As the saying goes: if life gives you lemons, make lemonade; if life won’t even give you lemons, make algal biofuels.
Well, that may not yet be a household saying, but it will be soon enough if Australia has anything to do with it. These days, it feels sometimes as if titer, rate and yield are right up there with “mate”, “G’day” and “she’ll be right” in the Aussie lexicon.
It’s been a giddy couple of years of development, all right.
Solazyme teaming up with Qantas for a renewable jet fuel project. A Dunaliella salina plant at Hutt Lagoon in Western Australia. The South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), which has developed the NCRIS Photobioreactor Facility in Adelaide and is pursuing nannochloropsis and chaetoceros, and participating in an Algal Fuels Consortium with Flinders University and CSIRO to develop a pilot and pre-commercial scale facility on Torrens Island.
7. Green-black technologies
This week, Warburg Pincus announced that it will invest up to $355 million in First Green Partners, a newly formed early-stage venture capital company.
First Green will, in turn, invest in early-stage companies that focus on developing methods of converting renewable carbon, such as non-food biomass and carbon dioxide to fuels and chemicals, and applications of clean or green technologies in the conventional energy or industrial process, otherwise known as green-black technologies.
What is green-black, anyway?
We have been hearing a lot more about these type of technologies of late.
Take LanzaTech as an example. Here’s a technology in which a microorganism ferments carbon monoxide taken from, for example, blast furnaces at steel mills, to make fuels and chemicals. It’s green, of course, in the same way as a microorganism that ferments, for example, low-cost sugars derived from cellulose.
But it’s more than just a greentech play, because it remediates, adds value to, and depends on the old technologies. Hence, it’s green-black, not just green.
Other green black technologies? “Technologies for treating oil sands tailing ponds,” says First green co-president Cameron, “and for the use of methane for making more complex fuels and chemicals.”
It’s a wide field of potential. For example, consider the opportunities in what have been termed XTL processes. There’s biomass-to-liquid (BTL) – that would be a typical biofuels technology such as cellulosic ethanol. But, then, there’s coal-to-liquid (CTL) and natural gas-to-liquid (GTL), and there are a few technologies that can combine two or more, hence XTL. Accellergy, for example, is gaining traction in China with a strategy that uses coal as its basic feedstock for making liquid fuels, and supplements biomass as a means of lowering the overall carbon impact.
8. Consolidation and changing of the guard
Range Fuels fails. In Georgia, the AgSouth Farm Credit bank, which is the lender of record for an $80 million construction loan that Range defaulted on, is advertising a foreclosure sale of Range’s OneGeorgia plant in the local Soperton (Georgia) News, which will take place on January 3rd.
9. Everyone all aboard for Brazil.
Like MSW? You’ll love bagasse. Lot of the advantages of waste, and there’s a lot more available.
Sugar’s the new oil, DOE Secretary Steven Chu is fond of saying. Codexis agrees, but argues that sugarcane residue (instead of competing for cane syrup) is the path to the real riches.
You can extract sugar from a lot of things. Things that generally cost too much to begin with, or are in short supply (compared to the vast demand for oil), like corn starch, or wheat, or cellulosic wonderstuff.
Then, there’s bagasse. That leftover residue at the sugar mill after squeezing out all the cane juice.
Exciting enough that Cobalt recently signed an agreement with the 10th largest global chemical company, Rhodia, to pursue a fast track program to evaluate, design, and build 30,000 – 75,000 ton plants based on Cobalt Tech’s technology to transform South American bagasse into butanol.
Now, a lot of the excitement about Brazil has centered around the cane syrup, not the bagasse.
Pshaw, says Codexis CEO Alan Shaw.
The problem with the easy sugars
Shaw grabs a magic marker and begins to scribble out the equations on a white board in Redwood City. “It costs $275 a ton for the sugar,” as he pencils out the conversion from sugar carbohydrates to hydrocarbons, “and you lose up to 60 percent in the conversion. You need 3-5 tons of sugar to make a ton of diesel, once you have blown off all the oxygen. No one is going to pay more for your diesel because it is renewable. Acrylic acid, adipic acid – now there you have some good margin to work with.
But not diesel fuel.
10. Alcohol to jet and other R&D pops in aviation biofuels
In Washington, the monster event of the year for aviation biofuels, the CAAFI annual meeting, concluded yesterday with $7.7 million in new grants announced by the FAA, going to eight companies to assist in the development of sustainable, affordable, available renewable jet fuels.
The FAA funds are being distributed by the Department of Transportations (DOT) John A. Volpe Center. The contracts address a recommendation issued by the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, which was commissioned by Secretary LaHood last year.
The committee, comprised of experts from industry, academia, labor and government, specifically recommended that DOT exercise strong national leadership to promote and display U.S. aviation as a first user of sustainable alternative fuels.
11. Military matters. The Green Strike Group: the fuels, the force, the skinny
The US Navy has announced a Green Strike Group. What exactly is that, and what does it mean for energy security, and domestic biofuels production?
Tactically, a Green Strike Group, powered by renewable diesel-electric engines, nuclear power and aviation biofuels, is able to operate independent of fossil fuel supply line threat or disruption. In the near term, this is a theoretical independence, as the Group will operate on 50/50 blends of biofuels and conventional fossil fuels. It expands the range of suppliers and the available ports of call.
Strategically, of course, the overall thrust is to foster a domestic fuel supply capable of reducing the strategic threat to the US economy and security posed by dependence on imported fossil fuels and OPEC.
There are real world reasons to suppose a connection between fuel supply and military tensions. The conversion of the British fleet from coal to oil after 1911, which enabled a more powerful, compact class of warship, has long been identified as a contributing factor in tensions that caused the outbreak of the First World War. The 1941 embargo on export of US oil to Japan is routinely cited as a proximate cause of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The US Government recently invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950, issuing a presidential finding the advanced biofuels were total to national security. The DPA authorizes the President and Congress to directly invest in the commercialization of vital defense technologies that would otherwise not reach (or too slowly reach) commercial-scale production at affordable prices.
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