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Call to Action for a Truly Sustainable Renewable Future
August 8, 2013 – 5:07 pm | No Comment

-Include high octane/high ethanol Regular Grade fuel in EPA Tier 3 regulations.
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-Start an Apollo-type program to bring New Ideas to sustainable biofuel and …

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Space, the Biobased Frontier: Hot Biotechnologies for the Big Beyond

Submitted by on October 22, 2013 – 12:38 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  Next-gen biofuels technologies may be key to making the International Space Station cost effective — not to mention, other destinations in the NASA agenda.  Which may explain why a high-tech algae outfit, Evodos, is advertising on a Star Trek wallpaper site.

Whether your attention is drawn to hot algae techs like Evodos, or elsewhere in the the biofuelscape, cool microbes are producing ordinary materials like electricity, clean water and fuel that are practically priceless in orbit — and from waste materials available to space engineers.

But earlier this month, a research team led by Yat Li at the University of California, Santa Cruz, developed a hybrid solar-microbial device and reported their results in a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. The hybrid combines a microbial fuel cell and a photoelectrochemical cell.

In this case, the electric boost needed to make hydrogen is provided by the microbial fuel cell’s power-generating capabilities. The power is fed to the solar cell, giving it enough energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Ultimately, the only inputs are wastewater and sunlight.

Here in Digestville, we are intrigued to think of a bridging technology that could create a synergy between co-located power plants and (or ethanol plants), steel mills, and wastewater treatment centers.

The potential for utilizing algae in combination with power or ethanol plants has been much discussed in the Digest — leading to an affordable source of CO2 for algae cultivation. Combine that with sunlight and a source of water — and a source of organic nutrients — and you have all the essentals for algae cultivation, for food, feed, pharma or fuel production.

Er, except hydrogen. Very useful, in the case of hydrotreating crude algae oils to make hydrocarbon fuels for existing cars, trucks and jets. Now, companies like Sapphire Energy have focused most of their efforts, lately, on making a renewable crude algae oil. Generally, they have considered that hydrotreatment will take place at traditional refineries that already have that technology in place, and a means of producing fossil-based hydrogen onsite, at scale.

But there’s the trick — it’s fossil hydrogen. Subject to the availabilities and costs granted by the global demand and supply of crude oil. Very interesting, as an alternative, to have an alternative supply of hydrogen that its a by-product of wastewater clean-up.

Having said that, you’d be surprised how many technologies that are difficult to cost-justify here on the terrestrial surface, become a no-brainer when you think about space. Cargo costs have come down a lot with the commercialization of space — but you are still looking at $2,000-$3,000 per pound to lift a pound of cargo into low orbit. Though Elon Musk projects he’ll get the cost down to $1300 per pound.

Still, that’s more than $10,000 for a gallon of water. Making some of these biotechnologies pretty good candidates for space, long before they might be ready, at scale, here on the planet’s surface.   READ MORE

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