Photo: Valcent Products Inc algae culture system.
The bleeding edge of biofuels development has to include development of algae based biodiesel. Today, there are a number of companies, both publicly listed and privately held that are following in the footsteps of an early U.S. government alternative fuels program. Between 1978 and 1996, the Office of Fuels Development (U.S. Department of Energy), funded National Renewable Energy Lab's Aquatic Species Program. The program investigated high-oil algae that could potentially support wide-scale biodiesel production.
This week the Houston Chronicle profiled two Vancouver based companies that are developing technology for algae-based bio diesel (see Could West Texas algae curb oil dependence?, October 8th, 2007). A joint venture between Valcent Products Inc. (OTCBB: VCTPF) and Global Green Solutions Inc. (OTCBB: GGRN) has developed a system using algae filled plastic bags to grow algae. Vegetable oil can be extracted from the algae to produce biodiesel. Calling it Vertigro Energy, the joint venture’s algae-to-biofuel technology cultures algae in 10-foot-long water-filled plastic bags suspended in a greenhouse-like setting in El Paso, Texas.
Algae BioFuels, a wholly-owned subsidiary ofthe oil field services company Petro-Sun (OTC/PK: PSUD) and Solix Biofuels, a privately held company, are in the process of developing similar technologies.
Privately held GreenFuel Technologies Corporation (highlighted in the National Geographic article referred to in my last post) is taking algae based systems one step further, using the algae cultures for scrubbing power plant emissions. In the Company’s own words:
GreenFuel's high yield algae farms recycle carbon dioxide from flue gases to produce biofuels and feed, reducing net carbon dioxide production as waste becomes profit. Harvesting algae for biofuels enhances domestic fuel production while mitigating CO2. Why expensively sequester CO2 when it can be profitably recycled?
The attraction of algae based biofuels is based on the potential yields a commercial system could produce. National Geographic suggests that corn can produce 300 gallons of ethanol per acre every year while an acre of soybeans can produce 60 gallons of biodiesel. By comparison, estimates of yields for an algae-based system range from 5,000 gallons (National Geographic) to 100,000 gallons (Valcent Products Inc.) of biofuel per acre per year.
To the best of my knowledge, none of the above companies is yet in commercial production. However, for those who like lots of risk, it could be an interesting ride.