Initial Test Results Indicate at Least 33,000 gallons of Algae Oil per Acre Possible

Not too long ago, I spoke with Valcent Products Inc. CEO and Principal scientist Glen Kertz about his company’s Vertigro bioreactor system.

Judging from the first wave of Vertigro test data, the promise of sustainably producing large amounts of biofuels-ready algae oil is becoming more and more of a reality — and a potentially revolutionary reality at that!

algae71.jpg

If proof is in the pudding, Valcent‘s pudding is looking mighty green to me.

Not too long ago, I spoke (video) with Valcent Products Inc. CEO and Principal Scientist Glen Kertz about his company’s Vertigro bioreactor system.

Judging from the first wave of Vertigro test data, the promise of sustainably producing large amounts of biofuels-ready algae oil is becoming more and more of a reality — and a potentially revolutionary reality at that!

From the Valcent/Vorticom press release:

During a 90 day continual production test, algae was being harvested at an average of one gram (dry weight) per liter. This equates to algae bio mass production of 276 tons of algae per acre per year. Achieving the same biomass production rate with an algal species having 50% lipids (oil) content would therefore deliver approximately 33,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year.

…As a comparative, food crop such as soy bean will typically produce some 48 gallons oil per acre per year and palm will produce approximately 630 gallons oil per acre per year. In addition, the Vertigro Bio Reactor System is a closed loop continuous production system that uses little water and may be built on non arable lands.

The press release goes on to note that the focus of the 90 day test was determining the robustness of the test bed — not pushing the limits on production yields. The official line from Valcent stresses that the test system has not been optimized for maximum yields or the best selection of algae at this time.

According to Kertz and Dr. Aga Pinowska of Valcent, “We have learned how to produce a very large algal bio-mass under varying environmental and operating conditions in our continuous process photo bioreactors. We believe these initial results are amongst the best achieved to date, and we are confidant we can now increase the productivity.”

Doug Frater, CEO of Global Green Solutions Inc, goes on to note‚ “We are extremely pleased with the robustness and performance of the Vertigro technology in sustainably producing commercial quantities of algae biomass. Over the coming months we will further optimize the technology and demonstrate economic algae production for biofuel feedstock purposes.”

The next round of tests will involve an increase in the number of reactors from 30 to 100, various lipids extraction tests, as well as tests that focus on optimizing oil production per acre. Subsequintly, the joint venture between Valcent and Global Green intends to build out a one acre pilot plant, with engineering and design work underway at this time.

For those new to the Valcent story, their Vertigro system may be a solution to the renewable energy sector’s quest to create a clean, green process which uses mainly light, water and air to create fuel. The Vertigro technology employs a proprietary high-density vertical bio-reactor that produces fast growing algae which may yield large volumes of high-grade algae oil. This oil can be refined into a cost-effective, non-polluting diesel biofuel, jet fuel and other applications.

The algae derived fuel may be an energy efficient replacement for fossil fuels and can be used in any diesel powered vehicle or machinery. In addition, 90% by weight of the algae is captured carbon dioxide, which is “sequestered” by this process and so contributes significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gasses.

I think that I’m breathing a little easier already.

33 thoughts on “Initial Test Results Indicate at Least 33,000 gallons of Algae Oil per Acre Possible”

  1. Oh my! There has got to be a catch. Or a conspiracy. Thanks for keeping the informed more informed. I will forward along.

  2. Curtis,

    The phrase that you’re botching is “the proof of the puddling is in the eating.” The way you use it makes no sense.

  3. This sounds great, except one thing.

    Nonpolluting bio diesel? If this fuel is used in a combustion process, surely it releases a formidable number of compounds, including carbon-monoxide. The question is how much of that sequestered carbon during the growing process is released from the vehicle powered by the fuel during operation?


    g

  4. The problem is in the extraction. Getting those little tiny alges out of the water and into a big pile is very tricky and no ‘silver bullet’ solution has been found to date. Centrifuge is common, but requires way too much energy. Filters are expensive and require maintenance. The list goes on.

    As far as greenhouse gases go, biofuels do release them, but they are all originally from the air we breathe in the first place. Fossil fuels take carbon from the Earth and put it into our air.

  5. Greg:

    This sort of fuel is “nonpolluting” because it adds no carbon to the carbon cycle. Any carbon released by burning fuel that was “grown” was already in the biosphere to start with.

    Big difference between that the current popular practice of piping carbon out of the earth and into the biosphere, a large net gain.

  6. This process requires a fossil fuel (coal) plant to make the CO2 the algae needs. It is good news for the coal industry, but you are still generating carbon. The carbon is released when the algae are processed and the resulting oil combusted. By contrast, ethanol from cellulose is called carbon-neutral since the plants absorb free CO2 in the air and continuously recycle that carbon.

