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Algae for biofuels: Moving from promise to reality, but how fast?
Date:11/2/2010

mpetitive with contaminating wild species and that consistently grow well in various climates are needed. Other key steps to be improved are low-cost harvesting of microscopic algae cells and the extraction of their oil content, as well as dealing with the biomass residue remaining after oil extraction.

The report's analysis includes five conceptual facilities for algae pond biofuel production, four of them 250 acres in size and one of 1,000 acres. All used municipal wastewater as the source of both water and nutrients, with some emphasizing production of oil, while others have wastewater treatment as their main priorities. Biofuel products included either biogas and oil or just biogas production, with the biogas used for electricity generation. The hypothetical location was the Imperial Valley in southern California, where the only major microalgae farms in the continental U.S. are presently located. In the scenarios, productivity peaks in the summer months but is essentially nil in the coldest winter months, with light and temperature being the main limiting factors.

Engineering designs and cost analysis for the various cases were based on projecting current commercial microalgae production and wastewater treatment processes at much larger scales. They assumed higher productivities due to plausible technological advances. The estimated capital costs for a 250-acre biofuel production system emphasizing oil production were about $21 million, with annual operating costs at around $1.5 million, to produce about 12,300 barrels of oil, giving a break-even price per barrel of oil of $330 (based on an 8 percent capital charge). Increasing the scale of the system to 1,000 acres reduced the break-even price to about $240 per barrel. These prices considered wastewater treatment credits, which reduced costs about 20 percent. Other facilities that maximized wastewater treatment produced fuel at lower cost due to greater treatment revenue. However
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Contact: Ron Kolb
RRKolb@berkeley.edu
510-643-6255
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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