Last week the Triplepundit wrote a post called, Breaking the Cost Barrier on Algae-based Biofuels. The piece noted that the technology was promising and then provided a summary of where things are today
And just where are things? Today biofuel companies are currently seeking to scale the commercial production of algae and are pursuing several engineering approaches to the design of an economical system for growing algae. The industry is also investigating use of closed systems and open pond systems. In closed systems, engineers can precisely regulate algae growth conditions. Closed systems include both photobioreactors for photosynthetic algae strains and traditional bioreactors (enclosed tanks such as those used in other microbial growth) for those, such as cyanobacteria, that do not require sunlight. Open pond systems have been used in many settings, but can be sensitive to various environmental factors, such as contamination by other algae strains, or variations in nutrients, heat and light. Pond systems covered by thin plastic films and combination closed/open systems are being developed to control these factors.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with teams led by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) and General Atomics to produce cost-effective military jet fuel (JP-8) from algae. Testing is expected to begin in 2011. The Navy’s Defense Energy Support Center has also purchased and begun testing algae-derived diesel distillates from Solazyme. And Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines have successfully tested Jet A from Sapphire Energy and UOP Renewables in commercial jets, including Boeing 737 and 747 planes.