August 3, 2009 at 5:00 am #7246
Algea as a method of energy extraction doesn’t have to replace wind and solar. I think part of the point is that it’s not particularly easy to convert electricity into diesel. Converting algea into diesel is considerably easier. I think solar, wind, wave, and geothermal/sea-o-thermal? Energy systems will produce 90% of the needs of a seastead but it’s not going to power off-the-shelf watercraft or backup generators.
No one can stop you from planning your seastead designs off the idea of buying diesel fuel from existing companies. However, some people would still like to explore the possibilities of self-sufficient alternatives, no matter the cost. Obviously, you need to be able to afford it, but between spending every penny on self-sufficiency and buying oil with lots of cash to spare, some would still attempt self-sufficiency.
In any case, even if nothing comes of this technology for several decades, it doesn’t hurt to discuss the possibilities here. A shot of realism isn’t a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t keep going toward negativity and complete discouragement. I think we have a fair balance so far.
I don’t think it’s out of the question that these algae-oil production companies would provide seasteaders a means of oil production without revealing their secrets. That seems to be the business plan of at least a few of these companies anyways. They’ll build the units, you provide the space and sunlight, and the oil is yours to use. They do all the work and we only have to rely on one company for a one-time shipment and one-time expense, rather than regular shipments of a commodity with potentially volatile price fluctuations.
So, buy regular diesel as needed until these things come out. Still, no reason to stop discussing the possibilities in the mean time.August 4, 2009 at 7:25 am #7258
I just want people to think about what it takes to succeed. Personally, I hope for a return of the garage scientist and tinkerer away from the fat cat corporate labs (but research is expensive so it follows the golden rule–those with gold make the rules). You look closely at these biofuel operations they arent just harvesting algae. They aren’t just genetically engineering these organisms to produce desirable hydrocarbons. They aren’t just engineering them to produce more hydrocarbons.
One company has reengineered the metabolism of the organism. It has been engineered to take in more CO2 to use more CO2 than it naturally uses. The organism has been engineered metabolicallly to direct more of its photosynthesis and CO2 usage towards hydrocarbon production. And then the hydrocarbon part has been engineered to be in overdrive. But were not talking about just the engineering of the hydrocarbon gene to over-expression (which certain strains of algae naturally produce miniscule amounts of fuel).
Many of these outfits have teams. One member is PHD and is an expert on how plants use CO2 and the genomic expression of that trait and has been in the field of studying the genetics of plant CO2 usage profiles for decades. Another team member is an expert on conversion and use of sugars like glucose or whatever. Another member is an expert on the genes that produce hydrocarbons. And so and so on. They engineer the whole organism top to bottom making it more efficient in all ways (cuz plants only use a small percentage of sunlight for direct energy–so it takes a lot of work to beat the market).
Basically, it’s a lot to master. It’s also very expensive and takes a lot of time. Also these companies probably won’t sell us their strains. This is all being done for self-sufficiency. It’s not necessary because they’re are already self-sufficient homes that are off the grid (some of which are in the mountains of CO which is where I am from). These homes don’t use a single watt of electricity from the grid (they aren’t connected) and don’t use a single drop of generator fuel (but many have backup generators if needed). We’re reinventing a wheel for a goal that has already been accomplished by cheaper means (You just buy solar panels, windmills, etc. and hook them up, also batteries for storage and there’s even one guy that made his own hydrogen fuel cell and just keeps a hydro tank around).
I’m not saying I don’t want to see this, and it is a cool tech, but is it necessary? Also, we already have the task of doing what’s never been done: colonizing the ocean, adding on solving the energy crisis is a tall order. Furthermore, even if the tech is there is this the best use of limited space out in the ocean?
Once this tech matures, it becomes useful to us if its possible to have a kind of like open air algae-pen (like ocean fish-pens for salmon farming and what not), i.e. we don’t muck with bioreactors we just grow GMO’s in the open ocean (that’ll piss greenpeace off). Because then, we feed it with nutrients from the ocean and use little space or materials to grow it. This has many things wrong with it but otherwise I question its suitability for SEASTEAD energy needs.
BTW you want one of these systems…
Here’s a company that will sell a complete close looped system for growing algae for biofuel (and more):
Notice no price tag, that’s because its so expensive if you have to ask you can’t afford it. But no really, someone email them and price it out. Also, maybe even ask questions and get some answers, like what kind of cellular density do their reactors achieve? What kind of growth rates can be expected? Then we can start pricing out how much it would cost to make a bioreactor with the same capabilities.
Here’s an article about the company:
Don’t know enough about bioreactors, well there’s plenty of info in college libraries. Only thing is I’ve read some of it and it’s not going to be easy (I’m not discounting it because I’m against it. Hell I want to have my own bioreactors I think it would be great if the hacking ethos was brought to genetics and garage tinkerers turn out new organisms faster than current hackers turn out viruses and spam). I never said impossible but like a million times harder than buying a solar panel and hooking it up (and thats hard for a lot of people). Going this route is the masochistic route to energy self sufficiency. Saving up and buying some windmills, a little more doable and practical…and grounded in reality. BTW, someone actually pricing this stuff out and designing a dIY bioreactor system and proving me wrong = totally sweet.August 5, 2009 at 4:23 pm #7291
We’re reinventing a wheel for a goal that has already been accomplished by cheaper means (You just buy solar panels, windmills, etc. and hook them up, also batteries for storage and there’s even one guy that made his own hydrogen fuel cell and just keeps a hydro tank around).
