Sunday, March 30, 2008

Algae How Much Oil?


How Much Oil

I recently got myself all excited about Valcent’s “Vertigro” algae system and other algae start-ups. I was doing a bit of research, regarding oil yield for different crops, when I came upon Keith Addison’s excellent site: JourneyToForever

I noticed that Keith did not have much by way of reference to algae and its oil yield on his site which was otherwise extensive in its information, so I wrote to him. Keith's rapid reply somewhat burst the bubble of my enthusiasm about algae, and brought in a firm and balancing realism to my thinking. I want to share this with you so here is our correspondence:

Hi Keith - I found your site on a Google search for oil crop yields.
It is great so see such an amount of information and interest packed
into your pages. I could find little on algae as a source of lipids.
One of the most exciting areas I have been exploring is in algae oil
production. The latest figures suggest yields as high as 100,000 gal
per acre per year for vertical closed systems. That is just amazing
given that this crop can be grown just about anywhere.

Cheers, Tony

Keith's reply:

Hello Tony

Thank you, but there is no such thing as oil from algae or biodiesel
from algae outside of a few lab experiments, nor is there likely to
be any time soon, and if there is it will be industrial-scale stuff,
not Appropriate Technology.
[Biofuel] Algal Biodiesel: Fact or Fiction? - John Benemann
Sat, 16 Jun 2007

A thorough analysis:
An in-depth look at biofuels from algae
Scientist skeptical of algae-to-biofuels potential - interview

Best wishes
Keith Addison
Journey to Forever
KYOTO Pref., Japan

With my bubbble somewhat burst I replied:

Thanks for that Keith,

You have me thinking in a different plane now - I guess I was taking
too much of the news and hype on algae farming as gospel. Your input
has started me of with a bit of balance reading.


Keith's comforting words:

Hi Tony

Sorry to be such a wet blanket!

I think a lot of the problem is that people want a replacement for
petroleum use, and there isn't one. You might find this interesting:

"How much fuel can we grow? How much land will it take?"

Appropriate Technology biofuels are fine, small-scale, local projects
making biodiesel and ethanol for local use, mostly from wastes. But
the bigger they get the less appropriate they become. And there is
indeed a LOT of hype (not only about algae).

All best

I would not be rushing out to invest in Algal Oil just yet. I would like to see some real return figures first.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

ESB to invest €22 Billion in Renewable Energy


ESB to Invest €22 Billion
in Renewable Energy

Very loosly adapted from an ESB press release

The ESB has just announced that it is to invest €22 billion in Sustainable Energy systems. My guess the exercise is mainly about cutting carbon emissions and avoiding EU sanctions as such. The investment will include the installation of so called “Smart Meters” and “Smart Networks”. I wonder if this will include buying back capacity from domestic micro-generation?

By 2020 the ESB hopes to be delivering one-third of its electricity from renewable generation about 1,400 megawatts in all from wind, wave, tidal and biomass generation systems. The other two thirds will come from where??? Oil at $500 a barrel or coal or what??

Their publicity blurb says that “ESB will drive substantial cost reductions in overheads across all its businesses in order to meet its new financial challenges” – to which I say “Yea Right”. More like they will double their pay packets and squeeze the customers for bulk of it!

The blurb goes on: “Strong financial performance and continuing rigorous funding will underpin the investment plan while achieving shareholder and customer value”. What tune does one sing this hymn to?? And - where are the violins?


Earth Hour Sydney


Sydney did Earth Hour proud

The above photo is one of many, flying around the Internet today, showing Sydney harbour with the lights on - and with the lights off for Earth Hour. A powerful statement at the flick of a switch!

What will Ireland do tonight???

Governments wake up!!!


Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour


Call to Action

Calling every citizen of the Planet Earth.

You are asked to show you concern for the Earth's Environment by turning of every light AND every thing electrical that is not essential, for one hour on Saturday March 29th at 8pm your local time.

This idea started by World Wildlife Fund in Australia last year, has been spreading rapidly throughout the world. The purpose is to raise awareness of Global Warming and the Energy Crisis.

