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Company Claims Potential Magnification In Bio Fuel Production 260

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the burn-it-all dept.
duanes1967 writes "A company called Joule Biotech claims to have a breakthrough in biofuel production. Their process can create 20,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year at a cost of about $50 per barrel. 'Algae-based biofuels come closest to Joule's technology, with potential yields of 2,000 to 6,000 gallons per acre; yet even so, the new process would represent an order of magnitude improvement. What's more, for the best current algae fuels technologies to be competitive with fossil fuels, crude oil would have to cost over $800 a barrel says Philip Pienkos, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. Joule claims that its process will be competitive with crude oil at $50 a barrel. In recent weeks, oil has sold for $60 to $70 a barrel.'"
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Company Claims Potential Magnification In Bio Fuel Production

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  • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich @ a o l.com> on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:03PM (#28842719) Journal

    ... begging for money that comes up with these "revolutionary" breakthroughs. Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

    Whenever there is a lot of government money flowing into an industry, there is never a shortage of snake-oil salesmen lining up to grab a piece of it. There really isn't a limit to what they will say they can do.

    • by Andr T. (1006215) <andretaff@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:09PM (#28842825)
      Nah, say whatever you want, skeptic. When my ORBO [steorn.com] arrives, I'll be the one laughing!
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:09PM (#28842829) Journal

      ... begging for money that comes up with these "revolutionary" breakthroughs. Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

      Whenever there is a lot of government money flowing into an industry, there is never a shortage of snake-oil salesmen lining up to grab a piece of it. There really isn't a limit to what they will say they can do.

      You may want to inform Exxon Mobil that their recent six hundred million dollar investment [gas2.org] is snake oil.

      Big oil's investing in this, I wouldn't write it off as snake oil:

      • ExxonMobil - Venter, Synthetic Genomics
      • BP - just announced a partnership with DuPont to develop butanol; Qteros, Verenium [gas2.org], Synthetic Genomics
      • Valero - purchased seven VeraSun plants out of bankruptcy earlier this year; Qteros, ZeaChem, Solix
      • Marathon - Mascoma [gas2.org] (also backed by GM)
      • Shell - Iogen
      • Total - Gevo [gas2.org]
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by russotto (537200)

        You may want to inform Exxon Mobil that their recent six hundred million dollar investment is snake oil.

        If it is, they likely already know, and consider it worth it to look "green" or to take advantage of some sort of incentive program.

        Investment by big oil doesn't mean anything either way.

        • by OrangeTide (124937) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:36PM (#28843239) Homepage Journal

          They are greedy. they are in a for-profit business. Once we realize that green investments by most of the big oil companies is not some show to appear green, and really a strategy for them to continue operating refineries it all starts to make sense. If the big oil companies have to buy unprocessed biofuels from New Mexico and Arizona instead of shipping it from the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East, who cares. As long as the fuel is good and cheap they can build or convert refineries to process it. Ultimately the big oil companies are in the business of refining matter to make it usable in an internal combustion engine.

          Given the assumption that big oil wants to survive (and thrive) and continue profiting. The myth that big oil wants to suppress innovation because they have some sort of warped ideology where they hate the Earth and the environment. (sorry, capitalists are nothing like the villains on the Captain Planet cartoon from the 1990s)

          While I have no proof, I think an argument could be made where big oil does suppress, or at least has motive to suppress, innovation that makes it easy for any individual or small start up to transport people and materials without the the use of products from big oil's refineries. This sort of conspiracy at least fits big oil serving their own self interests. The other conspiracies where big oil spends a billion dollars on "green" investments as a PR stunt seems far less likely, because it uses money so inefficiently.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jeffmeden (135043)

            They are greedy. they are in a for-profit business. Once we realize that green investments by most of the big oil companies is not some show to appear green, and really a strategy for them to continue operating refineries it all starts to make sense.

            This is woefully uninformed. They are in business to turn a profit *this quarter*. There is no commitment to "future shareholders", only current ones, so no the company has little incentive to do anything aside from very short term "investment". Think of it this way, if it boosts PR enough to avoid a public outrage that leads to a windfall profits tax being levied the next time oil gets above $100 a barrel, it will have been worth billions. Considering the current political climate, that is not a far fe

            • by Bruiser80 (1179083) on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:10PM (#28843757)
              If that is true, why are wells with lots of available oil across the country not being pumped? If it were true that they weren't looking towards the future, they would not consider this "easy" oil an asset for future use. It would be cheaper to pump that oil now than to pay $70/bbl from the mid-east. However, in the future, that oil could be pumped when the mid-east is charging $200/bbl.