Batteries and solar panels are rubbish for powering mobile applications. They store/produce so little energy compared to petroleum that there is no point in using them. It doesn’t make any sense when the petroleum powered version runs ten times longer and is a hundred times faster to refuel.
The vastly superior already invented “wheel” is fossil petroleum. And if we can invent ways to produce petroleum synthetically, whether via algae or nuclear power + Fisher-Tropsch process, then so much the better.August 6, 2009 at 6:42 am #7297
Link to a 200 KW diesel generator.
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/powering_20000.php–Link to an article about a giant solar plant.
Now, the 200 KW generator running at it’s maximum efficiency of a 75% load producing 150 KW burns 9.8 gallons of fuel an hour. That’s 235.2 gallons a day. Multiply by 365 and you get how many gallons you need a year. Now, divide that number by 20000. Why 20,000, because that’s what the industry HYPE says you’ll get in algal biofuel yields of gallons per acre in 5 to 10 years. The result is 4 point something. Which means you’ll need 5 acres of space for algae production to get a years worth of food to constantly provide a 150 KW. Now lets go back to the giant solar plant article. Large array of solar panels gets 20 megawatts off of 247 acres. Use the same math techniques presented above and you find that’s about 400 KW per 5 acres. Which means solar panels are getting 2.5 times the power density per acre of your measely 150 KW of biodiesel out of 5 acres. And that 150 KW out of 5 acres is entirely speculative and imaginary while solar is based on already existing technology. Now your diesel is burning 120,000 gallons of fuel a year to get 150 KW in constant power supply (that 150 KWH every hour). Anyone wanna check current gas prices to see how much that’s going to cost us in a year. Let’s assume $2 dollars a gallon (which is wrong and a little on the cheap side). My god, $240K a year every single year. You buy solar panels, yeah initially it’ll be more expensive, but eventually they’ll pay themselves off because in 5 years they’ve saved you $1.2 million not mention they’ve given you double the power. Solar is an example of what’s called a high fixed capital cost, once you pay it your done and you don’t get bled dry. Solar also has no moving parts so less maintenance than the diesel. That’s why algae is not a good use of space in the middle of the ocean. And it’s lower power density per unit of space. Now if you ship in diesel that diesel shipped will deliver higher power density than renewables but it’ll cost you a lot every single year. And all this math is assuming a best case scenario that probably won’t even happen, so these statements are likely to be more true than they appear. So the whole diesel has better power density and store and produce more energy is irrelevent when we’re talking about producing our own algae biofuel (not too mention not true per unit of space). It’s also irrelevant when talking about self-sufficiency in the middle of the ocean where it’s going to cost a lot of money to have fuel shipped out to the middle of nowhere (probably cost more than on land actually).
In the long run, renewable are going to be cheaper in the middle of nowhere, because you’re off the grid so you don’t get grid electricity prices. So producing your own electricity competes when you tack on the cost of shipping everything out and paying it again year after year. While solar panels you buy once and they just sit there, nothing else needs to be shipped out. And this is just one example, I imagine the #’s would be equally true if done on an analysis of wind or whatever renewable power. Read the geothermal thread and hit up the hyperlinked articles at the top. The community bought their own geothermal generator which is way more expensive per KWH then diesel generator but the setup paid itself off eventually when the community no longer shipped fuel out and now it is generating surplus value for the community because they are taking advantage of a SINGLE high fixed capital cost vs. taxing yourself again and again and again. This is all economics, and economics is why no one is filling up their cars with algae fuel right now. Now algae might get better in 5 years, but so will solar and wind so who will win the race…
More info about algae and biodiesel.August 6, 2009 at 10:16 am #7299
- private boats for entertainment and utiity
- taxi service between seasteads
- taxi boat or aircraft to the mainland
- fishing boats
- rescue boats
- and so on and so forth…
Everything cannot be connected to a big stationary power grid (PV or whatever). These things need high density quick recharge mobile energy storage. Batteries and PV panels don’t do this. Oil does.
Furthermore I don’t think you can just assume that PV will be low maintenance. What if the panels get covered with salt spray? Or seagulls crap all over them, or whatever. That is a lot of area to keep clean.
What about the cost of the real estate they will occupy? What about the perodical battery replacement costs? I think you need to calculate the total operating costs before just assuming it will be superior.
For the record I’m not familiar with the economics of algae production. But I don’t really care whether the oil comes from algae or is pumped out of the ground or manufactured synthetically, I just know that it is a pretty good way to store energy. That is why all cars, boats, aircraft and construction equipment are powered this way.
And of course if someone actually comes up with something better then I am all for that.
