Large-scale biofuel farm using algae goes online


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Algae looks pretty disgusting in the old swimming pool pictured above, but the power of algae is now being harnessed by those hoping to exploit it as a powerful biofuel. Fortune has an interesting article about a huge new biofuel farm in New Mexico.

On a 2,200-acre expanse of desert scrub in Columbus, N.M. (pop. 1,678), Sapphire Energy has built the world’s first large-scale farm to grow algae and produce crude oil. The five-year-old company has spent about $60 million constructing an array of about 70 ponds, each the size of a football field, and a refinery, which began producing oil this past summer. The first barrels are rolling out now.

Algal oil “has the potential to change the world,” says Cynthia Warner, Sapphire’s chief executive, because the process by which it is grown will allow any nation to produce oil. Warner joined Sapphire after 28 years in the oil business, most recently as head of global refining at BP (BP). She couldn’t resist the allure of algae. Productive and versatile creatures, they grow fast, don’t need to be fed, and build up oil in their cells after being exposed to sunlight and CO2. They like salty or brackish water, so ponds can be built on cheap land where not much else will grow. Into each pond go genetically engineered single-celled algae that grow to maturity in about five days, after which they are skimmed from the water and put through a thermo-chemical “wet extraction” process to separate the oil. The company plans to make about 100 barrels of oil a day in New Mexico. If all goes according to plan, commercial production of perhaps 10,000 barrels a day will begin in 2018.

A ton of money has been plowed into the green space as venture capitalists try to capitalize on the desire for clean energy and renewable fuels. Read the rest of the article to get more information on this project. It will be fascinating to see if this project becomes economically viable. In an era where fracking is lowering the costs of natural gas and increasing oil output in the United States, it will be more difficult for projects like this to make money without subsidies.

Chevy Volt’s progress…A step in the right direction

Photo Courtesy of General Motors

General Motors first began selling the Chevy Volt, as the first ever plug-in hybrid vehicle, in December of 2010. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Volt achieves about 94 miles per gallon. However, with a price tag of around $40,000, consumers have been slow to jump on board with the plug-in electric car concept. In fact, production was halted back in March-April, 2012, due to sluggish sales. However, General Motors resumed production this past April, a week earlier than planned, as Volt sales have begun to turn around. Some say that this past summer’s high gas prices have encouraged more consumers to invest in the Volt. The following is an article, out of the NY Daily News, discussing the Volt’s return:

What a difference a few months made for the Chevy Volt. From underselling political deadweight to automotive press darling, GM’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle went back into production this week after a shorter-than expected shutdown announced in early March to reduce the inventory levels of unsold vehicles.

At that time, the Volt’s future looked bleak — it was being rounded on by US Republican presidential candidates and was still suffering from the aftereffects of a series of damaging headlines after a federal investigation into battery safety.

But that was then and this is now.

Check out the entire article. It’s inspiring to see that although progress has been slow, we are moving closer to achieving energy independence and reducing our carbon footprint…One car at a time.

America’s energy future

Robert J. Samuelson is usually a grouch when it comes to economics and energy. That includes his harsh skepticism on the ability to do something about global warming.

He’s actually rather optimistic about America’s energy future, but he notes that renewables will not be as big a part of our energy future as environmentalists would want. Coal, natural gas and oil will still be important parts of the energy equation.

Big geothermal test

The potential of geothermal energy is incredible, but we’ll see soon whether we’re making real progress in this area.

Geothermal energy developers plan to pump 24 million gallons of water into the side of a dormant volcano in central Oregon this summer to demonstrate technology they hope will give a boost to a green energy sector that has yet to live up to its promise.

They hope the water comes back to the surface fast enough and hot enough to create cheap, clean electricity that isn’t dependent on sunny skies or stiff breezes — without shaking the earth and rattling the nerves of nearby residents.

Renewable energy has been held back by cheap natural gas, weak demand for power and lack of political concern over global warming. Efforts to use the earth’s heat to generate power, known as geothermal energy, have been further hampered by technical problems and worries that tapping it can cause earthquakes.

Even so, the federal government, Google and other investors are interested enough to bet $43 million on the Oregon project.

Geothermal can be the ultimate example of clean energy, so many environmentalists are excited about this technology.

GM making commitment to solar energy to save money

Many companies are going green because it makes sense financially. GM is a great example, as they are installing fields of solar panels at various location.

General Motors broke ground Wednesday on a six-acre field of solar panels in front of its Detroit-Hamtramck plant as part of an effort to green the production of its Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car.

DTE Energy will own and operate the 516-kilowatt system as part of its Solar Currents program, which is installing photovoltaic systems at sites such as Monroe County Community College and a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan parking structure in downtown Detroit.

DTE will lower GM’s energy bill because of the solar panels, which were first reported by the Free Press. That savings, about $15,000 a year, will combine with more efficient lighting and equipment updates to lower Detroit-Hamtramck’s energy costs by nearly $3 million annually.

With the large investment GM is making in US auto plants, hopefully we’ll see this kind of progress from them on green energy around the country.

This is just one of many examples of corporate American being ahead of the curve compared to those who view alternative energy in a skeptical light. This is our future . . .

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