Take It to the Limit: Algenol and Rising Yields in Advanced Biofuels
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) Algenol hits 7000 gallon per acre mark in field operations. What’s the impact for Algenol, for energy independence, for the cost of transport fuel?
…Algenol CEO Paul Woods revealed that the company, at its 4-acre, outdoor Process Development Unit in Lee County, Florida, has achieved continuous production of ethanol at the 7,000 gallon per acre level.
That’s a substantial increase over the company’s original target of 6,000 gpa. Not to mention that targets have been replaced, in this case, by hard data from outdoor operation under normal operating conditions.
…In its direct-to-ethanol system, Algenol uses cyanobacteria, which they have enhanced at their labs in Florida and the Netherlands. They have overexpressed the fermentation pathway enzymes, allowing each cell to channel carbon into ethanol production.
The cyanobacteria are loaded into a unique, low-cost closed, flexible plastic film photobioreactor (PBR). Each individual PBR consists of ports for ethanol collection and the introduction of CO2 and nutrients, plus a mixing system and ethanol collection rails.
So, the direct-to-ethanol system first takes advantage of cyanobacteria’s ability to make sugar (pyruvate) from CO2 and saltwater via photosynthesis. Then, ethanol is secreted from the cell into the saltwater medium. As the day progresses, and the solar radiation intensifies, ethanol concentrations build up and the ethanol itself evaporates into the “head space” inside the PBR. As the sun recedes, evaporated ethanol and water condenses into droplets, which run along the plastic walls and into the ethanol collection rails, where it is ported out of the PBR – and the remaining water and ethanol are separated externally.
For this technology, the next step is the completion of its 36 acre Integrated Biorefinery, scheduled to begin operations in Q1 2013. The 36-acre IBR will provide a small-scale example of a fully integrated commercial facility and according to Algenol, “will serve as a testing facility as we work with partners to integrate technologies – for the conversion of biomass and ethanol into jet and diesel fuel – into the direct-to-ethanol process.
… According to a presentation made yesterday by Dr. Dana Christensen, Deputy Laboratory Director at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, auto manufacturers have indicted to NREL that they can support, in next-gen vehicles, optimizing engines for E30 ethanol that will have comparable mileage to gasoline, by taking advantage of ethanol’s superior octane and power properties to offset the lower energy density.
And, let’s use the 2025 CAFE standards (54.5 miles per gallon) that have recently been agreed by the US auto industry and the Obama Administration (today, fleetwide fuel economy is at 25 miles per gallon).
If the US is using roughly 135 billion gallons of gasoline, today, with a 10 percent increase in population and using the CAFE targets, consumption should be somewhere in the 68 billion gallon range in 2025.