              If they perceive a shortage of oil, which would lead to inflated prices, it would be in their best interests to determine a way of getting oil. If one path leads to profits now, but bankruptcy in 10 years, that's not good business. The most profitable path is the one that is sustainable for the company.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by JavaManJim (946878)

                The parent comment is not insightful as graded. Please downgrade to 1.

                Reason is I have worked in the petroleum production business. Oil is here and there in certain strata under the ground. Sometimes like in the East Texas Oil field its a puddle 3,300 feet under the ground. Cheap to extract. Other wells cost upward of 20 million to drill so their associated costs are much higher. Even more so if the well is far offshore. Finally an oil company is in business to produce the stuff. They never ever hoard oil.

            • by tsotha (720379) on Monday July 27, 2009 @06:38PM (#28844839)

              There is no commitment to "future shareholders", only current ones, so no the company has little incentive to do anything aside from very short term "investment".

              This is just silly. And wrong. If oil companies only cared about profits in the next quarter, how do you explain expenditures of hundreds of millions of dollars on a new oil field? It takes at lest three or four years to bring a new field online, not counting exploration. And how do you explain drug companies researching drugs that won't hit the market for almost twenty years, if ever?

              Companies have a commitment to future shareholders in the sense that what people think a stock will be worth in the future is the major determiner for what it's worth today. That's why Intel builds new fabs, drug companies research drugs, and oil companies spend money trying to insure they'll have a product to sell when they start running out of oil.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by raddan (519638) *
              It's obviously more complicated than that. If I were running Exxon, and literally, this quarter is all that matters, you know what I'd do? I'd sell all of our refineries and derricks to our competitors. Huge influx of cash. Of course, next quarter, you're toast.

              Since this is not happening, I think we can conclude that (gee, wow!) even public companies have some ability to think long-term. Shareholders may want ROI, but don't forget that many of them also want ROI over a long term (this is what the t
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by camg188 (932324)
              Who do you think are the major stockholders of Exxon Mobile?
              Mutual funds.
              Most of the big mutual funds are designed for 10 - 30 year investments. Mutual fund managers will definitely consider long term plans and returns when they invest, and they have invested heavily in energy companies like Exxon Mobile.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Hadlock (143607)

        Exxon? Investing in something? Never! Heck with what 10 billion a year in research investments, all you have to do is start a website saying you're doing bio-fuel research with a valid mailing address somewhere on the homepage, and more likely than not Exxon will just mail you a check for $2500.

      • by Anachragnome (1008495) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:25PM (#28843077)

        Big Oil is investing in such tech because it will continue to squeeze revenue out of the distribution systems the oil companies have spent many billions creating.

        They will do anything to keep people from switching to electrical grid/self-generation systems for their energy needs. They really don't care WHAT they are selling as long as they can do it at a profit and do it from the existing stations. There is an entire industry based simply on the middle-man aspect of distribution. People make money from it, so it remains. But it also cost the consumer more, in the long run.

        The electrical grid already exists, is in the public realm for the most part, and the middlemen have no part in it. Granted, the electrical grid needs some improvement in order for everyone to switch to it for ALL our energy needs, but it is not, by any means, impossible.

        Biofuels do NOT solve many problems. In fact, they simply create new ones.

        And, yeah. Snake oil. Hrmm...now that I think about it...I wonder what the energy storage of a snake is...

        • by Dravik (699631)

          Granted, the electrical grid needs some improvement in order for everyone to switch to it for ALL our energy needs

          You sir, are a master of understatement. It would take dramatic increases in both electrical production and distribution to move everything to electrical power. Without using nuclear power it won't happen.

          • My personal belief is that if we LEARNED from Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl and made the NEEDED modifcations to nuclear facilities--high-level redundancy, human error modification/compensation, etc., that nuclear energy is probably the way to go for supplementing renewable resources. Until we find something better.

            One thing you may not be taking into account is that small-scale energy production(solar, wind) can be located closer to where it is used, requiring far less infrastructure to move the energy ar

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by BlackSnake112 (912158)

              I still say solar is better then anything else.

              If we can build a platform into space or beam the energy down from space based collectors, The worlds energy needs will be met. That is a huge, very huge if though.

              Also I do see many wars being waged if this does get close to happening. There is too much money tied up in oil for a war over switching away from oil to not happen.