Please e-mail and text as many people as you can about this idea. This is the power of the people. It can make a huge difference if enough people participate.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Algae sweet Algae!!!


I thought the voice in the last post sounded somewhat familiar, but I am not one to press for an identity if someone is a bit shy.

I am very happy to have a clarification from "ThaiDiamond" as to his true identity. It is our friend Kevin Cullen from Bangkok. Kevin, thank you very much for your excellent contribution to this exciting debate.

The letter:

Tony, I posted the following comment on your blog under your Fuel from Algae post of March 25th. Unfortunately I was logged on under my pen name, ThaiDiamond, and I'm not sure how to change all that. Below is the post and feel free to use my real name or whatever.



Oil from Algae Comment

Very Interesting Comment
Video Interview Link

(This was such an interesting comment that I felt it needed to be published as a post - Thanks "thaidiamond")

Tony, you're getting really slimy...I love it.

I believe you're right on track in thinking of biofuel potential of algae.

The world's oldest plant can reproduce itself in 24 hours -- some species reproduce up to 6 times a day! Algae doesn't need land to grow and, importantly, sequesters more CO2 than any other plant in the process. Producing a lot of oxygen as a by product.

Add sunlight, stir in water and away we go...well kind of.

You wanna know what this is all about?? Go watch the video!!

There's at least 60,000 different species -- and probably a lot more -- with some microalgae containing up to 50% lipids or vegetable oil.

Soy is about 20% lipids. The good news about soy used to be that you could claim that you only use the lipids for biofuel, preserving the rest of the bean for food. That's true but China, Malaysia and Indonesia have already complained to the EU about how its soy biofuel programs are driving up the price of soy oil in Asia. What's one man's fuel is another man's dinner.

Two companies I've come across have some interesting approaches.

Valcent produces algae in their closed loop "bioreactors" -- initial test runs were at 33,000 gallons an acre -- on semi-arid land in Texas that can't be used for food cultivation. To put that in perspective, palm, which I believe is the next highest source, can get some 6,700 gallons an acre.

Valcent thinks it can find the right algae species to get them up to the 100,000 gallon level. Indeed, they claim that if 1/10 of the state of New Mexico were used for algae production, they could meet the energy demands for the entire United States.

Go here for a "must see" video interview on algae per se and the technology:

Also intriguing is SF-based Solyzyme. They're private and much more secretive, but they claim not to even need sunlight to make algae. If that's true, they just solved one of the major obstacles to industrial production of biodiesel from algae.

Chevron seems to be impressed. America's number 2 oil producer just signed an agreement the company. I'm guessing to get Chevron to open their wallets they told them a lot more about the proprietary methods than almost 'nothin' they told me!

Solyzyme claim they their "oil" can be used to make anything that currently comes from a convention barrel of hydrocarbons. Jet fuel, petrol, plastics...the whole nine yards!

Importantly, algae also promises no change in infrastructure required. They just drove a diesel Mercedes all around San Francisco. Just funneled their oil in...and away.

After all, they remind us, oil itself is essentially fossilized algae.


Here is the link to Valcent's Vertigro information:


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fuel from Algae


Algae Farm

I wrote about Oil from Algae in my post last January

Seems like this algae to oil idea has taken serious hold in the US of A according to a just published announcement.

US corporation PetroSun has just announced the opening of its Rio Hondo, Texas algae farm on April 1, 2008. (Hope it is not just an April Fools Day affair)

It is PetroSun's first commercial algae to bio-fuel facility. The algae farm is on 1,100 acres of saltwater ponds. It will eventually produce, the company say, a minimum of 4.4 million gallons of algal oil and 110 million pounds of biomass yearly.

The Company also plans to establish algae farms and algae oil extraction plants in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mexico, Brazil and Australia during 2008. The algal oil product will be marketed as the basic oil product to bio-diesel refineries.

PetroSun has its headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their website is at:

Good luck to PetroSun, I hope their investment pays off in a big way - we will all benefit!


Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Efficient Vacuum Insulation


New Type High Efficiency
Construction Insulation

Perhaps the best way to conserve the energy used for heating or cooling is to increase insulation as much as possible. Well insulated buildings save a lot of energy and thereby money. That is why designers work hard constantly developing new and improved thermal insulation systems.

Insulating materials in current use include PU foam, rock wool, etc. – the best type of materials are those that have the lowest thermal conductivity – that means they are good at stopping heat passing through. The lower the thermal conductivity the less is the loss of heat between the outer and inner walls of a building.

In recent times, with the advent of high fuel prices and dwindling stocks, there has been a growing demand for better insulation so thicker and thicker layers of insulation are being utilised. At one time, for instance, 2 inches or 5 cm of attic insulation was thought to be an acceptable level, nowadays however, the desired figure is eight inches that’s 20 cm or even more.

The search is on for better and better insulating materials. Conventional insulation materials such as polystyrene foam are not fully able to prevent the loss of heat, but vacuum can provide the solution, same as in a vacuum flask that can keep the coffee hot for many hours.

Recently the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg Germany announced that they have developed a new type of vacuum insulation panels – VIPs for short – to a point where they are suitable for thermal insulation in construction work. The vacuum insulation panels are made up of a porous supporting structure encased in a special film that is not permeable to water vapour and gas, this is evacuated to just a few millibars and sealed. Sharp objects can easily damage the film which holds the vacuum, so the whole thing is then encased in a layer of polystyrene foam.

The thermal conductivity of the VIPs is ten times lower than that of other insulation materials. What’s more, it is significantly thinner. Current insulation can be 20 to 30 centimeters, this new system is only 9 to 11 cm thick for the same or even greater efficiency.

Looks promising if they can be made at reasonable costs. These panels might also be useful for retro fitting as attic insulation.


Monday, March 17, 2008

OLEDs The Roll-Up Lights!


Two Meters
of Light Please

OLEDS on a roll - held by two researchers in the lab
Looks like they have a few dead pixels on that sample!

GE announce Electric Lamps on a Roll
Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs)

(adapted from a press realease by GE)

On the 11th of March 2008 General Electric announced a demonstration of the world’s first flexible roll-to-roll manufactured organic light-emitting diode (OLED).

This is the first step in an industrial process which will in time dramatically reduce production costs of these lights.

OLEDs are made of an organically based material sandwiched between two electrodes. They light-up when you connect them to a battery or power unit. OLEDS possibly trail-blaze the next evolution in lighting products. These flexible bits of plastic can be made in just about any shape size or colour, and will provide an entirely different way for people to light their homes or businesses.

OLEDs offer the potential of dramatically improved efficiency and will be more environmentaly friendly than CFL bulbs for instance. OLEDs will be able to give high quality light of a colour and intensity similar to traditional products.

Lots of researchers are currently working on the idea of “printing” electronics in much the same way as a newspaper is printed on rolls of material in a continous process. Some work of this type has been achieved on PV Solar Cells (see earlier posts on this blog). GE have now shown the way for very low cost and high efficiency LED lighting.

It has taken $13 million worth of research and four years to get this far. The research could lead to other types of thin film manufacturing including possibly roll up flexible TV screens. The equipment needed to make these devices on a commercial scale does not currently exist.

Back in 2004 GE demonstrated OLED devices that were fully functional. The 24-inch by 24-inch panels produced 1,200 lumens. That’s a respectable amount of light and is what a 100 watt standard filament bulb gives you.

GE projects the introduction of OLED lighting products to market by the year 2010.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Bio Fuel Enzyme


The Guys in the lab who made it happen Congrats!

Exciting News
New Bio Fuel Enzyme

Lots of scientists are playing around with faster and easier ways of making bio-ethanol from plan materials. At the University of Maryland they think they may have the answer.

The work began with bacteria culture taken from Chesapeake Bay area. They are calling it “The Zymetis Process”. It now looks like the evolved process may be able to convert large volumes of any type of plant product such as leftovers from canning factories, brewer's mash, and even waste paper, into bio-ethanol.

