with little analysis of how distillation or cracking would generate products from the resultant soup.  Given that we have the option of processing the crop before cooking it (which was long-missed for fossil fuels), is it more efficient to process before attempting thermo-baro-chemical transformations, or to crack apart the goo once cooked?