    Still, this is much better than importing petroleum so it can save the American economy. It could make clean(er) jet fuels compared to kerosene/parafin fuels today. It raises the efficiency of coal combustion.

  7. With regards to the extraction problem, perhaps burning some of the algae/solar heating to boil off (in an efficient evaporater, like a multiple effect or multi-stage flash distillation) all the water in the algae solution, followed by crushing oil extraction/pyrolysis and oil distillation would be a possibility. As a bonus, if you use wastewater/salt water as the algal feedstock, you’d also get distilled water out of the arrangement.

  8. The catch is water use. Growing the traditional algae usually needs quite a bit of water. With the increasing problem we have with finding fresh water, I’d say that growing algae might be “dead in the water” without using algae that can grow in dry regions … or something.

  9. Remember that algae can survive and thrive in salt water which shouldn’t be a problem on planet earth to find. 😉 As RNC said above the purification process could be taken a step further to produce fresh potable water.

    This is pretty exciting stuff!

    Algae in one swoop solving the carbon dioxide, fresh water and fuel crisis problems all at once! If we can just get it to grow in Pizza or Dorito flavor and we’re set!

  10. re: David – extraction

    No, oil floats on water. You can rupture the algae in any number of ways and the oil floats to the top and the proteins and other solids sink to the bottom.

    re: Adam – water use

    No, the problem with ‘open ponds’ is water use. This is a new closed loop system so there is no evaporation.

  11. So we just need a big blender?
    So the process might be something like this:
    Seed the vat
    Add atmosphere and sunlight -> grow
    Blend (Will it Blend? …That is the question!)
    Skim off oil
    Distill -> biomass + water

    Re: distillation:
    If the distilled water is pumped into the next seeded vat, it comes close to a closed system, besides evaporative losses.

    Or if you’re going to bother distilling it, it will probably be cleaner than the input water. So why not take in new water from your source, and do something profitable with the cleaner water? Not sure _I’d_ want to drink it, but livestock might.

  12. I guess no one noticed the huge caveat in the press release?

    “Achieving the same biomass production rate with an algal species having 50% lipids (oil) content…”

    The 33,000 gallon number is based on wishful thinking. Who knows if they’ll be able to achieve the same production rate with a different species.

    What I want to know is what energy really has to be put into the system. We don’t want another corn-based ethanol.

  13. Does anyone realize that you are talking about using 3.5 Million Arces to cover the US consumption of 320500000 gallons per day? That’s a lot of land.

  14. That sounds like a lot, but if you actually complete your math its only 5500 sq miles and that’s only 74 by 74 miles. For all the oil required in america that sounds like an awesome deal.

  15. I will be speaking with Glen Kertz over the phone again tomorrow. If anyone has any (more) questions or concerns related to Vertigro and the recent test results, please post them here in the comments section.

    Thanks a lot for your readership and interaction. I feel like Glen and I will have plenty to talk about already.

    – Curtiss Mrtin

  16. Several points:

    First, Valcent is part of what seems to be a constellation of interrelated companies, notably Global Green Solutions (GGRN). As far as I can tell, GGRN is the only almost-pure-play algae-energy company (with some other promising biomass-burning projects discussed below) that’s publicly traded so you can invest in it. Full disclosure: I bought $10K worth some months back. It’s down 20%, which I don’t think means anything at this point. But I am surprised not to see a bump from this latest press release.

    1. Some strange misconceptions here. Replacing fossil fuels with algae/crop-derived fuels is a huge carbon win no matter how you count it. Burning fossils releases previously sequestered carbon. Burning crop fuels releases carbon that was previously, already in the air–not sequestered. (Or–if you’re pulling CO2 from coal plants to grow algae–that would have ended up in the air, or would have required in-ground sequestration, with all the cost and energy involved, and with all the exogenous footprint implications of those cost/energy expenditures.)

    Yes, there are energy/$ costs that make it less than carbon-neutral. But still.

    2. The NO2 problem assumes that nitrogen is used as fertilizer for the biofuel crops. I’m almost certain that is not the case with (this?) algae project. I even seem to remember reading something suggesting that *reducing* nitrogen in the algae growing environment actually increases lipid content.

    3. I’m not sure if the algae being grown in the pilot is 50% lipids–the press release doesn’t say. (Question for Mr. Kertz?) If yes, this obviates the question about whether such a species/variety could obtain similar yields.

    4. Nothing in Valcent/GGRN’s info seems to discuss the use of seawater, which seems like a huge potential win given the increasing scarcity/cost of fresh water. Perhaps the closed-loop water use is so small as to make it a less-important issue.

