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Boeing Helping to Develop Algae-Powered Jet 326

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the powerful-pond-scum dept.
jon_cooper writes "Air New Zealand, Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation and Boeing are working together to develop and test a bio-fuel derived from algae. Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation began operating in May last year after it met a request from the local council to deal with excess algae on sewage ponds. Boeing's Dave Daggett was reported this year as saying algae ponds totaling 34,000 square kilometers could produce enough fuel to reduce the net CO2 footprint for all of aviation to zero."
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Boeing Helping to Develop Algae-Powered Jet

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  • by Kohath (38547) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @12:55PM (#19903135)
    And in response, General Dynamics developed a cloud-powered submarine.

    The irony wars have just been joined!
  • cost... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @12:57PM (#19903167)
    Technologically there is nothing to stop us from using renewables to make liquid hydrogen and fuel jet planes with that ( yes, a jet engine will run fine on liquid hydrogen, it has been done ). The problem is that such a scheme is very costly ( about 4 times the cost of fossil fuels ). Given that you will hav eto extract the stuff out of these algae, refine it, and of course the trouble of growing themin the first place, I must wonder if it can ever become eonomically practical. I guess eventually something must replace Oil, but these things are quite a bit away still.
    • Re:cost... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Orange Crush (934731) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:23PM (#19903591)

      Actually, they're talking about converting the harvested algae into bio-jetfuel, not straight hydrogen. It's pretty easy to get biodiesel from algae--extract the oil, then some fairly simple chemical reactions yield fuel that will work in any modern diesel engine with no modifications. This is nothing new. What's interesting is this company is working with Boeing and adding or changing a step in the conversion process to derive a fuel from algae suitable for jet engines instead of diesel engines.

      Hydrogen isn't all that great as a combustion fuel. Energy density is weak, it's expensive to produce, store and transport and the added temperature and pressure regulating gear adds a lot of dead weight--which is especially bad for an aircraft.

    • Our current energy problem will be solved with solutions that were developed during the last energy problem (late '70's). Things like tar sands and oil shale. The problem with them the last time around was that the cost to exploit these sources is at least $60 a barrel. By 1980, everyone knew that oil prices were not going to be that high in the near future. Now that oil prices have reached the point where they will almost certainly stay above $60 a barrel, people are starting to develop the facilities to p
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by shlashdot (689477)
        I don't think tar sands or especially oil shale represent a solution. Shell is already backpedalling on their promises for oil shale.

        http://www.aspencore.org/images/pdf/OilShale.pdf [aspencore.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by macmurph (622189)
        Are the tar sands located under a forest in Canada? What will happen to that environment? Shouldn't we list that forest as a cost?
        • "Are the tar sands located under a forest in Canada? What will happen to that environment? Shouldn't we list that forest as a cost?" I don't know, I wasn't on the accounting team that worked out the costs. However, it is important to point out that country's with higher per capita incomes generally take better care of their environment.
      • Other costs (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Valdrax (32670)
        Unfortunately, that will only exacerbate all of our other problems from energy use -- namely the carbon footprint of our industry.
        We should be working on getting carbon back into the ground and not on pulling more out.
    • The problem is that such a scheme is very costly ( about 4 times the cost of fossil fuels ).

      Is that 4X the cost of fossil fuels with oil at $12/barrel, or 4X cost with oil at $72/barrel? When were these cost estimates last updated?

    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      Another interesting question is why oil is so cheap. Yes, I know that people have been whining about high gas and oil prices, but when we run our cars and planes on the stuff and make tons of plastic out of it, it's cheap. Otherwise, we would be using alternatives.

      Now, I haven't actually done the research on this, but I suspect that there is a lot of price regulation, political pressure, and even warfare involved. Not exactly a free market. What it would boil down to, then, is that oil is being subsidized.
      • On the other hand, maybe I have it all backwards, and the price fixing etc. actually makes oil more _expensive_ than it would otherwise be
        Four letters for you: OPEC. I have yet to see a cartel that tries to keep prices below the market equilibrium...
        • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
          ``Four letters for you: OPEC. I have yet to see a cartel that tries to keep prices below the market equilibrium...''

