The following is a guest post by John Benemann. John has many years of expertise in biomass conversion, and previously co-wrote a guest piece on cellulosic ethanol. On the subject of biodiesel from algae, he literally wrote the book.
I originally wrote an article over a year ago in which I mentioned the potential of algal biodiesel. I still believe, as I did then, that biodiesel (or more broadly, renewable diesel) is a far superior fuel to ethanol for reasons I outlined in that essay. However, over the past year, the more I learned about the prospects of biodiesel from algae, the more it started to look to me like cellulosic ethanol: Technically feasible? Yes. Commercially feasible? Nowhere close, and the prospects don’t look good any time soon. (However, as in the case of cellulosic ethanol, I believe the technology has some potential, so the government should fund the research).
This was a bit disheartening for me, because I had high hopes that we had an option for replacing a large amount of our fossil fuel usage with this renewable option. I no longer believe that, and recent work by Krassen Dimitrov (PDF warning) had reinforced my doubts. When I read the guest post at The Oil Drum by fireangel, “Has the Algae Cavalry Arrived“, my first thought was “Nice work.” My second thought was, “I should have jumped on this and investigated thoroughly eight months ago when those nagging doubts started to creep in.” One nagging question I have had since I first read about biodiesel from algae is “Why would NREL terminate the project if the prospects really were good?”
But should there be any further doubts, here is a guest post from a man who knows as much about this subject as anyone else in the world. And he bears bad news for those who had visions of driving around in algae-fueled transportation.
I saw with some interest the guest post on “Has the Algae Cavalry Arrived” posted by Heading Out and written by fireangel about the claims being made by GreenFuel Technologies (GFT) Corporation. I have some standing in this matter, both as Manager of the International Network on Biofixation of Carbon Dioxide and Greenhouse Gas Abatement with Microalgae (operated by the Int. Energy Agency, Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme) and also as a researcher in this field for over 30 year. My comments here are my own, of course, and don’t necessarily reflect those of the GhG R&D Programme or others involved in the Biofixation Network. In brief:
1. The post by fireangel, based on the analysis by Dr. Krassen Dimitrov’s, is generally correct, although some details regarding algae physiology and mass culture are arguable. However, those would not change the general conclusions of this posting. Well done!
2. The claims for biodiesel production rates being made by GFT, among many others in this field, exceed anything based on biological or physical theory, as also pointed out in this posting. They are truly bizarre.
3. The use of closed photobioreactors (>$100+/m2) for such applications is totally absurd.
4. I am on the record as stating that this is “It’s bizarre; it’s totally absurd.” (see below article from the American Scientist last year, which quotes me to that effect. This was a correct quote, and in context).
5. Open ponds, at