            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by maxume (22995)

              Three Mile Island demonstrated that the safety systems in place were effective. That doesn't rule out learning from the incident, but it was not a catastrophe, it was a successful containment.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by ckaminski (82854)
              We did learn from TMI and Chernobyl. What we haven't done is build any new reactors. Hell, the Navy has managed to keep 300+ reactors in operation over the past almost 50 some-odd years - why can't we take what they've learned and build better, safer reactors?

              Because some bureaucrat in at NStar is going to shortchange the training and operations budget in the end, and we'll have TMI all over again.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                We did learn from TMI and Chernobyl. What we haven't done is build any new reactors.

                this statement is paradox. the fact that no new reactors have been build definitively proves that _nothing_ has been learned aside from the knee jerk reaction of fear, and that isn't really learned, its instinctual. Congratulations America, you've shown how base and intellectually retarded you have become. Consumer society breeds stupidity, stupidity breeds fear, fear breeds oppression and oppression breeds revolution. fortunately for you consumerism also breeds complacency, and in this rock paper scissors

        • by amRadioHed (463061) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:58PM (#28843587)

          Biofuels solve two major problems, they are carbon neutral and they are not dependent on the middle east. Are the problems they create worse than those?

          • by nabsltd (1313397)

            It depends on whether you consider all the unintended consequences (e.g., the price of all foods having risen dramatically since the reduction of corn available for human consumption and as feed for animals) from promoting corn-based biofuels to be "worse" or not.

            Since biofuels cost much more than gasoline per unit of energy provided, a better strategy would be to tax gasoline until it matches that cost, and hand that extra tax money to the corn growers to not sell their corn to biofuel production facilitie

            • Umm. No.

              Further Corn subsidies are a bad idea, from my point of view.

              Grow what people need, not what you want to sell them.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by AshtangiMan (684031)
              The biofuels that are discussed in the article are algae based, so they don't use potable water, don't displace food crops, are carbon neutral (especially if the CO2 is taken directly from the atmosphere, which in the low-tech solutions it is), and are not dependent on the middle east. So, what are the problems again?
          • by raddan (519638) * on Monday July 27, 2009 @07:48PM (#28845445)
            Water usage is one. Biofuels need an enormous amount of water to grow, process, and refine. There was a water expert at NIST who recently covered this, but the upshot of his presentation was: if you don't address the shortage of clean water before you start producing biofuels, you have a new and serious problem to address. Most of us in the Western world are not accustomed to water shortage, due to our excellent water distribution systems, so we tend not to think about it. If you compare biofuels and petroleum products on the basis of water usage alone, oil wins. Sorry, I don't have the slides, or I would link them.

            Food shortage is another. You need to take into account-- at least in the US-- that biofuels compete with food production. This is partially due to entrenched political interests. Again, in the west, this probably didn't affect you (unless you were, say, in the cattle feed market or a small beer producer), but I've read that the grain shortages (and resulting high prices) in Asia last year were the direct result of a double-whammy of biofuel production and crop disease.

            Now, I personally don't think that the two things above rule out biofuels as a viable alternative for the future. We just need to be aware that they are not without their consequences; they solve some problems, and introduce new ones.
        • They also produce an enormous number of products for an unbelievably large number of uses. As others have pointed out, our policy of burning fossil fuels is insane in no small part because they're such damned good chemical feedstocks.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PitaBred (632671)
          What problems don't biofuels solve? Sure, they don't solve smog. But the do solve the carbon problem. Now we just take it out of the atmosphere (with plants being the "conversion system", essentially a solar carbon converter), and then burn it and put it back in the atmosphere. Et voila! The carbon cycle!
    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:31PM (#28843163)

      ... begging for money that comes up with these "revolutionary" breakthroughs. Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

      Are you saying we were supposed to learn that revolutionary breakthroughs are ALWAYS snake-oil?

    • by vertinox (846076) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:37PM (#28843245)

      Did we not learn anything from the tech boom/bust?

      Invest early?
      Sell often?

      No seriously, if you could have invested in Google's IPO you would have been a rich man today.

