Meanwhile, the EERC is teaming up with Whole Energy Fuels Corp., Bellingham, Wash., to develop cellulosic-based fuel additives to improve engine performance. "This technology will ultimately be used to improve engine performance using a renewable product, both in gasoline and diesel engines. In the case of diesel fuel, our additives will boost the cetane levels, improve flow properties and, most importantly, reduce particulate emissions," explains Ed Olson, EERC senior research advisor. A new company, Mercurius Biofuels, Ferndale, Wash., has been set up to help develop and commercializee the technology.
Mixed messages on algae
The Accenture report notes that continued evolution of first-generation feedstocks such as sugar cane, corn and rapeseed for ethanol, butanol and biodiesel is limited by available biomass. Algae, says Accenture, have the potential to produce 1,200 gal./acre compared to just 48 gal./acre for soybean. However, it adds, this will take significant long-term commitment to reduce costs, which currently run in the range of $2–8/l. ($8–30/gal.).
Even so, the report points to recent algae-based tie-ups between ExxonMobil/Synthetic Genomics, Chevron/Solazyme, Valero/Solix, Shell/Cellana and BP/Martek that might well cut the 10 years it estimates for algae-derived fuels to reach commercial production.
However, researchers from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va., caution that significant environmental hurdles must be overcome before fuel production ramps up. Their work indicates that algae production consumes more energy, has higher greenhouse gas emissions and uses more water than other biofuel sources such as switchgrass, canola and corn (See: Environmental Science & Technology, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es902838n).
As an environmentally sustainable alternative to current algae production methods, the researchers propose situating algae production ponds behind wastewater treatment facilities to capture phosphorous and nitrogen — essential nutrients for growing algae that otherwise would need to be produced from petroleum. They also are pursuing complementary research on the economic lifecycle of algae compared to other bionenergy feedstocks.
Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.