Why Algae based Biofuels
Algae Based Biofuels have been hyped in the media as a potential panacea to our Crude Oil based Transportation problems. The advantages of Algae Biofuels are being propagated by strong backers like Bill Gates ,Rockefeller family and Exxon Mobil.Crop based biofuels have been discredited because of their pernicious effects on Food Prices and increasing rather than reducing GHG emissions.First Generation Crop based Biofuels are clearly not the answer to substitute Crude Oil based Transportation fuels.Second Generation Biofuels based on Algae is now the new hope for Biofuel enthusiasts.
Advantages of Algae based Biofuels
The advantages of algae based biofuels makes for impressive reading.The main advantages of algae based biofuels are
- More Productive Land Usage compared to traditional crop based biofuels from corn,soybean,sugar.
Algae have the potential to yield greater volumes of biofuel per acre of production than other biofuel sources. Algae could yield more than 2000 gallons of fuel per acre per year of production. Approximate yields for other fuel sources are far lower:
- Palm — 650 gallons per acre per year
- Sugar cane — 450 gallons per acre per year
- Corn — 250 gallons per acre per year
- Soy — 50 gallons per acre per year
- Algae uses Carbon Dioxide as Feedstock thereby helping in reduction of one of the main reasons for Global Warming
In the Sapphire process, 1 kilogram of algae biomass uses 1.8 kilograms of CO2. About 50 percent of that algal biomass is oil, so the production of each gallon of oil consumes 13 to 14 kilograms of the greenhouse gas, Zenk said.”You can see, it’s just completely packed full of that stuff,” Zenk said. “That’s what makes it one of the most unique plants on planet Earth for consumption of carbon.”
- The Fuels generated through them have the same specifications that can be directly be used by Planes and Automobiles.
Criticisms of Algae Based Biofuels
The main criticism leveled at Biofuels are that they are not ready for commercial production yet despite claims made by a number of algae biofuel startups.The criticisms leveled at algae based biofuels are
- Algae based biofuels uses a lot of Energy and Water and may lead to more GHG emissions than crop based biofuels over its complete life-cycle
- The Technology for Biofuels is not still ready for Mass based production.It will still take around 10 years for the Technology of Algae Biofuels to become ready for the prime time.
Algae Biofuel Companies
There are a number of startups in this space just like the other green fields sectors of Electric Vehicles , Solar and Wind.Some are hyped more than others like Solyndra and will end up in failure. The more famous ones are Solazyme,Sapphire Energy and Synthetic Genomics, Inc.Most of these companies are private and have strong backers.There are also some publicly listed companies like Codexis and Petroalgae for investors wanting a piece of the algae based biofuel action.Here is an article from Earth2Tech which gives the most comprehensive list of Startups in this Green Segment.
Algae Based Biofuels is a promising technology of which there is little doubt .However Algae Biofuel still needs a lot of time to move from the Lab to Commercial Production.Most of the opportunities mostly exist in the Private Equity and Venture Capital side and that too for people with really deep pockets like Bill Gates and Exxon.For the mainstream investor Algae Biofuel sector is still not a feasible investment opportunity yet.