      The problem with the tech boom is that people were investing in bad ideas, not good ideas with bad results. You know... Like Pets.com

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209)
        I clearly remember google's IPO, and unlike most other IPO's, it was much more open [cnn.com] - in the format of an auction - so that any of us could invest (as opposed to most IPOs offered only to preferred customers of big investment houses). The other thing I remember is that everybody in my research group thought it was over-hyped and over-priced, including me. Oops :)
  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:06PM (#28842785) Homepage Journal
    Just brand this as "$50/barrel oil derived from harvesting common, readily available snakes and processing them in a revolutionary (and certainly patent-pending) way".
  • Dubious Maximus (Score:2, Informative)

    by Yergle143 (848772)
    Re:"If the new process, which has been demonstrated in the laboratory, works as well on a large scale as Joule Biotechnologies expects, it would be a marked change for the biofuel industry." I've been attending some of the algae biomass workshops in the SD area. There's a lot of excitement out there. But the problems of engineering and economics dwarf the problems in the lab. ï Don't give this crowd your hard earned scratch until they've gone beyond pilot plant stage. For a thorough review of the
  • Variant of algae? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@NosPaM.cornell.edu> on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:15PM (#28842941) Homepage

    As best as I can tell, their process is likely using genetically engineered algae that perform better than the best existing "natural" algae for biofuels production. There aren't really any other candidates for genetically engineered organisms for this particular goal.

    The problem is that to be so efficient at biofuels production, such algae are at a severe competitive disadvantage to other less suitable species. Based on what I've seen so far, one of the biggest problems with algae biofuels production has been contamination of bioreactors with species that grow more easily but are not suitable for biodiesel production. If someone engineers algae to be even better at biofuels production, it'll likely make the contamination problem even harder to solve.

    • by scorp1us (235526)
      Or to put it another way, the effort to create the fuel is the effort removed from its pursuit of survival, and therefore is at a competitive disadvantage to other naturally occurring organisms. Perhaps they could find a pair of organisms that work together to make an environment ideal for each other while being hostile to any other bacteria not contributing to the goal. While the efficiency may be reduced (the volume of "helpers") will decrease from the maximum production) you'll get more stable production
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Or to put it another way, the effort to create the fuel is the effort removed from its pursuit of survival, and therefore is at a competitive disadvantage to other naturally occurring organisms.

        Not when man is a significant predator.
        Any organism that doesn't make enough fuel would be selected against a lot more heavily.

      • by Toonol (1057698) on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:35PM (#28844073)
        I think the inability of the bacterium to compete in nature might be a PLUS. I'd rather have it in pools that required constant human supervision, than spreading into the ecosystem.

        Ideally, while they are engineering it, they will build in a tolerance/requirement for, say, growth in a high-ph environment. Then, it will have a hard time contaminating us, and we'll have hard time contaminating it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      As best as I can tell, they've only done this in the lab, probably in closed reactors. So long as they stick with closed reactors, they should do fine. The problem then becomes getting CO2 into the mix; algae normally just gets it from air. But, until you filter it down to one micron, maybe less, air might contaminate your water.

      The USDOE already determined that the best you could do with open ponds is to just let the local algaes drift in on the wind... but that doesn't tell us anything about closed reacto

    • by afidel (530433)
      The solution to that is simple, you put in an algicide that your GE strain is engineered to resist. This of course requires fairly heavy quantities of algicide and monitoring to make sure that you haven't crossed that trait into natural species (monitor and destroy any reactors containing cross species).
  • by xs650 (741277) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:20PM (#28842995)
    we should name a unit of energy after the company
  • I've been hearing that these ethanol energy plans would use more water than we have available. While that's certainly true in California (there's a drought here), I wonder if it's true in the rest of the US. If water becomes scarce, it's gonna get expensive, and it will no longer be feasible to use it to produce ethanol.

    • by mcgrew (92797)

      There's no shortage of water close to a big river like the Mississippi or Missouri.

  • If only we could actually run our cars on Snake Oil we'd be all set.

    /I have no reason to believe Joule Biotech is "snake oil" fwiw.
  • I have an idea that is 10x their idea!!!!.... Mine promises infinite energy for all (free in fact), and the best part is that it will be ready next week if you just give me $100 million dollars immediately... In fact, after the wire transfer goes thru, everything (at least for me) will be wonderful...

    In short... Anytime you see a company talk about the next great thing, but they have not done it yet is just marketing for dollars... If their idea was so good, then why are they having to tell everyone about

    • by Miseph (979059)

      They're trying to build a manufacturing plant and hire a staff to operate it, those things cost a lot of money, money that needs to be spent between now and when they actually are able to make money selling stuff.

      Of all the possible things to point as as being suspicious, that one probably sucks the hardest.

  • by kenh (9056)

    The "secret recipe" has, as one of it's ingredients, just over 20,000 gallons of gasoline.

