Microalgae produce more oil faster for energy, food or products

By | April 8, 2013

20130408-011150.jpgScientists have described technology that accelerates microalgae’s ability to produce many different types of renewable oils for fuels, chemicals, foods and personal-care products within days using standard industrial fermentation.

The presentation was part of the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on April 7.

Walter Rakitsky, Ph.D, explained that microalgae are the original oil producers on earth, and that all of the oil-producing machinery present in higher plants resides within these single-cell organisms. Solazyme’s breakthrough biotechnology platform unlocks the power of microalgae, achieving over 80 percent oil within each individual cell at commercial scale while changing the triglyceride oil paradigm by their ability to tailor the oil profiles by carbon chain and saturation. The ability to produce multiple oils in a matter of days out of one plant location using standard industrial fermentation is a game-changer. Solazyme’s patented microalgae strains have become the workhorses of a growing industry focused on producing commercial quantities of microalgal oil for energy and food applications. Rakitsky is with Solazyme, Inc., of South San Francisco, Calif., one of the largest and most successful of those companies, which in 2011 supplied 100 percent microalgal-derived advanced biofuel for the first U.S. passenger jetliner flight powered by advanced biofuel.

In a keynote talk at the ACS meeting, Rakitsky described Solazyme’s technology platform that enables the company to produce multiple oils from heart-healthy high-oleic oils for food to oils that are tailored to have specific performance and functionality benefits in industry, such as safer dielectric fluids and oils that are the highest-value cuts of the barrel for advanced fuels. The benefits of these oils far surpass those of other oils that are currently available today.

“For the first time in history, we have unlocked the ability to completely design and tailor oils,” he said. “This breakthrough allows us to create oils optimized for everything from high-performance jet and diesel fuel to renewable chemicals to skin-care products and heart-healthy food oils. These oils could replace or enhance the properties of oils derived from the world’s three dominant sources: petroleum, plants and animals.”

Producing custom-tailored oils starts with optimizing the algae to produce the right kind of oil, and from there, the flexibility of the fermentation platform really comes into play. Solazyme is able to produce all of these oils in one location simply by switching out the strain of microalgae they use, Rakitsky explained. Unlike other algal oil production processes, in which algae grow in open ponds, Solazyme grows microalgae in total darkness in the same kind of fermentation vats used to produce vinegar, medicines and scores of other products. Instead of sunlight, energy for the microalgae’s growth comes from low-cost, plant-based sugars. This gives the company a completely consistent, repeatable industrial process to produce tailored oil at scale.

Sugar from traditional sources such as sugarcane and corn has advantages for growing microalgae, especially their abundance and relatively low cost, Rakitsky said. The company’s first fit-for-purpose commercial-scale production plant is under construction with their partner Bunge next to a sugarcane mill in Brazil. Initial production capacity will be 110,000 tons of microalgal oil annually, expanding up to 330,700 tons. In addition, the company has a production agreement with ADM in Clinton, Iowa, for 22,000 tons of oil, expandable to 110,000 tons. Ultimately, cellulosic sources of sugars from non-food plants or plant waste materials, like grasses or corn stover, may take over as those technologies reach the right scale and cost structures. … Read more

This is from Feb 22, 2008:

It’s not the first to turn to algae and biomass as a source of fuel, but upstart Solazyme seems to think it’s got a leg up on other biofuel makers and its apparently lining up the deals and big bucks to prove it. As Technology Review reports, that includes Chevron, which is now in a “testing agreement” with the start-up, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which dished out a $2 million grant to the company. The trick that’s attracted all that interest, it seems, is the company’s particular way of using algae to convert biomass into fuel, which takes the apparently unorthodox approach of growing them in the dark, which causes them to produce more oil than they do in the light. What’s more, Solazyme’s method also apparently allows them to use different strains of algae to produce different types of oil, including a mix of hydrocarbons that’s similar to light crude petroleum. Needless to say, all of this is still quite a ways away from finding its way into your car’s tank, but the company has demonstrated its algae-based fuel in a diesel car, so it’s at least moved beyond the lab. …link

Wikipedia says it has been calculated that using only 1/2 the land area of Maine for production, algae fuel could replace all the petroleum fuel in the United States.

Algae fuel, algal biofuel, or algal oil is an alternative to liquid fossil fuels that uses algae as its source of energy-rich oils. Also, algae fuels are an alternative to commonly known biofuel sources, such as corn and sugarcane.[1][2] Several companies and government agencies are funding efforts to reduce capital and operating costs and make algae fuel production commercially viable.[3] Like fossil fuel, algae fuel releases CO2 when burnt, but unlike fossil fuel, algae fuel and other biofuels only release CO2 recently removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis as the algae or plant grew. The energy crisis and the world food crisis have ignited interest in algaculture (farming algae) for making biodiesel and other biofuels using land unsuitable for agriculture. Among algal fuels’ attractive characteristics are that they can be grown with minimal impact on fresh water resources,[4][5] can be produced using saline and wastewater, have a high flash point,[6] and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled.[7][8] Algae cost more per unit mass than other second-generation biofuel crops due to high capital and operating costs,[9] but are claimed to yield between 10 and 100 times more fuel per unit area.[10] The United States Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles (39,000 km2), which is only 0.42% of the U.S. map,[11] or about half of the land area of Maine. This is less than ​17 the area of corn harvested in the United States in 2000.[12]

In 2009 an algae fueled Prius was supposed to be able to drive from coast to coast using only 25 gallons of fuel and no modifications to the gasoline engine.