          Yes, of course. But it's different when you have the world's most powerful military looking your way...
      • Another interesting question is why oil is so cheap.

        It's cheap, because once you get past the initial enormous outlay for finding the oil field, drilling, and building the refinery, you have enormous economies of scale that bring the price per gallon of crude and per gallon of refined fuel down to a very low level.

        Now, I haven't actually done the research on this, but I suspect that there is a lot of price regulation, political pressure, and even warfare involved. Not exactly a free market.

        You've got it right on all counts. What do you think OPEC is? In any other industry it would be called a cartel, members would be charged with collusion and price fixing. Then there are the various taxes that in some countries make up over 70%

  • This would only reduce the footprint to zero if there is no energy cost in processing the fuel, and if it uses only algae that would not otherwise have been grown, or at least would have otherwise been burnt. I'm sure its not bad though, can't be worse than oil I wouldn't think. Regardless of any carbon sink arguments though, it turns fuel into a renewable resource instead of a dwindling finite resource, and that can't be a bad thing.
  • I'm not sure how practical that is.....34,000 square kilometers is 13,000 square miles which is half the size of lake Superior. Where are you going to make an algae lake like that? Of course, as polluted as some of the great lakes already are, at least if we did this it would have some good effect.
    --
    Looking for a C/C++ job in Silicon Valley? [slashdot.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      In the ocean?

      34,000/361,000,000~=0.01%
    • Of course, as polluted as some of the great lakes already are, at least if we did this it would have some good effect.

      That was my thought. At first I was going to propose Lake Michigan, but eh, Superior is between Canada and Minnesota, let them deal with it.
      love,
      Wisconsin.
    • by timeOday (582209)

      I'm not sure how practical that is.....34,000 square kilometers is 13,000 square miles which is half the size of lake Superior. Where are you going to make an algae lake like that?

      It's a drop in the bucket [ens-newswire.com]...

      In its Global 2000 report, the White House Council on Environmental Quality noted that "improvident grazing . . . has been the most potent desertification force, in terms of total acreage (351,562 square miles) within the United States."

      That's not the number of acres used by grazing, it's the number

    • by Radon360 (951529)

      Well, warm water will grow algae faster than the cold waters of Lake Superior. Lake Erie might be a better choice in that respect (but it freezes over most winters). Algae now also grows better in the great lakes, thanks to the zebra mussel and quagga mussel effect by clarifying the water and lowering the turbidity, allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper than ever before.

      Polluted? With fertilizer run-off, human and animal waste perhaps. There's still some mercury from coal power plants, but the lakes (

  • In other news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by saibot834 (1061528) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:01PM (#19903251) Homepage
    In other news, the gathering of algae lead to an increased production of CO2, as the machines and techniques used in this progress were powered by normal gasoline.
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``In other news, the gathering of algae lead to an increased production of CO2, as the machines and techniques used in this progress were powered by normal gasoline.''

      Some people use this as an argument against biofuel from algae. However, I honestly don't see why that makes sense. Sure, if you're silly enough to keep using fossil fuels for your fuel production, you'll still be using fossil fuels and having a net positive effect on the CO2 in the air. However, once you are producing biofuels, there is littl
  • I don't know; sounds kind of fishy to me!
  • by StressGuy (472374) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:05PM (#19903325)
    BTW - not surprising that the article keeps running into the "proprietary data" wall. This is typical of dealing with Boeing (and other avition firms for that matter).

    However, check this out:

    http://www.faa.gov/news/speeches/news_story.cfm?ne wsId=8257 [faa.gov]

    The FAA has been showing interest recently in reducing the environmental impact of the aviation industry.

    Personally, I'd love to see bio-fuels take off (no pun intended). Turn Death Valley into a big algae farm (although watch that impact global weather patterns somehow).

  • Speaking of sewage ponds... Even though 34,000 square kilometers of sewage ponds may reduce the CO2 footprint, I bet that it would create a hell of a methane footprint. ;)
  • Algae ponds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fishfish (139505)
    So that is about 100, 9x15 mile sized ponds. Not quite Indiana (and who says they need to be on land)?

