Cost competitive biofuel from algae is one of the Holy Grails of renewable energy. If achieved, it would be a disruptive technology that changes energy forever. Australian company Algae.Tec says they may have a breakthrough.
[their system] uses low maintenance technologies and an efficient solar system to produce algae in one tenth of the land surface as compared to the current pond methods for producing algae. The McConchie-Stroud System photo-bioreactors produce oils which can be refined into biodiesel, sugar carbohydrates that can be used in the production of ethanol, proteins that can be used as feedstock for farm animals, and protein and carbohydrate biomass that can be combined to produce jet fuel.
Even better, their technology can capture CO2 emissions from power plants and manufacturing facilities for use in growing algae. They have orders from a large Sri Lanka cement manufacturer and are also building a full-scale prototype. Many have tried and failed at this. Algae.Tec says they can do algae biofuel at “below market price.” It’s unclear if they mean below algae prices or petroleum prices. Their website does seem a bit overly focused on the stock price (but are hardly the only small company to do so.) Let’s hope they succeed.
Right now the Maersk Kalmar is en route from Northern Europe to India running a blend of algae-biofuel and petroleum-based fuel.
At one point in the testing the ship will run on 100% biofuel. Maersk has been hugely proactive on switching to renewables. The US Navy is working with them on the test and plans to have a 100% biofuel fleet by 2016.
Micro algae are considered to be a promising future source of biofuel. The productivity of algae is much higher than that of normal crops, and they do not compete with food production. In order to develop the best possible production system for algae, the University of Wageningen opened a new and unique pilot plant: AlgaePARC (Algae Production and Research Centre). AlgaePARC is the first plant in the world where four distinct algae production systems will be meticulously tested and compared.