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Note to self: Invest in Algae
November 29, 2006 12:25 AM   Subscribe

Petroleum from Pond Scum: Dr. Isaac Berzin, founder of GreenFuel Technologies, is working on a prototype that uses algae to convert power plant emissions into biofuels. Good news: It would only take a bioreactor twice the size of new Jersey to supply the entire US with its petroleum needs.
posted by tehloki (40 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Solution: Build one half of the reactor over New Jersey, and the other half on top of it.
posted by tehloki at 12:27 AM on November 29, 2006


Like so many other nifty ideas, the problem with this one is that it doesn't scale. It probably can be made to work, but it can't be made to work big enough to really make a difference.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:31 AM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


What if we built this New-Jersey-Sized reactor, covered it in wind-turbines, paneled the roof in solar cells, made biodiesel in factories underneath it, and used roads the border of the massive structure to test-drive hybrid cars?
posted by tehloki at 12:38 AM on November 29, 2006


If this idea gets rid of New Jersey--I'm all for it!
posted by sourwookie at 12:38 AM on November 29, 2006


At first I thought this was a dupe, but it's just the second news story in two weeks about Israeli progress in alternative fuel research. Can't blame them for wanting to reduce the value of oil.
posted by gsteff at 12:40 AM on November 29, 2006


Well, in fairness, all the work seems to be being done at MIT, and the company appears to be based in the U.S.... but the inventor is Israeli.
posted by gsteff at 12:49 AM on November 29, 2006


I'm actually curious why it doesn't scale. Inputs seem to be water, land, CO2, and sunlight. These are not things we have a huge shortage of.
posted by effugas at 12:53 AM on November 29, 2006


Just stick one of these on the top of every smokestack in the world.

You could even subcontract the algae harvesting and biofuel extraction.
posted by MythMaker at 12:58 AM on November 29, 2006


IT only doesn't scale if you can't think creatively. I'm not saying this particular idea is it, but the "it doesn't scale" argument is usually a result of trying to apply current modes of production to future products.
posted by cell divide at 1:09 AM on November 29, 2006


Yeah this doesn't HAVE to supply the entire petroleum needs of the US, it just has to sit on top of all the smokestacks just bein' green.
posted by shanevsevil at 2:15 AM on November 29, 2006


Now I have an excuse for stealing all these used goldfish bowls. Thank you, science.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:26 AM on November 29, 2006


It's not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that

It's not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green's the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean, or important
Like a mountain, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be

posted by Meatbomb at 2:50 AM on November 29, 2006


With this our current administration an finally make a positive contribution to our energy problems.
posted by caddis at 3:27 AM on November 29, 2006


It probably can be made to work, but it can't be made to work big enough to really make a difference.

Thanks, Dr. Science. When's the Nobel Prize coming?
posted by rxrfrx at 4:31 AM on November 29, 2006


What's wrong with the way we get oil now?
posted by redteam at 4:39 AM on November 29, 2006


Inputs seem to be water, land, CO2, and sunlight. These are not things we have a huge shortage of.
posted by effugas at 12:53 AM PST


Yes there are.

Land - land taxes power local governments. You'd have to level lots of tax base. Or cover alot of ecosystems to put up the 'gow algae' ecosystems.

CO2. Less than one part per thousand in the air. So you'd have to locate this next to some large CO2 generator. (Hence the land consumption)

Raw material - where will the raw material come from to build these things? How does that effect the pricing of other raw materials? (to answer that question, assume concrete. Then look at the natural gas used to make concrete and what happens to the concrete market when countries like China start using alot in public and private projects)

Sunlight. If photons are valuable to catch and make power for humans, algae is %.05 (or is it %0.5) in the photon -> energy conversion rate. Solar PV can be as higher than %23 with many panels in the %15 range.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:08 AM on November 29, 2006


1. There isn't that much of it left.
2. Oil from the ground doesn't represent CO2 that's been taken from our present atmosphere, so using it means we're increasing the atmospheric CO2.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:09 AM on November 29, 2006


What's wrong with the way we get oil now?
posted by redteam at 4:39 AM PST


Nothing. Go back to sleep. Ignore the costs of the US Military to 'project stability' in the Middle East where the majority of the large oil fields are/were. Ignore the idea that oil from the ground represents a finite resource in a closed system. Ignore how the US Dollar is tied to oil and if the US Dollar is no longer the only way to transact oil purchases what the effects would be. Just listen to the command to ignore and drift back to sleep that way I can stop typing an Ignore list.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:15 AM on November 29, 2006


It would only take a bioreactor twice the size of new Jersey to supply the entire US with its petroleum needs.