    BTW, have you seen how E85 cuts engine performance? The EPA milage numbers for a late model E85 burning Suburban show 16 MPG on regular gas, and 12 MPG on E85, or put another way, it would take 1 1/3 gallons of E85 to travel as far as one gallon of fuel, more than eliminating the "savings" of using E85 in the first place.

    1.333 of 0.85 gasoline equals about 1.13 gallons of gasoline to travel as far as one gallon of gaso

    • by kenh (9056)

      I'M WRONG.

      My BAD.

      E85 is 85% Ethanol, not 15%...

      I'll wear my Emily Litella ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3FnpaWQJO0 [youtube.com] ) moniker with shame for the rest of the day.

    • by bcmm (768152)
      That is true for engine tuned for gasoline.

      Engines designed to take advantage of ethanol can perform very well indeed on it (not that this makes bioethanol a good idea, considering land use and all).
    • by toejam13 (958243)

      It comes down to the power of the corn lobby. Specifically, companies such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) that have huge corn processing subsidiaries. Large corn growing states, such as Iowa and Kansas, also have powerful government forces behind the effort.

      That all said, one major benefit of ethanol alcohol is with engine design. While each liter of ethanol may have fewer joules of energy than a liter of gasoline, ethanol does have a much higher autoignition point (246C/475F for gasoline versus 365C/68

  • > yet even so, the new process would represent an order of magnitude improvement.

    Nope.

    6,000 to 20,000 is somewhere around a factor of 3. An order of magnitude is a factor of 10. Or as wikipedia puts it:

    "An order of magnitude difference between two values is a factor of 10. For example, the mass of the planet Saturn is 95 times that of Earth, so Saturn is two orders of magnitude more massive than Earth. Order of magnitude differences are called decades when measured on a logarithmic scale."

    Still impressiv

    • Ok.... 2,000 (taking the low) to 20,000 is an order of magnitude. However.... when the range is 2,000 to 6,000 well
      thats a pretty big range. There is a factor of 3 between the low and high water marks for the previous tech. Does it seem fair to judge the new tech based solely on the low water mark for the old tech?

      So essentially its anywhere from a factor of 3 to an order of magnitude. Which is, at least in my mind, not really as good as saying its "an order of magnitude"

      -Steve

  • First snakeoil... now algaeoil! What's next?

  • Well, assuming there is a viable competitor to gasoline (never mind the somewhat dubious claims of photosynthetic efficiency, they are claiming over 10%, with photosynthesis being about 2%-4% in the real world) You will only manage to set the upper price for gas. Given that the gas is pretty much completely speculatively priced, the availability of a competition would be to put a practical price limit. This is good in that it ensures gas will be cheap. This is bad because it ensures gas will be cheap. It is
    • by epine (68316)

      photosynthesis being about 2%-4% in the real world

      Photosynthesis in a colonial atmosphere, with no green shift.

      Wikipedia:

      Actual plants' photosynthetic efficiency varies with the frequency of the light being converted, light intensity, temperature and proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere, and can vary from 0.1% to 8%

      Why is it the plants reflect the most energy intensive portion of the visible light spectrum? Maybe they can't handle the heat?

      Regarding this thread as a whole, why is it that scepticism is so o

  • It isn't Algae... (Score:4, Informative)

    by meerling (1487879) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:34PM (#28843213)
    If you've read the article, you will note that it states specifically that it doesn't use algae.
    It does say that the closest thing out there to what they do are ones that use algae.
    When the first cars were built, the closest thing to them was the carriage, but automobiles didn't use horses to power them.


    As to the people questioning as to whether they are using genetically engineered organisms, the article clearly states that they are.
    Yes, your fuel may soon come from a genetically engineered non-algal microbe.
    Sure, fine and all that, but I still want man portable fusion cells... Or maybe pocket antimatter. >^_^
    • Sure, fine and all that, but I still want man portable fusion cells... Or maybe pocket antimatter. >^_^

      I'm not sure I like where this is going:

      Woman: "Is that pocket antimatter or are you just happy to see me?"
      Me: "Why yes it is poc..." *cue large matter-antimatter explosion*

    • > Yes, your fuel may soon come from a genetically engineered non-algal microbe.

      They'll be banned in Europe. Ain't natural.

  • Am I the only one who doesn't even bother to read these "revolutionary energy breakthrough" stories? Seriously, I read them for a year or two back in the day, but stopped after that, and for the last 5 years I don't feel like I missed anything.

