Algae as a Sustainable Biofuels Feedstock: Glen Kertz Interview

Video: I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Glen Kertz, CEO and Principal Scientist for Valcent, to talk about his Vertigro bioreactor system and the promise of algae as a sustainable biofuels feedstock. Fellow phycophilics rejoice — your algae-porn is here!

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this site that I’m a diehard fan of algae-based biofuels. However, not everyone who dabbles in applied phycology is as forthcoming as Glen Kertz, CEO and Principal Scientist of Valcent.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Glen to talk about his Vertigro bioreactor system and the promise that algae brings to the sustainable biofuels table.

We discuss issues related to algal biology and the current state of biofuels production, the merits of symbiotic polycropping over monocropping feedstocks, carbon sequestration, the physics of a vertical-growth system versus traditional pond systems and the big question…can Vertigro scale?

What follows is an exercise in unabashed, unadulterated algae-porn. To be honest, I’ve been daydreaming about pairing Vertigro with Vertical Urban Farms ever since.

Please tell me there’s a venture capitalist out there willing to bring this dream to fruition…

– Curtiss Martin

19 thoughts on “Algae as a Sustainable Biofuels Feedstock: Glen Kertz Interview”

  1. Hi Again, My old brain works in a slightly rusty manner so it is slower to react than it used to be. There are a number of questions which spring to mind regarding the Vertigro operation.

    There have been operational units in production now for perhaps 6 months or longer, long enough to have some sort of audit of the system. The question therefore are:

    Q1. What is the actual consistant return of oil per acre of the units.
    Q2. What are the total production cost per gallon.
    Q3. What is the maintenance cost per acre per annum?
    Q4 What is the actual audited percentage yield of oil form the raw algae.
    Q5 How many more units have been built since the originals.

    Tony McGinley

  2. Perhaps my back of an envelope calculations are wrong, but 100,000 gal/ per acre/ per year seems implausible. The amount of energy that can be converted from sunlight into biomass is constrained by the limited amount of photosynthetically active radiation available and limits on the efficiency of photosynthesis itself.
    Dimitrov, at the below address, has constructed a very cogent criticism of an algae photobioreactor company whose projections were for a more modest 11 gal/sq m/year. He concludes that even a tenth of that yield is a generous projection and that the cost of biodiesel so produced would top $800 a barrel.

  3. The above post by matt newcomb misrepresents the information presented in the essay he cites. The essay examines the company GreenFuel and their proposed bioreactors hooked up to coal power plants.
    The essay itself presents only one actual citation of a published paper and covers a swathe of topics, none very completely.

  4. James Nogler,
    Could you help us to understand the essay precisely?

    I have read the Dimitrov’s essay and I am very interested in it.


  5. I’ve been very excited by the apparent potential of algae oil, too, and was even more excited to find Mr. Newcomb’s link to Dimitrov’s analysis; finally a careful analysis of whether this can work! I’m disappointed to say that his analysis holds up to all the checking I’ve done so far. I didn’t check the cost estimates, which seem plausible, but did an independent calculation of how much oil/acre/year could be grown under the best circumstances, to give some perspective to the wildly wide range of numbers I’ve seen. I came up with essentially the same amount as Dimitrov; ~4000 gal/acre/year. That’s much better than any other feedstock that I’ve heard of, but far less than many numbers bouncing through the internet (try Googling “algae oil gallons acre year”). Since 4000 is optimistic, I’ll be steering clear of any company that claims they can do better than that. I’ll also be looking only for companies that can achieve that number with cheap/low tech methods. I don’t see how anything in a greenhouse can do it. Solix might be onto something with huge, outdoor plastic bags, but I haven’t crunched any numbers for that yet. I’m keeping in mind too, that lower oil/biomass yields also reduces any carbon credit
    income that may be used to argue for profitability.

  6. Well PetroSun just went online with a 1100 acre facility in Texas that they claim will produce 4000 gal/acre/year. This is a saltwater pond system.

    So while Dimitrov’s back of the envelope calculations are interesting, it seems that shortly we shall see what real world production looks like. IF the Vertigro vertical bioreactor system is as claimed 5x the production of a pond system, this would put them to prove a 20,000 gal/acre/year with no further advances. A 100,000 gal/acre/year certainly seems in the realm of science fiction — it’s hard to know without knowing what these numbers are assuming. It seems some studies from the government talked about 15,000, but you can’t find any explicit calculations.

  7. I found the interview very interesting. I have developed a scientific curriculum for high school students including the complete characteristics of algae photobioreactore.

    I would like to aske Mr. Glen Kertz some questions . could you please send me his directe e-mail?
    thank you very much. esther

  8. Curtis:
    Nice interview, and I hope you do a follow up come this Nov.
    Couple of questions:
    Did they have any finished product? Was anybody actually running a scum engine on this product?
    Since certain species of algae produce much higher amounts of fats, why would Kertz even bother with thousands of other species? Seems like part of the grail is identifying the biggest weight gainer here.
    Are they working in conjunction with any Universities?

  9. Actually, i think both vertigro and greenfuel are quite plausible.

    while total land area might only be mere 1 acre, the total area exposed to sunlight is actually more than that.

    We can increase area exposed to the sunlight by 40% simply by slanting the whole area 45 degrees. The same trick had been used on optimizing photovoltaic system.

    Dimitrov analysis didnt seem to include that factor.

    This is the follow up from greenfuel and his reply:

    From that discussion we can see clearly that greenfuel didnt understand that dimitrov actually had no clue about the purpose of the photobioreactor geometry.

  10. My original post glitched during composition and disappeared.
    I will simply restate in a summarized note that very few of the posters acknowledge that the area exposed (Per Foot) to sunlight using the vertical racks appear to exceed about four times more exposed footage than the area of a flat salt water pond.

  11. im a bit late on this by the looks of it by a year but i think that will work in my favour so;
    how much does it cost to set up an acre module(is it still 1million dollars US or has it gone down in manufacturing due to affective building)
    is there any in australia

  12. Hi
    Some time ago I saw a youtube video where one are making olie from algae. Is looks like the “bags” thing you show here. He said that if you take a littel part of new mexico and make algae here he could cover USA need of diesel.

    So why is it that nothing is happning? Can we not take some algae olie and put in the cars now?

    I dont understand thats its only talk and talk. If the policies reaaly wants this we would have this on the market today.
    The policies alwas choos the wrong things linke , corn, palmolie etc. I get so angry..

    I Get on the market now! we cant wait.

    Regarding to water. Dont you use seawater?


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