These guys are projecting 75 Billion Gallons a Year

When they get the process fully up and running it could be capable of production of 75 billion gallons ethanol a year.

The secret to the Zymetis process is a Chesapeake Bay marsh grass bacteria called S. degradans. The team discovered that the bacteria had a special enzyme which was capable of rapidly breaking down just about any plant material into sugar; the sugar then can very easily be converted to the bio fuel. The next step was synthesising the enzyme called “Ethazyme” so it could be manufactured in quantity.

They are rubbing their hand in anticipation of a $5 billion market in this magic enzyme.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Wood Pellets Cost More than Oil


For Many Users
Wood Pellets
Cost More
Than Oil

Just today I was in the post office and there was one of those ubiquitous advertising flat screen TVs displaying various adverts. One advert that caught my eye was a bio fuel dealer’s promotion which was making the bold statement that:

Wood Pellets are more efficient than Oil
Wood Pellets cost half the price of Oil

You cannot make any comparison between the two fuels unless you first look at heat output.

1 Kg of Wood pellets gives 4.88 Kilowatts of heat for 1 hour.
1 Litre of Heating Oil gives 10.50 Kilowatts of heat for 1hour.

It takes almost exactly 2.14 tonnes of wood pellets, that is two and the one eight tonnes, to give the same heat output as 1000 litres of heating oil.

The Prices

Wood Pellets 2.14 tonnes = 1000 litres of oil.
Wood Pellets cheapest bulk (3 tonne lots) = €210 per tonne.
Wood Pellets bagged 10Kg bags = €300 per tonne + €54 for delivery.
Heating oil 1000 Litres currently approximately €730.

The Comparison

For the same amount of heat output the following end costs are true:

2.14 tonnes of wood pellets in bags cost = €708 (delivered).
2.14 tonnes of wood pellets in bags cost = €642 (if you collect. What does that cost?)
2.14 tonnes of wood pellets bulk 3 tonne lots = €449.40
1000 litres of heating oil at time of writing = €730

Bagged Wood Pellet Users

Delivered bagged wood pellet users will save €22 per fill over oil or €44 per year on average.
Bagged wood pellet users who collect may save a bit more but not the face value of €88 per oil fill or €176 per year average.

Bulk Wood Pellet Users

If you are one of the lucky few to have a proper bulk storage facilities, which probably cost you at least €2000 to set up, you could be saving €205 against the cost of a fill of oil. Two fills a year being the average use of oil, your yearly saving would be €410. Now if your paid €3000 on top of the grant for your pellet boiler and another €2000 for your storage facility, making a total of €5000, it would take you 12 years to recover your investment.

If you are a bagged wood pellet user saving €88 per fill the total yearly saving for bagged wood pellets would be €176 at most. Say your wood pellet system cost you €3000 on top of the grant, at present prices it would take you 17 years to recover your investment if you are using bagged pellets.

If you are a bagged wood pellet user who is paying a delivery charge you are saving little or nothing over oil costs.

Boiler Efficiency.

Condensing oil boilers will give a figure of 95% to 97% efficiency. For ordinary oil boilers the figure is 85%,

Wood pellet boiler efficiencies vary a great deal. The very best gives around about 92% efficiency, I have yet to see one giving better than that.

Overall Efficiency

If you have a condensing oil boiler is is going to be about 10% more efficient than an average pellet boiler. So the figures given above would need to be accordingly modified giving you less saving on the wood pellets.


Simple straightforward outcome of this exercise: It costs more to heat your home if you use bagged wood pellets than oil users with condensing oil boilers. For sure as oil prices increase, you will see wood pellet price follow, so I doubt you will see any future saving worth talking about.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Batteries - Vital to Energy Future


Vital to Energy Future

Batteries are very important items to the proper functioning of our society today. They are needed to run so many essential gadgets from phones, to laptop computers, to electric cars, to forklift trucks. We would be quite lost without them.

When all the oil in the world is used up, in approximately 15 years, we will have no option but to use electric cars, electric planes, electric trains etc. electric everything. We will need a lot of special batteries for these purposes.

