June 21, 2008 at 10:24 am #624June 21, 2008 at 7:38 pm #3281
Interesting. I wonder what their electricity bill is though, with all that pumping going on continously. I´m not entirely convinced that growing fossil fuel like this will be a very long term solution though. After all you are still dependent on large areas for catching sunlight, and over all it seems rather resource intensive (infrastructure, maintenance, power requirements etc). Time will tell if it makes economic sense I guess, and it´s always good to show that there are alternatives to people who bring up disaster scenarios like peak oil or similar theories.June 21, 2008 at 10:08 pm #3288
Biofuels are not fossil fuels.
Actually, this seems like a more practical project than most, lower in resources than conventional agriculture by far. It’s a process and product that could only be maintained and used by a technologically sophisticated society, but it’s not that resource-intensive. Particularly in terms of space. I’d be a little concerned about the use of plastics, but not much: with the right hydrocarbon chains being turned out, plastics can have pretty much any kind of feedstock. With the right application of energy straw becomoes plastic, and the plastic that has already been made can be turned into other plastics.June 22, 2008 at 3:53 pm #3301
Systems like these are far from cost effective. He just has a generic-algae speech: if this variation had come any closer to being cost effective, thats what he would have been talking about.June 22, 2008 at 8:15 pm #3305
Agreed, I noticed that the presentation was not talking about the details of the system that they were showing. There is only a limited amount of light per square meter, so at some point going vertical provides diminishing returns. If the algae researchers ever do get something cost effective, all the other bio fuel methods being discussed will probably become obsolete more or less over night. I’m not holding my breath tho’.June 22, 2008 at 10:17 pm #3308
They mention obliquely the light/sq meter idea is mitigated by the movement of the algae and water through the system. They say the UV only penetrates a few centimeters, so keeping the algae moving around exposes it all in rotation (I’m extrapolating) as well as prevents stagnant water from starving the algae of nutrients and CO2. I could see how algae might grow rather vigorously in such a system. The day/night cycle is assisted by moving it through tanks and then back into the sunlit plastic frames. I imagine at every pass, some of the biomass is diverted for processing and some is injected back in to grow more. Once up and running, it’s a constant harvest, not cyclical or seasonal.
Once the tooling is completed for setting up the plastic grow bags, it would be a relatively cheap process of heat-sealing tubes into sheets of UV-transparent plastic, and when they go bad, they are simply replaced and recycled. They mention processing for oil, then ethanol, then feedstock, which is encouraging. I see too many single-use, or at best dual-use proposals for biofuel feedstock. With a feedstock high in oil, there’s still no real reason not process it for ethanol afterward, and the end result ends up a high-protein, low-fat meal.June 23, 2008 at 9:49 am #3314
Also, they make a good point about the system being water-tight: the only losses in H20 are through metabolisation of it into larger hydrocarbons. That makes it very interesting for places where fresh water is not abundant.June 23, 2008 at 11:26 am #3318
Now, if you could also find an algae capable of sequestering salt, that would be something…March 19, 2009 at 2:26 am #5253
I’ve heard of some oil producing algae that do well in salt water and leave freshwater as a by product. I’ve been doing a ton of research in this area myself (well… layman research, internet garage and basement).
Found this article to be rather interesting. It would meet our power needs perhaps?
Anyway, can’t imagine a viable seastead without energy a whole order of magnitude better than solar. Algae would do it for me.
-JasonJuly 19, 2009 at 3:57 am #7094
Algae farming might be feasible for a feedstock for fish or any animal really but not that viable as a energy resource. The space requirements and the technical requirements are simpy too great. For example the Originoils company mentioned in the post above: their process involves using ultrasound and electromagnetic pulse to breakdown the cell walls and then feeding the solution CO2 to lower the ph to separate the biomass from the oils to make processing the oils cheaper. This is because the traditional method requires drying the algae (which takes to much time or energy) then pulping it to get the oils (also requiring energy). There method will not be available to you on a seastead unless you extremely advanced at chemistry, biochemistry, bioreactor design, etc. They have discovered trade secrets that you will not have access to and will require the same intelligence and spending millions on research to duplicate their results. Not a viable method. Here’ s a very slick technology: http://www.technologyreview.com/business/23009/
Keep in mind their plants cost about $50 mil to construct and use a proprietary genetically engineered algae strain, they are partnered with industrial giant DOW, and they get CO2 pumped from a coal plant to use as a CO2 feedstock and the founder has been involved in the genetic engineering of algae since 1984 and is a pioneer in the field of researching the genetics of plant responses to CO2 levels and was involved in the many of the seminal studies. Again, it would take a lot of time and money to duplicate their results.
The cheapest way to fuel a seastead biologically is to use biomass to generate electricity not biofuels. Using biomass is like burning firewood. So lets say you burned firewood inside a very well insulated chamber and had a very efficient sterling engine or something running off of it, maybe even an old fashioned steam turbine (maybe a gas turbine based on the same principle but using a chemical with a lower boiling point than water), this might be workable. You could perhaps dry algae and press it into slabs that could be burned (kinda like particle board) and do this with it. It’s more efficient, check this: http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22628/
Biomass burning would probably be augmented by the natural oils in it, but the whole process of turning biomass into biofuel and then buring said fuel in an inefficient internal combustion engine just generates too much inefficiency from the first conversion which is only fed into a wasteful form of power generation anyways. The system can be gamed if you’re a brilliant scientist with lots of money that can duplicate these systems but otherwise its very difficult and not an efficient use of what could be a good feedstock to feed animals, fish, people, or whatever (maybe mushrooms). Save your biomass for food, it takes too much space to raise enough to create enough fuel and thats very precious space out in the ocean, not too mention could be more productively used otherwise.July 19, 2009 at 8:45 pm #7101
There method will not be available to you on a seastead unless you extremely advanced at chemistry, biochemistry, bioreactor design, etc.
