Renewable Energy technologies nearly always focus on new ways to develop electrical power. If you stop and think about it, wind, solar, wave, tidal, hydro and so on all produce electricity, and although of extreme relevance and importance to mitigate the effects of global warming and reduce greenhouse gases very little is being done to reduce emissions from the transport sector.
The only alternatives are electric transport (still utilizing electricity which is being produced from fossil fuels), hydrogen (not yet a viable and safe alternative) and ethanol fuel, which in some parts of the world has proven to be successful, however, it would mean a major change in engines and it would bring disadvantages to the sugar industry.
Fossil fuels are still therefore, a major part of our lives when it comes to transport; be it cars, buses, boats, planes or scooters and the Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) that go with it are staggeringly high. In the US for example of all the GHG emitted in 2006, 29 percent was from the transport sector.
So a substitute for transport fuel remains to this day one of the biggest challenges.
Fuel produced from micro-algae could be the worthwhile substitute. The versatility of micro-algae strains makes it ideal to produce oil suitable for all kinds of fuels from diesels to kerosene. Depending on the strain used we can run cars, scooters, boats and even airplanes. Using algae fuels would also make the transport industry carbon neutral.
Algae.Tec (www.algaetec.com.au) located on the south coast of NSW, Australia is piloting a project that sees micro-algae being grown in large quantities in shipping containers to be turned into fuel for the transport sector. The nearby Shoalhaven Marine & Freshwater Centre – University of Wollongong with the help of Dr. Pia Winberg, Director of the Centre and her team are assisting Algae.Tec in identifying the right strain for the production of a biocrude.
Some micro-algae strains like Botryococcus braunii can contain up to 50 to 60 percent lipids and oils, and although this particular strain may be slow in re-production compared to other strains, it means that upto a maximum of 60 percent of the cell can be converted into a biocrude.
Through a process of photosynthesis the cells grow, reproduce (very quickly if the right conditions are in place) and can be harvested, and squeezed in a process I have described very similar to squeezing oil from olives or wine from grapes. In a controlled environment algae can reproduce many time each day.
The Algae.Tec process uses very large shipping containers (12 metre) to grow the algae in a controlled environment with artificial lighting, water, waste CO2 feeds from local industry, and nutrients. This results in an algae made up of oil, sugar and protein biomass, which is separated into oil and biomass. It is then refined to produce biodiesel, jet fuel and ethanol and can be produced at half the price of current oil prices.
The shipping containers act as photo bio-reactors (PBR), where the algae can absorb all the ingredients and turn them into useful oils and biomass. They are also fully scalable and modular to allow for growth and increase in production. With this technology Algae.Tec has made algae one of the world’s most valuable and sustainable feedstocks for fuel products in a large up-scaled industrial system.
Algae.Tec technology is world recognized and their main algae Development and Manufacturing Centre is in Georgia, Atlanta – USA. Algaetc also have a project in Holcim – Sri Lanka, using 250 shipping container modules, which will produce 31 million litres of oil for biodiesel production and 31000 tonnes of biomass per year, whilst capturing 125,000 tonnes of CO2. A pilot facility is currently being built in Shoalhaven, NSW – Australia this plant will utilize nearby ethanol fermenters for its source of CO2.
Tony Piccolo – Aquatic Biofuels Specialist, Sydney – Australia