    Maybe put them out in Nevada where the sun shines all the time. And pump waste water from LA to give the algae water and nutrients. Someone else needs to do the energy (pumping, mixers, etc.) and cost-of-water calculations. But carbon offsets for all of aviation should be pretty valuable.
  • 34000 km^2 is 10 times bigger than Rhode Island. That's a lot of area. But then again, there were 93 million acres of corn planted [seedquest.com] in the US last year. That comes out to 380000 km^2. Now if we can just turn those corn subsidies into algae subsidies...and find a massive amount of water to grow the algae in.
  • reduce the net CO2 footprint for all of aviation to zero.

    Excuse me, but, how do you reduce a CO2 footprint by removing algae that converts CO2 to O2?

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      You don't go around and scoop up existing algae, you farm it, intensively, so you make more algae in the world.

      The algae, just like anything else, don't magically disappear that C that they get from the CO2, they store it in their little bodies. So if I grow a tonne of algae, then I burn that algae, the net effect is zero. Assuming I power all the algae growing, harvesting and distribution machinery with algae gas. Which shouldn't be a problem, since it's what we do with petroleum already.
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:21PM (#19903563) Journal
    I love the opening line of the article

    Air New Zealand and airliner manufacturer Boeing are secretly working with Blenheim-based biofuel developer Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation to create the world's first environmentally friendly aviation fuel, made of wild algae.
    Not so secret anymore.
    --
    Looking for a C/C++ job in Silicon Valley? [slashdot.org]
  • Good! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:28PM (#19903659) Homepage Journal
    Good news! It's good to see a good idea take hold. I was convinced that bio fuels are not just a good idea in practice, but actually tenable in practice by some reading I did sometime last year. When I talked about it with my father, he asked me "If it's such a good idea, why is nobody doing it?" Since then, magazines have written about bio fuels, more and more people have started using them, and now even Boeing is behind them. And they're getting it right: no mucking around with corn, soy, or even rapeseed, but actually using high-yield algae for feedstock. Thanks, Boeing!
    • When I talked about it with my father, he asked me "If it's such a good idea, why is nobody doing it?"

      That attitude bugs the hell out me. Every good idea has to start somewhere. And it's one thing to run into it when you're sitting around BS'ing with your Dad, but it's a real problem when you're dealing with, e.g., the non-obviousness standard for patents ("It can't be obvious, or someone would have patented it already!" "You're right -- $STUPID_PATENT_OF_THE_WEEK approved ...") or when trying to get a g
  • It only makes sense to run airliners on algae. The use of biofuels for mass transportation has been around since at least the 1940s...

    I mean, didn't Mussolini get the trains to run on thyme?

    (My apologies to xkcd, http://www.xkcd.com/c282.html [xkcd.com])
  • Where to put it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darlantan (130471) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:40PM (#19903859)
    To all of you asking "Where would you put a pond the size of X nation!?!"

    The same place you'd put a refinery large enough to refine every last drop of oil we use today: NOT IN ONE PLACE, DUMBASSES.

    Is it really that hard to imagine that these ponds will be spread out over multiple areas? There are many large cities producing tons of the waste this stuff is supposed to thrive on, so logically the processing plants would be near them. Aside from that, it only makes sense to have your production facilities spread out so that one hurricane or whatever doesn't knock out the entire world's supply of jet fuel.

    Along the same line of reasoning as the last reason, it also makes sense to have widely distributed production facilities so that you don't have to ship the final product halfway around the globe to serve, say, Indonesia.
  • by Dunx (23729) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:41PM (#19903867) Homepage
    Area required to fuel worldwide air fleet? 34,000 km^2

    Area of West Virginia? 62,361 km^2

    Half of West Virginia covered in algae? Priceless!
  • by markbt73 (1032962) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:43PM (#19903899)
    Can't the planes just burn politicians? Same thing, and FAR more of a problem...
    • It would be far more efficient to capture the hot air coming from them instead and using that in balloons or powering turbines. Besides, they produce an unending supply of that, whereas the supply of politicians themselves tends to be a bit more finite...sort of like the goose that lays golden eggs.

