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Thread: Exxon Thinks It Can Create Biofuel From Algae At Massive Scale

  1. #1

    Exxon Thinks It Can Create Biofuel From Algae At Massive Scale

    In seven years, with some assumptions about continued advancements in their ability to gene-edit and farm algae, they believe that they will be technically able to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel a day. That’s a tiny amount compared to crude production; the U.S. may soon produce as much as 11 million barrels a day. But it’s a major step for biofuels.
    “Ten thousand barrels a day would be world-scale for current biofuels,” says Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “And this is one small step. It’s an important step because we’re going to learn about the engineering fundamentals tied with the biology fundamentals. But we see this as scalable. The goal here is to get to the hundreds of thousands of barrels a day…if we didn’t think this was going to be scalable, reliable, affordable, and sustainable, then we wouldn’t be working on it because we go in for scalable solutions. We’re not interested in niche applications or additive applications. The pathway here is to get to that large scale.”
    The companies envision that algae would be grown on land that isn’t capable of growing food crops, and because it uses saltwater, it wouldn’t draw on limited freshwater supplies. To produce hundreds of thousands of barrels a day, Fetzer says, would require much less than 1% of the land area currently used for soy and corn farming. At some sites, including the test site near the Salton Sea, the farms may be able to use waste CO2 to make the algae grow. The resulting fuel could be used to run planes and trucks that still require liquid fuels (though both electric planes and electric semis are in various stages of development ).

    More at: https://www.fastcompany.com/40539606...(Fast+Company)
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  3. #2
    To produce hundreds of thousands of barrels a day, Fetzer says, would require much less than 1% of the land area currently used for soy and corn farming.
    To produce enough to replace oil consumption (20 million barrels a day) would require most of the land currently used for soy and corn farming. Then you need to transport the salt water to those areas.

    At some sites, including the test site near the Salton Sea,
    The Salton Sea is drying up- it cannot be a sustainable source for them to use long term.
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  4. #3
    Once the apocalypse comes only tyrant govt and the rich will be able to afford fuel so it will be able to produce enough for just them.

  5. #4
    https://www.greentechmedia.com/artic...ble#gs.hBNwgrw

    Hard Lessons From the Great Algae Biofuel Bubble

    From 2005 to 2012, dozens of companies managed to extract hundreds of millions in cash from VCs in hopes of ultimately extracting fuel oil from algae.

    CEOs, entrepreneurs and investors were making huge claims about the promise of algae-based biofuels; the U.S. Department of Energy was also making big bets through its bioenergy technologies office; industry advocates claimed that commercial algae fuels were within near-term reach.

    Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest authored what was possibly history's least accurate market forecast, projecting that algal biofuel capacity would reach 1 billion gallons by 2014. In 2009, Solazyme promised competitively priced fuel from algae by 2012. Algenol planned to make 100 million gallons of ethanol annually in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert by the end of 2009 and 1 billion gallons by the end of 2012 at a production rate of 10,000 gallons per acre. PetroSun looked to develop an algae farm network of 1,100 acres of saltwater ponds that could produce 4.4 million gallons of algal oil and 110 million pounds of biomass per year.

    Nothing close to 1 billion (or even 1 million) gallons has yet been achieved -- nor has competitive pricing.

    Today, the few surviving algae companies have had no choice but to adopt new business plans that focus on the more expensive algae byproducts such as cosmetic supplements, nutraceuticals, pet food additives, animal feed, pigments and specialty oils. The rest have gone bankrupt or moved on to other markets.

    The promise of algae is tantalizing. Some algal species contain up to 40 percent lipids by weight, a figure that could be boosted further through selective breeding and genetic modification. That basic lipid can be converted into diesel, synthetic petroleum, butanol or industrial chemicals.

    According to some sources, an acre of algae could yield 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of oil a year, making algae far more productive than soy (50 gallons per acre), rapeseed (110 to 145 gallons), jatropha (175 gallons), palm (650 gallons), or cellulosic ethanol from poplars (2,700 gallons).

    The question is: Can algae be economically cultivated and commercially scaled to make a material contribution to humanity's liquid fuel needs? Can biofuels from algae compete on price with fossil-derived petroleum?

    Once capital needs, water availability, energy balance, growing, collecting, drying, and algae's pickiness about light and CO2 are factored in -- the answer, so far, is an emphatic no.

    Is there a pony somewhere in this pile of BS?

    So is there some lesson here other than that disrupting the global fossil fuel market is not for the fainthearted and entrepreneurs are irrationally optimistic?

    The VC process of pumping millions into a market to develop or disrupt the existing structure and accelerate rapid change has not worked with algae biofuels, or any biofuels for that matter (see Vinod Khosla's big biofuel adventure.)

    The scope of the algae to large-scale liquid fuel effort is more along the lines of the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moon shot, which cost $24 billion and $360 billion, respectively. A $25 million Aquatic Species Program, a $100 million DOE program, or $300 million in venture capital will not get it done. It will take tens of billions of dollars and decades of research and work.

    There are many pieces to the algae puzzle that seem like afterthoughts, but which are actually crucial to the economics -- co-products, nutrients, harvesting, drying and conversion technology. System design and algae type (which seem to be the focus of most discussions) are important, but not the only components.

    Considering the immense technical risks and daunting capital costs of building an algae fuel company, it doesn’t seem like a reasonable venture capital play. And most -- if not all -- of the VCs I’ve spoken with categorize these investments as the longer-term, long-shot bets in their portfolio. But given the size of the liquid fuels market, measured in trillions of dollars, not the customary billions of dollars, it makes some sense to occasionally take the low-percentage shot.

    There is incredible potential for algae technology in drug discovery and production, specialty oils and a range of chemicals. Will we be running commercial engines on algae-derived fuels in the 21st century?

    Nope.
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