    4. I really wonder if conversion to biodiesel is the best use for algae. Why not just burn it instead of coal to make electricity? Valcent/GGRN are playing in that field already, with pilot projects in California (burning wood scrap to make steam for extraction of heavy oil from wells: http://www.globalgreensolutionsinc.com/s/Press.asp?ReportID=197618&_Type=Media-Coverage&_Title=Waste-biomass-may-make-steam-for-Central-Valley-oil-fields) and in Florida (horse shit-to-electricity: http://www.globalgreensolutionsinc.com/s/NewsReleases.asp?ReportID=272188&_Type=News-Releases&_Title=Global-Green-Solutions-and-Florida-Thoroughbred-Breeders-and-Owners-Associa…).

    This would not take optimal advantage of the 50% non-lipid components of algae (carbs to ferment into alcohol and proteins to feed to animals), but if the $ and/or energy cost of separating out those components is significant, just burning the stuff might be a superior solution.

    Also, to what extent would biodiesel’s energy-density/portability add to its dollar value vis-a-vis dried algae? How does dried algae compare to coal and (bio)diesel in energy/pound? This could impact value vis-a-vis transportation costs, and general utility given supply/demand and distribution/availability. (My guess is that the transport/storage costs as a percentage are not a big win/lose consideration.)

    I’d love to hear Mr. Kertz’s comments on these questions.

    Related question: are co-fired (coal and biomass) power plants feasible/economically viable? I have the impression that different burners are necessary. ??

    That’s all I can think of right now. Love to hear more.

    Steve

  17. Exciting stuff.
    Steve, my understanding is that you can still burn the carbohydrate component of the algae after pressing it for the lipids and making biodiesel. Or you can make ethanol out of it, or use it as animal feed.
    I’m always skeptical of panaceas, but algae does look promising.

    Clayton

  18. Hi,

    I have been following the developments on biofuel and came across an article by Dr. Krassen Dimitrov. Its a case study (http://www.nanostring.net/Algae/CaseStudy.pdf) targetted specifically to Greenfuels based on their reports and can be drawn parallel to Valcent. The article states that algae based oil is economically feasible only when the price touches $800/bbl and there are lot of hurdles in commercializing the technology to make it viable. It gives a thermodynamic reasoning (Based on first priniciples) and there havent been any challenges to the study. So can anyone help understand (especially with public money on the table) whether all this alage based oil makes sense or its just the pteroluem companies trying to kill the project by funding reserachers like Dr. Dimitrov?? Curtiss, Is any mass and energy balance numbers (thermodynamic calculations) available from Valcent??

    Thanks,

  19. http://www.nanostring.net/Algae/CaseStudy.pdf … states that algae based oil is economically feasible only when the price touches $800/bbl… whether all this alage based oil makes sense or its just the pteroluem companies trying to kill the project by funding reserachers like Dr. Dimitrov??

    I’ve also read this, though I have not attempted to vet it.

    Anyone know anything? Algae seems so promising, but…

    Links? Comments? Actually informed insights, anyone?

    STeve

  20. Using the same ‘thermodynamical Dimitrov-logic’ – what should be the real economically feasible price of biodiesel originating for example from rape or palm etc.?

    $4000/bbl? $5000/bbl?

    But that has not been the price of biodiesel today … strange … How is this possible?

    randwomwalk

  21. Hi,

    in the case of Valcent’s Vertigro System one has to make a completely different calculation compared to the GreenFuel Technologies-System, because it’s a completely different technology.

    Costs for sunlight, water, land: almost zero.

    Costs for human resources: not so much, very few people are needed to control a big production environment.

    Costs for the material, container, pipelines etc.: not so much, in the long run: neglectable.

    Costs for transportation: very much less than today.

    Costs for upgrading the algae-lipids to diesel or jetfuel: don’t know. Should be not too high.

    Nevertheless Valcent or GGRN should provide in the next step a crystal-clear and absolutely realistic calculation for their very many future customers they will aquire in the next one or two years, how much a scalable Vertigro-Plant will cost, and how much money the customer will earn with it, depending on the oil-price.

    Valcent and GGRN sell the license for all their customers all over the world, not only in the USA, to print VERY MUCH MONEY in the very near future, become strategically independent from saudis, mullahs and other people they don’t like, and by the way solve their energy and environment problems.