How many rough ashlars would that be?
posted by srboisvert at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2006


Alternative energy doesn't scale to a single megalithic silver-bullet solution. Northern Germany gets %20 of its electricity from wind power. I'm not sure how much they get from Solar but it's probably equally high. Here is perhaps another %20 solution. They are wedges in a pie, in the end more robust, fault-tolerant and less prone to"eggs in one basket" problems we currently have with fossil fuel (energy monopolies).
posted by stbalbach at 5:30 AM on November 29, 2006


How many rough ashlars would that be?
posted by srboisvert at 5:27 AM PST


None. Because rough ashlars are just rocks, awaiting finishing by the master masons so that they can be included in the work.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:33 AM on November 29, 2006


If this idea gets rid of New Jersey--I'm all for it!

Twice the size of New Jersey. Should fit handily into Missouri...
posted by IndigoJones at 5:36 AM on November 29, 2006


Alternative energy doesn't scale to a single megalithic silver-bullet solution.
posted by stbalbach at 5:30 AM PST


Depends on how you frame the question. If you frame it in the present model (I can go to the oil-product store, exchange FRNs and get me oil-products and never experience a shortage or I flick on a switch and the lights just go on no matter what and I pay a flat rate) then yes. If you re-frame (a human can generate 100 watts of electrial power. When I use electrical power to do work its like having a slave and avoids me having to spend alot of time, say gathering materials to release their heat via oxidation) and adjust your expectations....its amazing how magical a PV panel is.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:39 AM on November 29, 2006


rough ashlar writes "Ignore the costs of the US Military to 'project stability' in the Middle East where the majority of the large oil fields are/were. Ignore the idea that oil from the ground represents a finite resource in a closed system. Ignore how the US Dollar is tied to oil and if the US Dollar is no longer the only way to transact oil purchases what the effects would be."


You're neglecting to mention that whole oil calories -> food calories thing. When the oil runs out, so does the food.
posted by mullingitover at 5:56 AM on November 29, 2006


You're neglecting to mention that whole oil calories -> food calories thing. When the oil runs out, so does the food.
posted by mullingitover at 5:56 AM PST


My fingers were getting sore from mentioning how a cow indirectly eats 250 gallons of oil via pesticides and the way corn is grown in the US of A. or how in 1974 the ratio was 1 food cal -> 10 oil cals and is higher for US citizens today. Hopefully redstate is back to sleep so we can stop providing answers redstate doesn't want to hear.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:18 AM on November 29, 2006


I shall explain this in terms most of us can understand... World of Warcraft-ese.

To say that "it doesn't scale enough to make a difference" doesn't take into account the value of +1% critical damage gained from an article of clothing, armor, or weapon.

A +1% increase isn't much, and when first playing the game may seem quite useless - but if you keep adding on items that have a +1% crit, you eventually end up with a nice healthy chance of dealing some serious damage!!

So you see - it doesn't matter if the green goo fuel isn't enough to make a difference. If you make it in a lot of places, and combine it with other 'green' technologies (wind, solar, etc..) you may suddenly find yourself not so dependent upon that overseas oil...
posted by matty at 6:23 AM on November 29, 2006


The Ragnarok Online Model works better. Assassins usually end up with something like a 45% critical chance.
posted by tehloki at 8:09 AM on November 29, 2006


Okay, this post has officially come full-circle from alternative-energy to peak oil to logical fallacies all the way down to MMORPG nerddom.
posted by tehloki at 8:10 AM on November 29, 2006


All in all, a good first post, I'd say; Apart from the fact that tehloki is addicted to commenting in his own thread.