    The only thing that makes me pay attention is when it's revealed these new startups are headed by the brother-in-law of some eleceted official who then attempts to get them a sweetheart deal on real estate, tax breaks, regulations, permits, etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumRiff (120817)
      The thing is, it has been happening, quietly in the background. I think it speaks well of may technologies that they are so hidden, and just work..

      The US has the production capacity of over 2.5Billion gallons a year of BioDiesel [biodiesel.org] with another half billion gallons a year coming online in the next year.

      So, if you pay attention, you are frustrated, because it doesn't seem to be coming fast enough, and if you go away for a few years and come back, you don't notice the differences, because they are baked int

  • with entirely transparent (i.e. entirely plastic or glass) bioreactors?

    Remember that in the unlikely circumstance that this project goes to actual production, the most important ongoing cost of this project is going to be financing the capital investment which is proportional to the amount of capital going into this. So it isn't just the cost of the plastic or glass bioreactor megastructures, it's that cost times x. The numbers might pencil out at $50 minus costs of financing (though without seeing their
  • Why not convert the numbers in the summary to how many barrels per acre/year, or how much money per gallon. When did adding the important units of measurement (and converting them all to the same base) become so difficult?

    Produces 20,000 gallons per acre, at $50/barrel.
    I got a car with a 18Gallon tank that gets 3.5L/100km. Oh, wait.. that makes no sense..
  • Hydrocarbon producing algae escaping into the environment....
    .
    Whole ecology destruction, anyone? Anyone? Any takers? You! With the gas guzzler? You don't give a flip about some ocean life do ya? Well, here's your algae oil/gasoline. Now go home and don't upset the government/financial speculators. We know what we're doing....

  • algae-based fuels MUST work, and MUST achieve greater efficiency

    or we must learn to master fusion

    but fission won't last forever, and fossil fuels won't last forever, and currently all renewable sources (including algae) are tiny boutique niche sources that won't satisfy our huge energy demands

    civilization will go into decline unless we master alternative energy sources. civilization already funds the enemies of civilization in order to dig on their land (wahhabi islam is an obscenity... to hell with your mo

  • Let's do the math... (Score:5, Informative)

    by rayharris (1571543) on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:38PM (#28844099)
    Assumptions:
    - They can actually generate 20,000 gallons per acre per year
    - 1 gallon of biofuel will get you the same mileage as 1 gallon of gasoline

    US gasoline usage = 378,000,000 gallons/day = 137,970,000,000 gallons/year
    Source: http://www.eia.doe.gov/basics/quickoil.html [doe.gov]

    Area needed: 137,970,000,000 gallons/year / 20,000 gallons/acre/year = 6,898,500 acres = 10,779 sq.mi.

    Comparative area: Massachusetts is 10,555 sq.mi.

    So, we'd need an area slightly larger than MA to generate the needed biofuel. This may seem like alot, but...

    Farmland in US: 922,095,840 acres = 1,440,774 sq. mi.
    Source: http://www.ers.usda.gov/StateFacts/US.htm [usda.gov]

    Percent farmland to convert to biofuel: 10,555 sq. mi. / 1,440,774 sq. mi. = 0.73%

    This isn't much, if you ask me.

    Now, for the financial incentive to do so:

    Value of 20,000 gallons of biofuel at $50/barrel: 20,000 gallons = 476 barrels * $50/barrel = $23,000

    Corn yield of one acre: 162 bushels/acres (Iowa)
    Source: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a1-14.pdf [iastate.edu]

    Value of 162 bushels of corn: 162 bushels * $4.77/bushel (Estimated 2008 Calendar Year Average) = $772.74
    Source: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a2-11.pdf [iastate.edu]

    So, converting one acre of corn farmland to one acre of biofuel farmland will increase the revenue from $773 to $23,000, a nearly 30-fold increase.

    So, this looks like it might be worth it depending on the cost of conversion and cost versus revenue. It'll certainly be interesting to watch.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rorschach1 (174480)

      Those numbers seem to ignore the cost of producing corn vs. oil. What the farmer's interested in is profit, not gross revenue. Still, assuming it costs $50/barrel to produce and sells for, say, $53/barrel, you're still at $1428 profit per acre.

      Or if OPEC opens the floodgates and drops the price to $35/barrel, you're out $7140/acre. But I suppose that's what the futures market is for.

    • by labnet (457441) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:44PM (#28845975)

      gallons, acres, miles, bushels.. ye gods man, don't you know the rest of the world is metric.

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