I intend to be -not extremely- advanced within three to five years. I’m positive that are are more biochemists around who could chip in some work.
As for fitting something on a seastead; the US military had free-standing bioweapons production facilities the size of shipping containers after world war two. Some of the most dangerous things were being mass produced in a small and isolated (safety) “boxes” really. Size and complexity are factors of your intended production volume, and face it: you weren’t going to float a biofuel refinery, as opposed to a small production for nutritional oil, animal feed or fuel for an emergency generator.
They have discovered trade secrets that you will not have access to
I already do up to a certain level. My college had a project around the extraction of oil from algae, testing ultrasonic vibration and enzymes as well as other factors such as UV (C?) radiation (working from memory here). It wasn’t my project personally but depending on the level of secrecy (and we tend to flaunt our “green” image) I might be able to simply pick it off the librairy shelves.
When something is new, up-and-coming, it tends to attract the interest of scientific journals and magazines that sometimes publish a great deal of practical information. I haven’t spotted any gems recently but there’s talk, attention always does well with investors or people who ‘OK’ research grants.
and will require the same intelligence and spending millions on research to duplicate their results.
You can get patent information for a couple of dollars, so you’ll know what matters or at least what is important enough to be legally protected. And if you were planning on using their technology (just commercially?), you’d still have to pay them even if you came up with everything independently. Either way, there’s not a big point in researching someting when somebody else has already found all the answers.
It won’t be forthcoming by tomorrow, but not all that long ago, information concerning oil refining and production of plastics were closely guarded secrets, now every man and his dog can get their hands on the finer details of most processes. Give it some time.August 1, 2009 at 7:43 pm #7226
I’ll believe it when I see it. My personal opinion has nothing to do with beliefs regarding people here.
For example, the big companies filled with experts and millions of dollars of research haven’t even mastered the technology yet. And there’s no one filling up their cars from little ponds sitting in their backyard. So this technology hasn’t been mastered at the large or individual scale. And most of the companies doing are supported by government subsidies no less.
When you read that you’ll notice many people in the company have had around 30 years of experience working with algae, genetic engineering, and are pioneers in the field of technology and we are now seeing the results of decades of experience and research. If you think that with all those years of experience they don’t know some proprietary secrets that are not made public and you can simply duplicate their results by reading an article in a tech magazine, scientific journal, or reading a patent application, I have a bridge for sale. They don’t even publicize how they got their strains of proprietary algae. I’ve read all of their press releases, they don’t say whether they used breeding, genetic engineering, or both. They just say they have their own special strains for this. All businesses (and especially one’s that are high volume, low margin) have little trade secrets that are the key to their success and improving margins. That’s just life. If you have the secret to making large piles of money you don’t just give it away and show everyone how it’s done. That’s why it’s not the best option for seasteading. Because these people do have secrets and its not going to be easy to reproduce their results just because someone knows some chemistry and can read a tech article. If it was that easy a lot more people would be powering their houses with this tech and filling up their cars from algae pond in their backyard.
I’ll believe it when I see it…someone make a bioreactor and make it work on the same margins as these businesses and i’ll believe it’s possible at the individual scale until then we should realize these people are in the business of producing fuel and selling the fuel and their secrets won’t be given to us. Therefore, for seasteading it will be more productive to buy from people that sell energy production (i.e. windmills, solar panels, other things that produce energy) as oppose to trying to duplicate the results from people that produce (because that their business not ours, our business is making viable ocean living structures). If we want we can buy fuel from these people for our generators fine, but I doubt well duplicate their results as cheap as they do. That’s privileging realism over empty idealism not an insult to anyone here (unless of course someone here is one of the chief scientists at one of these companies…in which case help us forge a partnership that could make it possible). Anyways, that’s reality, secrets do exist there is a lot of public knowledge but no one tells all about everything BECAUSE thats BAD for business. Anyone who doesn’t believe that: I have an extremely well built bridge at a bargain price so msg me on that one.August 1, 2009 at 8:45 pm #7229
As often is the case, pretty much anything is possible if you really want to do it. Including growing hydrocarbons.
The question is how much it costs. As we have a lot of finished (more or less) petroleum lying in the ground just waiting for someone to pump it up synthetic alternatives are at a disadvantage.
For instance, we can make hydrocarbons out of air and water. Use nuclear power to extract carbon out of the atmosphere and hydrogen out of water and combine them. It’s a little expensive right now but it is well established chemistry as far as I understand it.August 1, 2009 at 9:21 pm #7234
And that’s all I’m really trying to get at. Is not that it’s impossible to duplicate the technology of some of these algae biofuel companies but that the cost and time involved is such that we could buy plenty of solar panels, or mine oil out of the ocean or natural gas. Basically, for the same price we could get more quicker and easier. It’s not worth it unless you want to go into business of selling algae biofuels and compete with these businesses.August 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm #7242
I’ll believe it when I see it…someone make a bioreactor and make it work on the same margins as these businesses and i’ll believe it’s possible at the individual scale
This is a very healthy attitude, I hope we’ll all see something some day. It won’t be here tomorrow or next year, 10 years maybe? My perogative is that I can wait, I have time on my side and I’m in no hurry.
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