Saturday, July 25, 2009

Greenhouses will grow algae for biofuel

Photo: CreativeCommons License by Lee Nachtigal

A major green fuels project was just announced by U.S. Biofuels and is expected to be completed by 2010. They purchased 12 greenhouses that cover 8 acres, and will be used to grow algae in a closed system using the photobioreactor (PBR) process. The greenhouses (with more planned) will eventually enable the company to produce over 50 million gallons of biodiesel per year.

A PBR is a bioreactor, which includes some kind of light source. Really any clear, translucent container could be called a PBR, but the term is more commonly used to define a closed system, as opposed to an open tank or pond. This system allows more species to be grown at a faster rate, extending the growing season, and if heated it can produce all year round.

Biodiesel Digest is projecting that algal biofuels capacity will reach 1 billion gallons by 2014, and a third of it is expected to use a closed system photobioreactor (PBR) process like U.S. Biofuels.

This sounds to me like a better alternative than ethanol (made from corn), which is coming under some criticism, including reports of engine problems from long-term use. Production of this type of fuel from algae should cause no harm to food prices, like found by the demand for corn reducing acreage normally used for wheat. Now if they would just develop an algae that would burn clean...

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