The Problems with Batteries

The problems with batteries are that they are very heavy, they don’t last very long, they are slow to charge, and they don’t give out the power fast enough for the very high power need to drive aeroplane propellers for instance. These factors have always been a big problem especially with electric cars. There are already commercially available super efficient, high power / high speed electric motors capable of amazing performance, but the batteries available will not take nearly enough power to go any length of journey. The other limitation of electric cars is that they take ages to charge up, and the batteries will be fit only for the rubbish tip in 3 years of use.

Batteries are Chemical Factories

One of the oldest types of re-chargeable battery is the lead-acid battery. This is the type used in most cars, trucks etc. With an efficiency of up to 92%, as little as 8% is lost in the charge/discharge cycle, and durability of up to approximately 800 charges / discharges that is not a lot really, just 2 to 3 years at most.

Lead acid batteries have a size to power ratio of approximately 70 Watt Hours per litre. So a 70 Kilo Watt Hour battery would be 1000 Litres in size or 1 cubic meter. A 30 Kw/h battery would be approximately 428 litres.

All batteries from the little ones in flashlights to the one in your car use chemical reactions to store and release energy. Because of this chemistry the metals and chemicals inside wear out fairly soon. The harder the use the sooner a battery wears out.

Ultra Capacitors

For some time now there has been an alternative to batteries which overcomes all but a couple of the disadvantages. Supercapacitors or Ultra-capacitors. These devices can charge up in minutes or even seconds in some instances, and equally they can give out great blasts of power in a very short space of time.

Capacitors store electricity as a field of charged particles between two metal electrodes there is therefore no erosion involved so they last much longer, up to 10 years or even more, compare that against a mere 3 years for most batteries. The problem is that they can only take 4 to 5% of the charge, size for size, of a lead acid battery. You would have to fill an entire car with them to get any kind of mileage. This problem now has been solved. The problem is that storage capacity is proportional to the surface area of the electrodes, so even the most powerful capacitors hold 25 times less energy than similarly sized standard chemical batteries.

Nano Tube "Fur" on an Aluminium Sheet

The Problem has been Solved?

MIT have discovered how to grow fur on sheets of metal!!! I joke you not - this is the truth. The MIT researchers have solved the capacitor problem by covering the electrodes with millions of nanotubes (like hairs - only microscopic). The nanotube “hairs” increase the surface area of the electrode many times over thus allowing the capacitor to store much more energy.

MIT’s capacitor has succeeded in combining attributes of present day batteries with the long life expectancy and speed of charge of super-capacitors.

Battery Future

When these new storage devices are fully optimised and commercially available they will help change the way we handle electricity. In electric cars they will provide very high power combined with the ability to make long journeys between charges, and very fast charging – just like filling a fuel tank just minutes of a stop off.

In the use of solar and wind power these capacitor-batteries can provide a safe durable maintenance free way of storing power. It may well be that every house in every town and city will have the roof covered with high efficiency nano technology PV solar cells. These will feed into a nano technology super capacitor battery about the size of a fridge capable of providing all household power for days. It could completely revolutionise the way we deal with power and energy. Micro-generation could become a viable alternative.

Micro-Generation as Alternative

Micro generation what is it?? It is jargon as usual – it means generating electricity in very small ways by wind turbine, PV Solar Cells etc. Lots of people already have these devices. But if you are not using electricity on a windy night when your windmill is whirring away, it is lost forever.

Lead acid battery packs are being used by some people but they are high maintenance, awkward, and only last a few years.

With the advent of these new Capacitor-Batteries, along with development of modern inverters and power controllers, power generated can be stored and effectively used when needed.

So, in the near future, new type high-efficiency nano-technology PV solar cells on the roof generating power in bright daylight or sunlight, and a small turbine at the bottom of the garden whirring away throughout the night could provide all the power needed for a home to function.


Sure - you know all new gadgets will be very expensive for a while, and then the price will drop to one tenth of original. In a few years self-powered homes could really be 100% environmentally friendly and financially viable alternatives to connecting to the grid.

Time will tell!