Creativity in the development of alternative fuels

The New York Times has a cool new story about the development of algae for use as a biofuel. The article explains how a new start-up company co-founded by a Colorado State University professor recently introduced a strain of algae that loves carbon dioxide into a water tank next to a natural gas processing plant.

The story is interesting as it also focuses on the involvement of the Southern Utes Indian community as an investor in the project. But the most interesting element involves the interrelated efforts to develop alternative energy.

One of the keys to new projects is eliminating waste and taking advantage of heat and other byproducts of one energy-generating process and using these byproducts in another process built next to the first process. Here’s a summary of how this will work regarding this algae process.

Solix’s facility project is next to the natural gas processing plant for access to the carbon dioxide waste stream, which will be used to nourish the algae — a kind of biological recycling of carbon dioxide before its discharge into the atmosphere as the vegetable fuel is burned.

The plant also produces waste heat, which could be used to warm the algae beds in winter. In addition, the high desert plateau of southwest Colorado is one of the sunniest spots in the nation, providing solar radiation that accelerates algae growth.

Central to Solix’s business model, Dr. Willson said, is the hope that power plants and other factories now venting carbon dioxide will allow the company to build an algae farm next to their carbon dioxide vent pipes. A plant could sell the oil or biodiesel, and Solix would earn its return by being a part owner-operator, or by licensing the technology.

Conservation and efficiency are the new buzzwords in the renewable energy field (among many). Energy should never go to waste, and many projects that were once too difficult to make commercially viable can have a new life when one examines how to exploit byproducts from well-established processes. The possibilities are endless.


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