Just yesterday San Francisco saw the unveiling of the world’s first algae fuel-powered vehicle, dubbed the Algaeus. The plug-in hybrid car, which is a Prius tricked out with a nickel metal hydride battery and a plug, runs on green crude from Sapphire Energy — no modifications to the gasoline engine necessary. The set-up is so effective, according to FUEL producer Rebecca Harrell, that the Algaeus can run on approximately 25 gallons from coast to coast!

via Inhabitat

What became of the Algaeus?

This vehicle is the first to cross America on a new, renewable fuel made from algae. Enorsed by the US Department of Energy as a critical component of the road to American Energy Independence, this new technology is now on the road. Working closely with engineers at Toyota, and with Sapphire Energy, the ALGAEUS is the first cross-country test of a gasoline vehicle powered by algae fuel.

via TheFuelFilm

At one point in 2012 the US Navy was going to be using algae fuel by 2016.

Armed with Algae, The US Navy’s ‘Great Green Fleet’ initiative sets the bar high for the biofuels industry

The US Navy has embarked on an ambitious plan to deploy a fleet of warships powered by alternative fuels by 2016, deemed the ‘Great Green Fleet.’ The initiative has been touted as one of the most effective moves to jumpstart the use of renewable energy in the US military and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which would, in turn, have similar effects on the larger economy.

via MyEnergyGateway

A US Navy article about the Great Green Fleet from 2016 did not mention algae:

Named to honor President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, the Navy’s Great Green Fleet is ushering in a new era of energy innovation.

A centerpiece of this yearlong initiative is John C. Stennis Strike Group (JCSSG), which departed on a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment in January and is scheduled to join the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise later this month.

Using alternative fuel sources, energy conservation measures (ECMs) and operational procedures, the strike group is transforming its energy use to become a more flexible fighting force.

“As a whole, these energy saving measures allow us to be on station longer and to do our job better,” said Cmdr. Walter C. Mainor, commanding officer, USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110). “The Navy has been at the forefront of energy innovation [for generations]. From coal to steam to oil, this is just another measure that the Navy is taking on and leaning forward for energy innovation.”

Guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), and guided-missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and William P. Lawrence are all operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific using alternative fuel. …

The alternative fuel is made from 10 percent beef tallow provided from farmers in the Midwest and 90 percent marine diesel, and is cost competitive with traditional fuels. It is used as a drop-in alternative, meaning no modifications to engines or operational procedures are required. …

via Navy.mil

What is in that 90% marine diesel? It doesn’t sound very green and there is nothing about algae:

Marine Diesel Oil (MDO) is a type of fuel oil and is a blend of gasoil and heavy fuel oil, with less gasoil than intermediate fuel oil used in the maritime field. Marine Diesel Oil is also called “Distillate Marine Diesel”.[1] MDO is widely used by medium speed and medium/high speed marine diesel engines. It is also used in the larger slow speed and medium speed propulsion engine which normally burn residual fuel.[1] Those fuels resulting from a catalytic cracking/visbreaking refinery.[1] Marine diesel oil has been condemned for its nimiety of sulfur, so many countries and organizations established regulations and laws on MDO use. Due to its lower price compared to more refined fuel, MDO is favored particularly by shipping industry.

Is Marine Diesel Oil used as ship gasoline? Yes.

Since the 1960s, heavy fuel oil (HFO) has been the king of marine fuels. Viscous, dirty, yet inexpensive and widely available, HFO propelled a long period of robust growth in international shipping, which carries over 90% of intercontinental trade by volume each year. For many, it is the lifeblood of the maritime shipping industry.

But HFO’s low price does not reflect its impacts on the environment and human health. The sulfur content of HFO can be up to 35,000 parts per million. It is the reason that maritime shipping accounts for 8% of global emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), making the industry an important source for acid rain as well as respiratory diseases.

Progress has been made in algae fuel production using Nannochloropsis gaditana, an algal species that grows in seawater.

June 19, 2017

After eight years, a research collaboration between ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics to produce biofuels from algae has produced what the two US companies say is the first “breakthrough”. Scientists at Synthetic Genomics, the biotech company founded by genomics pioneer Craig Venter, used advanced genetic engineering to double the oil content of their algal strain from 20 to 40 per cent, without inhibiting its growth. The findings are published in Nature Biotechnology on Monday. “This key milestone in our advanced biofuels programme confirms our belief that algae can be incredibly productive as a renewable energy source without adverse impacts on climate, land and water,” said Vijay Swarup, vice-president for research and development at ExxonMobil, the US oil major. “Our work with Synthetic Genomics continues to be an important part of our broader research into lower-emission technologies to reduce the risk of climate change.” The researchers identified a biological switch called ZnCys that regulates the conversion of carbon to oil in Nannochloropsis gaditana, an algal species that grows in seawater and is a leading candidate for biofuel production. Through genetic manipulation, they fine-tuned the process to double the proportion of lipid (oil) in the algal biomass. Previous attempts to boost the oil concentration in algae — an important step in biofuel production — failed because the cells stopped growing when they were overloaded with lipid. The new genetic process maintains growth until 40 per cent of the biomass consists of lipid, an industrially useful level.

via FT

Here’s more on using this organism, Nannochloropsis, to produce fuel:

Microalgae of the genus Nannochloropsis are capable of accumulating triacylglycerols (TAGs) when exposed to nutrient limitation (in particular, nitrogen [N]) and are therefore considered promising organisms for biodiesel production. Here, after nitrogen removal from the medium, Nannochloropsis gaditana cells showed extensive triacylglycerol accumulation (38% TAG on a dry weight basis). Triacylglycerols accumulated during N deprivation harbored signatures, indicating that they mainly stemmed from freshly synthesized fatty acids, with a small proportion originating from a recycling of membrane glycerolipids.

via NIH

Various species of Nannochloropsis are currently used primarily as energy-rich food sources for fish larvae. Their ability to generate high quantities of lipids (naturally occurring fats), and other molecules used for energy storage, coupled with rapid growth rate, make them ideal biofuel candidates. One particular species, Nannochloropsis oceanica (N. oceanica), is being studied as an example of algae’s biofuel potential. … “We feel that this organism is highly geared toward making lots of high-energy compounds,” Benning explained. “This species makes huge lipid droplets — that is, huge quantities of healthy fish-type oil.

via MSU

Nannochloropsis is actually in use as food additive for human nutrition and it is also served at Restaurant “A Poniente” of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz, Spain) close to the natural environment where Nannochloropsis gaditana was first isolated and still grows.

via Wiki

If you don’t live near the ocean there is a freshwater version.

The freshwater microalga Nannochloropsis limnetica can be cultured in a wide range of temperatures (15-27 °C), presenting high productivities. The fatty acid profile and biochemical composition of N. limnetica is identical to its marine counterpart N. gaditana.

via ScienceDirect

N. limnetica could be cultured in the range between 15°C and 27°C with highest dry-weight productivities at 22°C. When compared with N. gaditana in semi-continuous cultures at laboratory scale, productivities of both species were similar, reaching 0.64 g l−1 day−1.

via omicsonline

That’s an optimal temperature 71.6 F, in case you would like to grow Nannochloropsis limnetica.

Microalgae are sunlight-driven green cell factories for the production of potential bioactive products and biofuels. Nannochloropsis represents a genus of marine microalgae with high photosynthetic efficiency and can convert carbon dioxide to storage lipids mainly in the form of triacylglycerols and to the ω-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Recently, Nannochloropsis has received ever-increasing interests of both research and public communities. …

Fossil fuels, the primary global energy source, are widely recognized as unsustainable, and renewable forms of energy including biofuels are highly sought after []. It is essential to improve the production of biodiesel, which is a promising renewable and safe alternative to petroleum oils. Owing to the low content of sulfur and high ratio of oxygen, biodiesel has reduced CO and SO2 discharge as compared to petroleum []. Currently, plant oils and animal fats serve as the main sources for biodiesel production, but biodiesel produced from these feedstocks cannot realistically replace the petroleum-derived transport fuels in the foreseeable future []. By contrast, microalgae are emerging as the next-generation biodiesel feedstock and have the potential to meet the existing demand for transportation fuels [,]. Microalgae are photosynthetic microorganisms responsible for at least 32% of global photosynthesis and nearly half of the atmospheric oxygen [,]. Advantages of using microalgae for biodiesel production include but are not restricted to: (1) Microalgae have high photosynthetic efficiency; (2) They do not compete with crops for arable land; (3) CO2, nitrogen and phosphate are utilized while culturing microalgae, leading to mitigation of greenhouse effect and water pollution. Approximately 1.8 kilograms CO2 are required to produce one kilogram biomass []; (4) Microalgae grow fast and can accumulate up to 80% lipid content of biomass []; Microalgal storage lipids are mainly triacylglycerols (TAGs), which can be used as the feedstock for biodiesel conversion through transesterification reaction with methanol; (5) Biodiesel from microalgal oil is comparable to the standard biodiesel in terms of the key properties [].

via NIH





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