  • by cyfer2000 (548592) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @01:46PM (#19903975) Journal

    Based on a research conducted by the National Renewable Energy Lab, http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/fy98/24190.pdf [nrel.gov], a 1000 square meter out door pond at Roswell, New Mexico was used to grow algae with controlled conditions (Ph value, CO2...). Algae could grow at a peak value of 50 gram/m^2/day and average value of 10 gram/m^2/day. Then some people on the good old internet translated (manipulated) this number as algae can grow at 10-50 gram/m^2/day. Then the number was redefined as biofuel can be produced from the pond at a speed of 10-50 gram/m^2/day. An acre is 4047 m^2. So that's 40470-202350 gram/acre/day and 14,771,550-73,857,750 gram/acre/year. Diesel density is 850g/liter, and one gallon is 3.7854 liter, so one gallon of diesel is 3218g. Then the pond production rate become 4,600- 23,000 gallon/acre/year, then some other people at the Wiki thing estimated 10,000-20,000 gallon/acre/year, and then comes the Boeing number.

    I really hope we can fly cleaner, but, man, there is a dead fish smell.

    • by indros13 (531405) *
      The same NREL study also found that operating costs ran around $160/barrel of algae oil. That's the price prior to refining into biodiesel. In other words, we have a long way to go...

  • old research (Score:4, Informative)

    by f1055man (951955) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @02:00PM (#19904189)
    The technology for biodiesel from algae has been around for a long time. If you can put up with Alan Alda, here's a bioreactor at MIT: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnOSnJJSP5c [youtube.com] Raceway ponds (google search spirulina) may be more promising for industrial scale algae farming.
    The problem is a lack of existing stakeholders able to make it happen. We already have corn, nuclear, wind, and solar lobbies getting their piece of the government handouts (and public interest), but there aren't many people sitting on massive algae resources and a large bank account. Biodiesel from palms has become big business, especially in Malaysia, but algae will provide a huge improvement in yields.
    Yield of Various Plant Oils (Lipids)
    Crop / Oil in Liters per hectare
    Castor 1413
    Sunflower 952
    Safflower 779
    Palm 5950
    Soy 446
    Coconut 2689
    Algae 100000 (order of magnitude due to large variance in yield by species)
    http://www.oilgae.com/algae/oil/yield/yield.html [oilgae.com]

    The nice part about using algae is that marginal land (desert or poor soils) can be used, and high nutrient waste streams are excellent feedstocks, e.g. the American southwest and the Salton Sea.
  • Another take (Score:3, Insightful)

    by belunar (413142) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @03:05PM (#19905117)
    This is discussing using waste treatment facilities to grow the algae needed to fuel aircraft. So build the airports and water treatment facilities next to each other. A few things Im looking at when I say that, 1) noone wants to live near ether 2) both are usualy in industrial areas anyway 3)shorter distance for the biofuel to travel to get to the aircraft.

          I dont know how to figure this out, but if one takes a look at all the sewage treatment facilities around the world, what would the total area of them be?

          Also something else to take into account, it is talking about NET CO2 being reduced to 0. From what I can tell that meens that if 100% of all aircraft were running on this algae made biofuel, the production of CO2 from aircraft would balance the CO2 intake of the algae used to make the biofuel. It isnt saying that they would no longer make CO2, just it would balance with natural intake by organic processes such as algae growth. Nice goal, probly wont happen for a while though. It would meen aircraft moving completely away from the finite nonrenewable resorces of oil.

          It looks like something worthy of trying, does make me wonder if Big Oil is going to try something against this though. People have been fighting to get electric, hydrogen, biodiesel, and other nonoil vehicles on the road for years. Just sounds to me like this war has finaly gotten wings.

    Just my opinions
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @03:41PM (#19905665)
    Has anybody even bothered to ask the algae how they feel about being herded into crowded pools--some smaller than the state of Maryland--and force-fed CO2 so we can use their fat to fuel our planes?

    If we're going to subjugate a species for our conveniences, we should choose a less sentient form of life with easily harvested fat. I suggest we start with NASCAR fans.

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