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GreenFuel experimented with growing algae in tubes and bags at its Arizona pilot farm. While most of its competitors are sticking to these methods, GreenFuels has developed a closely-guarded greenhouse technologies which grows algae at higher yields and an automated system to harvest the crop. It will be debutting this setup at a commercial scale plant in Spain, to be complete in 2011.  (Source: PetroAlgae)
Algae company's harvest will make biodiesel, nutritious livestock feed

Many in the alternative fuels industry agree that algae is where the mid-range future of the biodiesel industry lies.  While fuels such as ethanol and cellulosic ethanol may prevail in the short term, algae is seen as the final stepping stone before full synthetic gasoline production.  This value is due to algae's ability to grow rich long chain hydrocarbons.  When algae is genetically engineered, it can produce large amounts of oil that is essentially diesel grade. 

The big question with algae tech is not whether it will arrive, but when it will arrive.  DailyTech had previously followed Cambridge, Mass. based GreenFuel Technologies' effort to bring its specially bred algae to the market.  The company, founded by MIT graduates, had built a pilot farm in Arizona, previously.  By growing algae in tubes, it found that algae would get optimal sun exposure.  Its only problem was that it grew too much algae, blocking out light, and eventually killing part of the crop.

Now GreenFuel is taking its experience and has become the first algae company to announce a profitable business deal and the construction of a commercial scale growth facility.   Spain's Aurantia, a leading alternative energy investment firm, has agreed to pay GreenFuels $92M to build a 100 hectacre (250 acre) algae farm.  The farm will produce 25,000 tons of biomass yearly.

GreenFuel, which recently celebrated its 7th anniversary, already has a 100 square-meter prototype greenhouse operating at the site in Spain.  GreenFuel ditched the growing tubes, opting for a top-secret tubeless proprietary growing process, one which includes automated harvesting.  Thus far the company has declined to reveal the secretive workings of this new design.

It has, however, announced its intention to scale the production up quickly.  It plans to have a 1,000 square-meter installation online by the end of the year.  The full farm is scheduled to be completed by 2011. 

The plant will take carbon dioxide emissions from the nearby Holcim cement plant near Jerez, Spain and use it to increase algae yields.  This will cut down on Holcim cement plant near Jerez, Spain, almost 10 percent of the factory's output.  This will help the factory meet tougher emissions standards.

The developers are in the process of selecting which strains of algae to grow.  Certain strains are optimized for biodiesel production; bred to produce extra oil.  Other strains produce extra nutrients like protein and make for more nutritious animal feed.

CEO Simon Upfill-Brown acknowledges that the field is full of overly optimistic visions, but insists his company is firmly grounded in reality and a series of successful trials.  He states, "Some people are making clearly outrageous claims. We're at the stage where we can say we are pretty comfortable and very optimistic that we're getting all the way there in phases."

One trouble spot for the upcoming farm is falling gas prices.  With gas low, it may be harder for the farm's biodiesel production to be economically competitive.  This was cited as the resaon for rival Imperium Renewables' delay of its plan to launch a smaller algae farm in Hawaii.

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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled least partial fail...
By Motoman on 10/21/2008 11:27:36 AM , Rating: 2
So I applaud the technology and techniques in use...certainly we need to get to a renewable source of vehicle fuels.

I am both intrigued and dismayed at the same time about putting these "farms" in the desert...first, you're not taking over arable land that *should* be used for growing food, which is good. Secondly, you're not clear-cutting forest or other valuable natural resources to create new farmland, which is also good. you've got to pump water out to the middle of the desert - where there already isn't enough water, and places like Phoenix and Las Vegas are quickly demonstrating the folly of trying to supply water to desert locales. And I supposed there's a desert tortoise or something around there that gets displaced too, so on and so forth, so you're going to get the hippies all frothy again.

It has always been my position that any renewable fuel made from plant matter needs to meet 2 basic criteria - it doesn't require a dedicated crop, and it has a positive energy ratio (output produces more energy than it took to produce it). The first of these criteria is to ensure we aren't diverting food crops to fuel, and that we aren't clearcutting to create new farmland. The second is to ensure that it's an equitable energy transaction.

The algae farm thing kind of sort of doesn't violate the first criteria - but it kind of sort of does. It's impact is, I'm sure, a lot smaller than taking over existing corn fields or clearcutting more rainforest, but it's not exactly ideal either. I'll give them the second criteria at the moment, unless I hear otherwise.

How would you do the algae thing ideally? Well, obviously algae grows naturally in darn near any body of water. So, build plants by big lakes? Harvest from many lakes and transport to a facility? Naturally-occuring algae may not be as fit for purpose anyway. And if you harvest from a natural lake, you're upsetting the ecosystem there (except in extreme cases of runaway algal growth). color me conflicted I guess. Where's my fuel-from-poulty-offal plant at?

RE: least partial fail...
By InvertMe on 10/21/2008 11:34:25 AM , Rating: 2
quote: you've got to pump water out to the middle of the desert - where there already isn't enough water, and places like Phoenix and Las Vegas are quickly demonstrating the folly of trying to supply water to desert locales.

There is a big differnce here though. This water doesn't need to be potable. You can use waste water which I am sure there are many sources of that. I am thinking this would make the whole irrigation process cheaper and maybe even profitable if people are paying you to take contaminated water away.

RE: least partial fail...
By Proteusza on 10/21/2008 11:39:58 AM , Rating: 2
and it has a positive energy ratio (output produces more energy than it took to produce it).