By the way, has anyone tried to estimate the cost per liter/gallon of algae petroleum?August 7, 2009 at 5:35 am #7314
That’s where I was going with the whole ‘90% via wind & solar‘ and ‘convert x to deisel‘ comments. Off-the-shelf alternative energy will cover a vast majority of a seastead’s needs but for smaller, secondary watercraft to go more than a few hundred feet from the main seastead, combustible fuel is usually the most effective energy storage.
There aren’t many options for electric watercraft yet (I only found one jet ski that wasn’t meant for a swimming pool – ecowatercraft.com) and, given current battery technology, would need to spend almost as much time charging as in use. For some applications there won’t be an electric version available in the near future at all and for most applications the costs will likely outweigh the benefits for years to come. There are thousands of other models, new and used, to solve myriad short and mid-range mobility problems with gasoline or diesel and only 1 electric. So, in this one part of the equation, solar panels aren’t going to cover it. That leaves fossil fuels and algae. Oil products are currently relatively cheap and easy to find but there are enough down-sides that it’s probably still worth discussing the alternative. That was my main point. You’ve provided some good info, though, thanks.
For emergency backup, batteries probably won’t be appropriate. A renewable system would already depend heavily on batteries for off-peak usage. In order to have extra capacity for emergencies (a strong storm with winds too high for safe use of a wind turbine and low solar energy), you would need to significantly the number of batteries, which is already a major part of the infrastructure budget. A small generator and reserve of fuel would be much cheaper, without the need to ship in fuel very often at all.
Really, we shouldn’t be trying to compare primary seastead renewables Vs. algae Vs. diesel at all. I was already convinced that wind & solar is most likely the way to go for main power.
Price per acre seems to make sense when comparing solar panels and algae production… but on the ocean some acerage matters and some doesn’t. Solar panels need the safety of a seastead structure of a seastead almost as much as we do but algea grows in the sea naturally. If you want to keep it in an enclosed system, a flexible plastic ‘bubble’ should suffice. Equal water pressure inside and out, no problem rolling with big waves. It would only need to be water tight to keep the little guys from getting out. You may need to keep the conversion equipment on something more stable… but not necessarily on the seastead itself. It could even be partially submerged. There’s more ocean than land, so algae acerage does not equal solar panel acerage.
If it really comes down to it, efficiency isn’t as important with algae unless you’re trying to make a proffit or package your system for commercial sale. Clear garbage bags full of algae (to exaggerate a bit) would work just fine as long as you’re willing to go around to harvest them all and have the ability to refine it into a useable form after.
An extremely long, serpentine tube of clear plastic could be stretched out for miles in the ocen and connected in a loop with the harvesting machine. It flows through the system, developing, churning to collect light more evenly. Low efficiency can probably be made up for by a simpler process, lower material costs, and sheer volume. They could probably even float near or above some aquaculture fish nets to save space (use part of the algae for fish food, if appropriate) to keep things conveniently clustered and for fewer blocked travel areas.
[words ... not as easy... time for sleep.]August 7, 2009 at 2:44 pm #7318
If it really comes down to it, efficiency isn’t as important with algae unless you’re trying to make a proffit or package your system for commercial sale.
Efficiency and cost are always important. If your energy costs more to produce (ie takes up more of your resources and time) you will be able to produce/afford less of everything else, like food, education, healthcare, entertainment, environmental protection measures, you name it…
Economics is not some bizarre luxury that only applies to super-rich entrepreneurs and capitalists. It matters to everyone.August 7, 2009 at 8:18 pm #7325
What I mean is, who cares if it takes 10 acres to grow enough algae to get the same energy as 1 acre of solar panels? As long as it ends up costing about the same, or less, in the end. I’m not ignoring economics, just energy conversion efficieny estimates. It doesn’t need to catch and convert 90% of all solar energy. If the best-of-the-best algae biofuel system not yet on the market is only 50% efficient (for example; not an actual statistic), we can try to piece together our own system at only 20% efficiency but make it 2.5 times as large for about the same price, with cheaper materials and methods. We don’t need a slick package that fits in a shipping container and works without natural light if we’re not trying to mass market it to the rest of the world. Algae that hasn’t been bio-engineered specifically for this purpose can still produce oil. Obviously, we want to be as efficient as we can manage in order to get the most bang for our buck. However, we don’t need to follow the same mindset as the big corporations because we have different goals. We don’t need to be top-of-the-line and steal proprietary research to reash our goals, it would simply make things a lot easier.August 7, 2009 at 8:53 pm #7329
Ah, ok. I guess I read you wrong then, sorry. I got the impression you were talking about efficiency of the entire algae production system, as compared to the other alternatives. I agree internal efficiencies aren’t important when comparing against solar electric or whatever.
So, how much does a gallon of algae-diesel cost at the pump these days then?March 17, 2010 at 11:20 pm #9890
What I mean is, who cares if it takes 10 acres to grow enough algae to get the same energy as 1 acre of solar panels?
I’m not sure why you would want to grow algae when it’s all around you. Just extract it from the sea and convert it to oil.
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