    Why shouldn’t they do it? Be absolutely sure, they WILL. They HAVE TO, or they will dissapear. Energy Industry has to change worldwide, there is no other political and economical chance, that can be realized in the short run, and Valcent provides the way. This will be the biggest Supernova of the Stockmarket in the next five years. Why not become bigger as Microsoft, Google and GE together in a few years? The new Global Energy-Giant Valcent? Why not? Sounds not so strange to me. It’s possible, anything goes … Valcent is one of the very few firms that have the potential, because it works WITH nature and the situation and not against it.

    randomwalk 🙂

  22. I am the Director of Fuel Systems for the largest privately held remanufacturing company in the World. While interesting and worth developing, the inherent efficiency of a diesel (over petrol) is a plus…and the required standard for an engine for any of these types of fuels…BUT, what most people do not realize is that diesel fuel & air delivery systems have changed drastically in the last few years. I have been working for either the OEM of either the fuel systems or the engines for over 25 years…people that think you can just “cook up a batch” in your back yard do not understand the fuel systems on these new engines. Clean Diesel does not just mean the fuel, it includes the combustion, the fuel & the aftertreatment of the exhaust stream.
    The rotational tolerances of the components are 2 micron…bathed in fuel as the only lubricant. Since the human eye can only detect down to 40 micron, the problem then becomes filtration…
    We are way behind the rest of the world in diesel…primarily due to the (realitivly) low tax on our gasoline. As the price of gas goes up (supply & demand + political unrest) diesel will once again take the lead…with or without biofuels.
    The only real long term viable solution is a combination of several disciplines…but 10 years from now we’ll all be talking about (and hopefuly driving) hydrogen vehicles…

  23. I am more than a few days old and have been watching the new energy news closely. Just a few months ago I saw an article about another company that was growing algae along side a natural gas fired power plant using clear tubes plumbed together out in the open. I thought that was great. They said that it’s more than possible to grow algae anywhere there is a high percentage of sun days. Now this company is using Greenhouses. Smart thinking. I can easily see a nearly closed loop system. Greenhouses growing algae, using the CO from a Power Plant burning some of the algae oil and dried solids produced. At least two energy streams. One side question I have is, as we see here, thinking people coming up with information about the pluses and minuses of the different Green energy ideas. Where were the forward thinkers and number crunchers when corn ethanol movement was starting up? Who couldn’t add up how many crop acres it was going to take, and what it was going to do to our food cycle? It looks like that steam roller is unstoppable at this moment. Bad science.

  24. Nice to find this string. I am the owner of the IP and prototypes of flat lamps which have the same spectra as the sun and am now building the first prototypes of tailered nm wavelengths for photosynthesis of single plant cells. Initial calculations are around 6x6x14 foot high pillar for vertical farming of algae will produce 1 acre of biomass in 7.54 days. Any photosynthetic plant cell will grow rapidly due to surface areas. Harvesting is done continually. The lamps can be solar powered and we have a 3D solar technology. All of it is inorganic, does not degrade, and is lightweight and cheap to manufacture. I understand that cattle need 3000 lbs per year of food. Does anyone know the percentage needed for fiber and what grass would the best. We have another way of getting nitrogen to the cells. The anaerobic photobioreactor produces hydrogen and low powered electrical currents will combine the oxygen and hydrogen into water… although this experiment is yet to produce results in water production. Robin Ore FemtoBeam

  25. My students ask me what is the size of an algae photobioreactor apt to produce five tons dry algae a day.Can you help me?
    Thank you and good bye. Large approximation data should be very useful.

    Prof. Enrico Zaglio –
    Università Cattolica di Brescia Dip. Fisica Ambientale
    Laboratorio di Elettronica
    Via Musei,41
    25100 – Brescia ITALY
    030 2406741 330 525 866
    zaglioe@dmf.unicatt.it

  26. This article was posted in 2007. It is now almost three years later. I have sent a you tube video of Mr. Kertz to numerous politicians and all I get back is a polite form letter. That makes me wonder if the pols even saw the video. I’ d like to show up at a town hall meeting and run that video so they would have to admit seeing it, and learning there is a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Once they have been shown in a public hearing they can’t say, “I never heard of that.”

    I am hoping the extraction process is being perfected as we speak so this can soon be offered as a sensible alternative to toxic, polluting, dangerous petroleum products. Just look at the recent oil well explosion with the resultant destruction in the gulf area and anyone with half a brain can see the need to wean America off its petrol dependency.

    The oil giants will probably gasp at the thought of switching but there will no longer be a need for the costly exploration to find new oil fields. The supply system will still be needed. Their pipelines and delivery trucks will still have to carry the finished product to stations so they will still have a source of income, but, they will no longer have a stranglehold on the price at the pump so that will be a major stumbling block to overcome. Oil magnates hate to think of losing their power so expect a huge fight to get fuel from alga to the pumps.

    It will take a clear majority of the public complaining to their elected officials to convince legislators to remove road blocks for this new fuel. Better start now people, write, call, visit town hall meetings and make certain our “dear elected officials” know that we know about Valcent alga for fuel.

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