Remember that its actually impossible to create energy, but at best you could hope that most of the energy comes from the sun. Certainly you would probably have to feed energy into this system in order for it to convert molecules into oil, hopefully that energy is mostly provided by the sun.

By theapparition on 10/21/2008 3:16:42 PM , Rating: 2
His point was perfectly clear.

No, you can't create energy. But fuels by denfinition store energy. A positive net energy fuel takes less energy to liberate the stored energy. Negative is the reverse.

Water is a perfect example of a positive energy fuel. It takes more energy to liberate hydrogen than you'll ever get from burning that hydrogen. Net affect.....pretty much a waste of time.

I'm not big on bio-fuels, but hopefully, this will show some promise.

RE: least partial fail...
By Aragonphx on 10/21/2008 11:51:58 AM , Rating: 2
I had to reply to this. You don't know anything about the water supply in Phoenix and just assume because it is a desert that we don't have enough water when that could not be farther from the truth. Phoenix is planning for a 100 year supply under conditions of significant growth, long term drought, and global climate change.
Phoenix recycles in some form 90 percent of its wastewater, delivering it for use in agriculture, energy production, urban irrigation, aquifer recharge and riparian wetland maintenance.

RE: least partial fail...
By bhieb on 10/21/2008 12:27:57 PM , Rating: 2
Think you missed the point. It is not that Phoenix does not have enough water or that they don't do a good job of recycling it (in fact far better than most). However artificially irrigating a desert is not a good use of fresh water. Even if you recycle 100% of waste water the dry air evaporates far more than you think.

Irrigation in a desert environment is basically creating a micro ecosystem that should not exist. This is done purely for the comfort/convenience of humans. Not that it is bad and I love LV and Pheonix, just an inefficient use of resources.

Just fly over Lake Meade and look at the water line if you think recycling plans are keeping up with growth. I don't think it will ever run dry, but it is certainly struggling to keep up until growth slows down.

RE: least partial fail...
By walk2k on 10/21/2008 1:12:52 PM , Rating: 3

Because GreenFuel’s algae farm is a closed system, overall water use is minimal and evaporation losses are limited.

RE: least partial fail...
By bhieb on 10/21/2008 1:22:09 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed, but I was referring to the concept of irrigating Phoenix/LV not this project. Hence the response to the poster about Phoenix.

I apologize if I gave the impression that a closed system would not be effective, obviously it can be much more efficient. This project certainly looks like the best compromise for bio fuel, very little environmental impact and as long as the output > input then cover the Sahara with em.

RE: least partial fail...
By Reflex on 10/21/2008 7:41:37 PM , Rating: 3
One thing here is the concept that deserts are 'wasted' land. They are just as essential globally as rain forests, tundra or arable farmland. They simply serve a different purpose.

In an ideal scenerio, algae production is distributed regionally to avoid transportation waste. No single land type should be abused. Whether or not one is useful for farms is not a measure of whether or not it is a necessary part of the biosphere.

RE: least partial fail...
By Spuke on 10/21/2008 2:00:03 PM , Rating: 2
Even if you recycle 100% of waste water the dry air evaporates far more than you think.
If you recycle 100% of waste water then there is no evaporation of waste water.

RE: least partial fail...
By bhieb on 10/21/2008 2:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
I assume when he said Phoenix recyles 90% of its waste water. He meant waste water (run off, sewage, grey water..), and not evaporated water since I doubt Phoenix has a way to capture that.

But since this project is a closed loop it obviously is not the same.

RE: least partial fail...
By FITCamaro on 10/21/2008 12:38:14 PM , Rating: 1
This system largely reuses a lot of the water involved in the process. So its way better than ethanol which wastes an obscene amount of water for nothing.

RE: least partial fail...
By walk2k on 10/21/2008 1:04:44 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe you should read the FAQ before you pretend to internet-know so much about the process.

Also I found this particularly entertaining:
output produces more energy than it took to produce it
Uh yeah, just change the first law of thermodynamics, sure we'll get right on that.

RE: least partial fail...
By bhieb on 10/21/2008 1:35:22 PM , Rating: 1
Why are you so hostile, take a deep breath and relax. He wasn't pretending to know everything. Just the opposite most of his comment was presented as questions open for debate/comment (weird place for it too huh in the comments section /sarcasm). He simply stated a concern about the logistics involved in irrigation in a desert environment.

A simple "according to the FAQ" it is a closed system would have sufficed you don't have to be a prick.

Very few people read every link to every outside source on every page. In fact you don't or you would not be back here so soon trolling around, because I'm sure there are links on that, by your standard you should read and links on those sub pages that you should read, and links on those sub sub pages you should read. So follow your own advice and we'll see you back in 200 years or so when your done with all that.

By ChronoReverse on 10/21/2008 1:37:30 PM , Rating: 2
Taken out of context it does sound absurd but the energy input is obvious the human factor whereas the energy we get out is acquired from the Sun. This is, after all, basically a method to harvest solar energy.

RE: least partial fail...
By Jim28 on 10/21/2008 2:27:39 PM , Rating: 2
Don't be such a tool!

All and I mean all of our current energy production methods harvest more energy from those processes than it took to establish those processes. (Otherwise economical power generation is not possible.) Obviously energy is not created. However if you put in more/equal energy into a process in order to release the potential energy of the fuel in the resultant reaction, then you have achieved nothing.

I will try laymans terms so you can get it. If a power plant generates 100MW, but in turn requires 90MW to function, then it does not make sense. A typical desired ratio is at least 2/1 output/input more desireable of course is 5/1 and 10/1. I forgot the actual numbers for typical processes today. Been a long time since my thermo classes. To be honest I don't miss thermo!

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