Is there an anonymous acronymized organization to, you know, quit this sort of thing?
posted by tehloki at 8:12 AM on November 29, 2006


"Here is perhaps another %20 solution. They are wedges in a pie, in the end more robust, fault-tolerant and less prone to"eggs in one basket" problems we currently have with fossil fuel (energy monopolies)."

Agreed. Every little bit will help, there is no single solution. We're in for a rough, rough ride if we can't transition over to a wide variety of regionally-applicable energy solutions. For some regions, that will mean expanded local hydroelectric power; for some, adding as much wind capacity as is practical; for some, more reliance on coal - which would be a good place to put this system on the smokestacks, of course - and some various other sources including continuing the use of oil and natural gas, as well as nuclear.

"Inputs seem to be water, land, CO2, and sunlight."

rough ashlar, your points are well taken. However, I think out of all of these, the critical input is going to be the water source. There are ways to manage land use and perhaps build this in a multi-story array with solar reflectors, and CO2 and sunlight are relatively plentiful depending on where it's built in the first place.

We do have lots of empty land that gets lots of sunlight, but there isn't much water in those places...

Like I said, every little bit helps. Adding this system anywhere there's a big belching smokestack could help reclaim currently lost resource, and help clean up the air too.

Of course, cutting our energy use by 25-50% wouldn't hurt, and I think we could do that almost immediately.
posted by zoogleplex at 9:37 AM on November 29, 2006


You guys are all making a big deal about this. Water - use barely treated sewage. You're not going to be eating the algae.

It reduces pollution by 85% and provides cheap biofuel. You're using as a fuel source something that's now being seen as pollution. What's the problem?

You just need someone to scrape the algae out every day. I'm sure that Exxon would be pleased to do so.
posted by MythMaker at 10:17 AM on November 29, 2006


You guys are all making a big deal about this. Water - use barely treated sewage. You're not going to be eating the algae.

And the sewage is going to get to the CO2 making plant where the CO2 can super-fuel the algae exactly how?

Most places with a CO2 producer doesn't have the sewage plant nearby. Not to mention how sewage has other non-organic matter in it that would screw up your algae growing. Like other algae species.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:53 AM on November 29, 2006


"And I'm still waiting for the poop-deck cleaner of the USS Clueless to get back to The Blue on how to do that, keep the rate cut, and grow the economy."

Whoa, hold on! I never said anything about keeping the prices low and the economy growing! From my POV, those two ain't bloody likely.

"(I can go to the oil-product store, exchange FRNs and get me oil-products and never experience a shortage or I flick on a switch and the lights just go on no matter what and I pay a flat rate)"

IMO, this ain't bloody likely either. Things are going to change quite a bit.

Oh wait, you're referring to SCDB... don't hold your breath for an answer, dude. :)

Anyway, obviously this isn't going to magically solve the huge multitude of problems we're facing. But it should be applicable and helpful in some cases, so it shouldn't be flatly discounted.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:45 AM on November 29, 2006


There's always space in Texas, right?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:16 PM on November 29, 2006


In theory large algae farms could be built anywhere there is access to large amounts of water and sun. The process is slower in the open air than in stacks such as these but still quite feasible or possible.
posted by aaronscool at 3:08 PM on November 29, 2006


Remember, there are two aspects to any fuel system:

1) Get the energy
2) Transport the energy

Petroleum is special because it's both an energy source and a battery. If we were to use PV to power CO2 extraction from the atmosphere, thus feeding Algae, we'd still come out ahead on the energy transport front.
posted by effugas at 6:26 PM on November 29, 2006


This idea ain't no tour bus, but it is a wheel.
posted by tehloki at 7:40 PM on November 29, 2006


It isn't a truck.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:08 AM on November 30, 2006


http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/fy98/24190.pdf (pdf) is a good read on this subject and sadly shows how little we've done to actually explore this.
posted by aaronscool at 10:13 AM on November 30, 2006




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