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Posts Tagged ‘biofuels

New Firm to Develop Algae-Based Fuel

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A new company called AXI, LLC is looking to develop next-generation algae that makes the production of biodiesel more economical. Specifically, the company looks to algae as

[having] the potential for producing vast quantities of biostock for conversion into biofuels for transportation and heating. Our proprietary methodology for developing specific growth and productivity traits will help any algae production system improve its output of inexpensive, oil-rich algae as the raw material for the production of biofuel.

Further information about the company, as seen on AXI’s company profile is as follows:

AXI is a University of Washington spin-out Company created in partnership with the founders, the University and Allied Minds, Inc.  Allied Minds is a seed investment company creating partnerships with key Universities to fund corporate spin-offs resulting from successful early stage technology research.

This is interesting, as I have documented that algae may be one of the most promising “alternative” energy source in development (see prior posts “Algae Based Biofuels Are The¬†Future“, and more recently “Alternative Fuels“).

Also, it is an example of the type of firms that venture capital has been flooding to, as I discussed in a June 10th post.

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Written by walonline

August 15, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Alternative Fuels

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Popular Mechanics offers a look at the most promising alternative fuels being developed.

  • Cellulosic Ethanol–Biological Method
  • Cellulosic Ethanol–Gasification Method
  • Algal Biodiesel
  • Green Gasoline
  • Biobutanol
  • Designer Hydrocarbons
  • Fourth-Generation Fuel

What is interesting to note is that none of these alternatives has been rolled out on a large enough scale to matter, yet. This is why it is very important to supplement our R & D of alternatives with new oil well development. Also, those in favor of wind use will first need to develop a 21st century energy grid to transfer power to where its needed both from wind and whatever other method is being used to make up any slack (ie when the wind isn’t blowing).

Of these, I’m in favor of the algal biodiesel, which I’ve talked about before.

Written by walonline

August 13, 2008 at 9:46 am

Algae Based Biofuels Are The Future

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As noted a number of times previously at this blog (recently and in April), Corn and other plant-based (in this context meaning seed, dirt, sprout, etc.) biofuels are not efficient. The are horrible polices that help politicians get elected, but ruin all sorts of markets.

The blog Triplepundit has a very interesting article on biofuel that could potentially help our fuel issues with the benefits of far less-destructive environmental and world food market effects. Here are some of the Algae details:

It also produces lipids, or the equivalent of vegetable oil. Depending on the species, 50% of it’s body weight is these lipids. And they can select for certain algae strains that are particularly suited for making jet fuel or diesel, which most long haul trucks use.

[…]

Algae, even in a regular, horizontal, open pond system, can produce up to 20,000 gallons of oil per year.

Based on previous parts of the article, this system is assumed to take up one acre of land, as comparisons have been 18/gallons from corn and 700-800 from palm oil. All of the waste can be reused as well:

With algae biofuel production, they can take what remains after extracting the oil, and put it to use as feed stock for animals, as a component of fertilizer, and even to produce even more biofuel.

I believe most people would be in favor of fuel that is cleaner on a lifecycle basis, and has less of a wide-ranging impact. Algae, at this point, looks to do just that, and would be a very valuable addition to our nation’s energy “portfolio.”

Written by walonline

July 31, 2008 at 8:16 am

Stupid Energy Policies: Ethanol and Politics

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Even before commodities were on a steep rise, the agricultural lobbyists have pushed for new ways to sell grain. In many Midwestern states, corn-based ethanol was added to gasoline as a way to sell the ethanol that was produced to helped maintain the values of corn. All of this was (and still is–to the tune of $5.5 billion per year) subsidized. Now, with the increasing political push and popularity of buzz words such as energy independence, global warming/climate change, and green, this has turned into an energy policy.

This year, Congress passed legislation to increase the US biofuel output by nearly five times, the UK just enacted a policy requiring the use of biofuels, and the EU is working on meeting a 10% of transport fuel requirement by 2020. Quite obviously, this will vastly increase the amount of needed biofuels, but is this the right direction for energy policy in the United States and Europe? There are a number of problems with biofuels–especially, the corn-based ethanol. Briefly, we will look at some of the issues: the debate on commodity inflation, academic research completed recently on biofuels, and other issues.

Many articles have claimed that biofuels are driving the inflation in commodity and food prices (see Ronald Bailey at Reason and Simon Jenkins at the Guardian). A report from Texas A & M’s Agricultural Policy and Research Center sees it as the increase in petroleum costs. There is also a lot of talk on Wall Street about the overall upward push commodities (see Seeking Alpha, for example). This overall inflation, not just one or a group of commodities, might be to blame, but there are still plenty of empirically proven problems with biofuels and the policies dreamt up by governments and lobbyists (or are those one in the same?)

For example, Chinese academics Zhang and Yuan have found that corn-based ethanol does not reduce carbon emissions compared to gasoline over its lifecycle. They suggest that a reduction in fertilizer usage and electricity used during irrigation would help this.

Second, Searchinger, et al, have found that using crop lands for biofuels increase greenhouse gases via changes in land use. Corn-based ethanol, thought to save emissions (compared to gasoline) by 20%, actually doubles emissions. Switch-grass increases emissions by 50%. The study also, “raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.”

Third, Groom, Gary, and Townsend believe that bio-diversity is at risk and that there are many fuels that have very poor carbon footprints. Carbon output should be less over the entire production process of the raw material, fuel synthesis and transport to market. They write that, “Corn-based ethanol is the worst among the alternatives that are available at present. […] We urge aggressive pursuit of alternatives to corn as a biofuel feedstock.”

Ronald Bailey (linked above), writing in Reason believes food prices will be driven up by sheer population demand and a broadening worldwide middle class, both requiring much more food. Also, he uses a favorite of free-market economists–that governments need to quit supporting these industries with subsidies and handouts. If they are economically viable, and there really is a market for biofuels, they will expand and be efficient without burdening the taxpayer.

As for the up comming election, economist Paul Krugman believes none of the candidates have good policies. A blog, JustOneMinute, looks more deeply into the issue and separates himself with a sort of lesser-evils analysis, saying:

Let’s say that McCain may have flipped (probably without much conviction or knowledge) on the science by declaring that ethanol “is part of the solution to this climate greenhouse gas emissions problem” but he has been consistently opposed to subsidies, which means that in terms of policy he is miles ahead of Obama.

He also places Hillary in the middle of the two party nomination front runners.

It is pretty easy to see that we have made some bad decisions on biofuels and developing industries before we know whether they truly are better. Simon Jenkins (linked above), is with me, believing we could do better in reducing our carbon footprint as nations if we simply told the anti-nuclear lobby to “shove it” and got comfortable with the fact that nuclear power is clean and efficient, if managed correctly–but that’s an entirely different screed.

The answer is plain–an energy policy that doesn’t use a flawed economic policy (the subsidies of ethanol) and allows for investment in many new energy technologies, will be most effective at reducing pollution and dealing with the popular political buzz words of the day.

UPDATE (4/18 @ 1PM): CNBC just reported that the Bush Administration has taken a stance on moving away from corn-based ethanol to other options. I’ll get an article link up when I find one. Also, Gordon Brown sent letters to G8 leaders requesting further inquiry into the use of biofuels. This news is one of the things weighing down corn futures today.

Works Cited:

Zhang and Yuan. “[Carbon balance analysis of corn fuel ethanol life cycle].” Translated from chinese. Abstract found here.

Searchinger, et al. “Use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change.” Science 319(2008): 1238-40.

Groom, Gary, and Townsend. “Biofuels and Biodiversity: Principles for Creating Better Policies for Biofuel Production.” Conservation Biology (2008).