Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[PBN]Biofuel development - Biofuels from algae plagued with problems, says review

From: Science and Development network - 07/05/2010

Hopes that algae could become a source of biodiesel that is friendly both to the environment and the poor may be premature, according to a review.  When early sources of biofuels ­ mostly derived from food crops ­ incurred widespread criticism for being harmful to the environment, undermining food security, and being unlikely to reduce overall carbon emissions, algae emerged as a potential biofuel source that could sidestep these problems.

But they have serious drawbacks that may mean they can never compete with other fuels, according to Gerhard Knothe, a research chemist with the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. "One aspect that has received little to no attention in the rush to develop fuels from algae is fuel properties," said Knothe. "Will the properties of fuels ultimately derived from algae be competitive with the properties of existing fuels or biofuels?  "Unfortunately, there are virtually no literature reports on the properties of algae-derived biodiesel."

When researching his paper, 'Production and Properties of Biodiesel from Algal Oils' which will be published by Springer in a book, currently in press, entitled Algae for Biofuels and Energy, he made "unexpected" findings, he said. Knothe found that "many, if not most" of the biodiesel fuels derived from algae have "significant problems" when it comes to their ability to flow well at lower temperatures ('cold flow') and they also degrade more easily than other biofuels.  This is because many algal oils ­ from which the biodiesels are derived ­ contain relatively high amounts of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Knothe said that researchers have been focusing on improving only the production of algae and fuels, but the need to investigate the fuel properties is now "urgent".   "The best production method may ultimately not accomplish much if the fuel is not competitive in terms of properties," he told SciDev.Net.   Luiz Pereira Ramos, chemist at the Federal University of Parana, Brazil, said Knothe was "absolutely correct. Most of the algae-derived biodiesel investigated to date are not suitable for fuel use." 

The principal hope for overcoming the problem, both scientists said, is through genetic engineering of algae so they yield oils with more useful properties.    "However, this reality is still far away from anything practical," said Ramos.  But Steve Howell, president of the biodiesel consulting firm MARC-IV, and lead technical advisor for the National Biodiesel Board in the United States, said that genetic expertise is advancing fast and changes such as these are "infinitely more feasible than [they were] just a few years ago".

Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts:

[PBN] Assessing Biofuel Crop Invasiveness: A Case Study done in 2009

From:   Plos One - 19/03/2009

There is widespread interest in biofuel crops as a solution to the world's energy needs, particularly in light of concerns over greenhouse-gas emissions. Despite reservations about their adverse environmental impacts, no attempt has been made to quantify actual, relative or potential invasiveness of terrestrial biofuel crops at an appropriate regional or international scale, and their planting continues to be largely unregulated.

Methodology/Principal Findings
Using a widely accepted weed risk assessment system, we analyzed a comprehensive list of regionally suitable biofuel crops to show that seventy percent have a high risk of becoming invasive versus one-quarter of non-biofuel plant species and are two to four times more likely to establish wild populations locally or be invasive in Hawaii or in other locations with a similar climate.

Because of climatic and ecological similarities, predictions of biofuel crop invasiveness in Hawaii are applicable to other vulnerable island and subtropical ecosystems worldwide. We demonstrate the utility of an accessible and scientifically proven risk assessment protocol that allows users to predict if introduced species will become invasive in their region of interest. Other evidence supports the contention that propagule pressure created by extensive plantings will exacerbate invasions, a scenario expected with large-scale biofuel crop cultivation. Proactive measures, such as risk assessments, should be employed to predict invasion risks, which could then be mitigated via implementation of appropriate planting policies and adoption of the "polluter-pays" principle.

Read full article here in PDF format.

Citation: Buddenhagen CE, Chimera C, Clifford P (2009) Assessing Biofuel Crop Invasiveness: A Case Study. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5261. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005261

Link to original post

Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts:

[PBN]Philippines - Seaweed-based biofuel farm to rise in Aurora

From: Manny Galvez -  09/05/2010
The government plans to develop a $5-million (P220-million) ethanol farm at a 100-hectare site in the province using the Korean technology of extracting ethanol from seaweed.
Sen. Edgardo Angara told The STAR that the Department of Science and Technology and the Congressional Commission on Science and Engineering (Comste) which he chairs, is now fine-tuning their partnership with the South Korean government to develop the country's seaweed industry for the production of ethanol and other high value-added products.
Angara said the project will be implemented in two clusters, one in the provinces of Aurora, Isabela and Quirino in Northern Luzon and another in Bohol where a similar $5-million facility has been established to jump-start the cooperative venture. He said he is looking at the municipality of Dilasag in northern Aurora as site of the biofuel farm project.
Angara recalled that two years ago, the Korean Institute for Industrial Technology developed the process of extracting ethanol from seaweed, which proved to be more cost-efficient and advantageous than other sources of biofuel. He said seaweed, which is abundant in Aurora grows faster than other biofuel sources such as sugar cane and wood and allows for as much as six harvests per year.
"Because seaweeds do not have lignin, pretreatment is not needed before converting them into fuels and thus, seaweed ethanol is cheaper to produce than other biofuels," he said.
Angara said that the country being the world's top exporter and producer of processed seaweed, it will surely benefit greatly from the technology and further enlarge feedstock for clean energy. "In contrast to wood biofuel, seaweed ethanol absorbs up to seven times more carbon in the atmosphere, and thus, has a greater contribution to climate-change mitigation," he stressed.
Angara said the project would benefit the economy of Dilasag and Aurora as a whole since aside from ethanol, seaweed has many other useful byproducts such as animal feed, fertilizer, soil conditioner and cosmetics, which offer excellent livelihood and agro-business investment opportunities. "The potential for invigorating rural coastal communities in Aurora is tremendous as a mini agro-industrial complex can spring close to the seaweed farm-poultry and piggery, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, biopharmaceutical facilities and eco-tourism destinations," he said.
The seaweed farm project could prove to be a breath of fresh air in the country where the El NiƱo phenomenon is feared to cause extensive damage to the seaweed sector, with production seen declining by 40 percent to 50,000 metric tons this year. Indonesia, the world's biggest supplier of raw seaweeds, already reported a significant dip in production due to the long dry spell felt as early as the last quarter of 2009. Increasing seawater temperature is affecting seaweed farms, decreasing output.
The Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines had projected that less dry seaweeds could force traders and farmers to hoard the remaining slim supply to jack up prices which will imperil the whole $122-million-a-year seaweed industry.
Despite struggling to produce the raw materials, the country continues to be a world leader in processed seaweed, which is being used as food.
Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: