I'm still having a little trouble comprehending the scope of our success in the election. Races I thought we might barely lose we won, and ones I thought we might barely win ended up being blowouts. Amazing. But hovering over the post-coital bliss is the horrible state of our economy, and the fear that the changes we need will be lost in the desperate struggle to survive until the economy turns around. But if North Carolina is going to not only survive but prosper, we're going to have to find the resources to take bold, innovative steps, especially in the area of energy production and usage.
Usually when we discuss energy, we're either talking about power generation methods or fuel needs for vehicles, because the two seldom cross paths. Algae has the potential of playing an important role in each field, and will help us attain two very important goals: becoming less reliant on foreign oil and reducing our carbon emissions from coal-fired power sources.
Biofuels have been demonstrated to be a viable alternative to standard crude oil-based petroleum, and could (theoretically) replace a sizable portion of our current oil demand. But our early focus on food crops as a feedstock appears to have been a mistake, and a new direction is desperately needed.
While there are many potential sources for fuel that wouldn't have a notable impact on food supply, algal biomass stands out head and shoulders above the others. From the "renewable" angle, consider this: in the easily achievable proper environment, algae can double its biomass in a 24 hour period. For those of you who make the mistake of "skimming" my painstakingly constructed prose, I'll repeat that: algae can double its biomass in a 24 hour period. Combining that information with the facts that algae does not suck nutrients from the soil like crops do and can be incubated using grey water sources, it's in a league of its own as a renewable source.
In addition to its amazing growth/cultivation aspects, algae is also an incredibly "rich" source for fuel, with per-weight yield potentials some 50 times greater than switchgrass. And due to its physiological traits, algae has a high oil content (approximately 50%), allowing it to yield 100 times more oil per acre than soybeans.
But these are not recent revelations. Some folks have been exploring algae's potentials for decades, and new technologies for refining/extracting/synthesizing the useful elements from algae have been developed recently. And not surprisingly, N.C. State has been leading the charge:
Centia(TM), an advanced biofuels
conversion technology being developed by North Carolina State University, has
been awarded a $200k development grant from the Biofuels Center of North
Carolina. The Centia(TM) process can take any renewable oil input source
(e.g., oils derived from agriculture crops, algae, animal fats, waste greases,
etc.) and produce transportation fuels that are 1-for-1 replacements for
petroleum-based jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline. Fuels produced from Centia(TM)
could be operated in engines, stored, and distributed in an identical manner
to fossil fuels today. The process was developed in 2006 by North Carolina
State University (NCSU) and has been licensed exclusively by Diversified
Bolding mine, and time for a little controversial argument session. Steve needs a little help understanding a few things. What in the world is a public university doing taking public grants for research and then turning around and granting a monopolistic "exclusive" license to a private corporation headquartered in another state? Forgetting for a moment our desire to bring "green jobs" to our state and my inability to find any Diversified Energy Corporation jobs coming to North Carolina, this "exclusive license" issue has me gnashing my teeth, and will (I believe) have an adverse impact on the scalability of using this technology, which is a critical aspect of fomenting widespread use of innovative technologies. And in case you're wondering, it's not the same company that retails propane in North Carolina.
I understand the economics of public/private ventures, and I'm sure N.C. State will make some good coin from this, but I believe this is a prime example of why we need to more directly manage North Carolina's resources and potential if we want to be a world leader in these fields and benefit from such. But...I am also willing to admit that my opinions on this may be based on naive purity, and this approach may be exactly what Dr. Green ordered. Let's talk.
The second "field" I mentioned above is that of power generation, and algae's potential role as a check on carbon emissions from said field. From the early stages of its life cycle, algae is a voracious consumer of carbon dioxide, and industrial smokestacks are (by far) the richest source available to quench this appetite. Realizing this, some really smart folks have started "farming" algae by placing suspended plastic bags inside those nasty smokestacks, substantially reducing the Co2 emitted while feeding the algae itself:
According to GreenFuel,
“A single pass through the GreenFuel system significantly reduces carbon dioxide in the waste gas. Using the sun as a source of energy, algae convert the CO2 into valuable compounds. Growing up to 30 times faster than other terrestrial plants, algae are regularly harvested for conversion into biofuels, feed, or can be recycled back to the host facility. Recycling algae in a closed system reduces the need for fossil fuels”.
Company founder Isaac Berzin believes that,
“at commercial scale, he will cut capital costs enough to beat oil at $60 per barrel. Burning the algae fuel means the carbon has been used twice before being released, displacing greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil, and adding to the power company’s profitability when carbon is regulated.”
What a concept, creating biofuels from carbon dioxide and cleaning the air at the same time! There’s no need for potable water or fertile land, and the installation requires no retooling of existing facilities. In addition, operations at the site are not interrupted and there is no exposure to hazardous materials or other risks.
GreenFuel says it has successfully installed its systems at gas, coal and oil burning facilities.
I'm dedicating this diary to my son Steven, who's been preaching to me about the potential for algae for some time now. He also mentioned to me yesterday that, now that the election is over, we at BlueNC need to focus on presenting and refining solutions to the myriad issues facing the candidates we helped to elect, which I agree with wholeheartedly.