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By Robert Rapier on Feb 19, 2010 with 69 responses

Another Response to the DARPA Claim

Many of my essays here are reprinted at The Energy Collective. Following a reprint of my recent essay examining DARPA’s extraordinary claim on the cost of algal fuel, a reader named Durwood Dugger (this gentleman, I presume) posted some very interesting comments that are worth reproducing here. His original comment can be found here.

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I was at the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) meeting in Orlando in February and participated in the biofuel for aviation workshop round-table discussion at the invitation of NASA. I have been producing algae (not for fuel) for commercial purposes for the last 38 years. None of the presentations or the discussions in round table discussion in which I participated leads me to believe that DARPA is going to reach their $2/gal. algae goals and especially not anytime soon.

So, is DARPA just trying to protect it’s current research contractors after several studies have shown algae is neither cost efficient, nor environmentally friendly as a net carbon reducing primary energy source at the near term prices of petroleum? If you look at 2008 DARPA there is nothing more in the PR release than a restatement of their original goals and projections. As someone who is very familiar with the research in this field, I can see no factual evidence given in this current PR or other published data that provides a credible basis that anyone is anywhere near obtaining those $1-2 gallons cost/price goals. No current researchers have produced and published audited and credible results anywhere close $2/gal costs. NREL and several private developers can’t get algae oil production costs below $18 gallon. (See NREL’s Road Map For Biofuel Development).

As you so well pointed out, most of the algae oil costs are energy costs in extraction, separation, drying and stabilization. It isn’t probable that DARPA is any closer because of improbable cost differences between current research and what McQuiston is claiming for DARPA.

I know several DARPA research contractors and they certainly aren’t anywhere close to $2/gallon in their cost estimations. Algae production and extraction technologies are not new – they have been around for 80 years or more. This makes the probability of sudden scientific breakthroughs that also seemingly violate the laws of thermodynamics – even more improbable.

What isn’t being broadly recognized is that for algae to contribute to our energy needs in any significant way, algae cultivation will require chemical fertilizers (again I’ve been doing this for a while.). This dependent relationship between biofuel production and petroleum based fertilizers are being ignored, denied and or dismissed by many government grantor’s who are either too ignorant or too self-servingly corrupt to address this obvious contradiction of logic in pursuing biofuels in a declining petroleum/fertilizer environment producing rapidly increase costs of the same.

The use of petroleum based fertilizer is of no small consequence. As petroleum prices rise – necessarily so do fertilizer prices and consequently so do the costs of the biofuels that are produced with them. More than 85% of the world’s food supply is produced with petroleum based fertilizers – 95% of world foods are petroleum dependent in transportation to market and consumers. Peak oil – no matter when it inevitably occurs – does not bode well for for biofuel economic feasibility, or for that matter – the global human food supply.

Photosynthesized biofuels incorporate two forms of energy – solar and chemical. The solar comes from an off planet sun and the chemical energy comes from an on planet and therefore finite petroleum supply. The net energy to be derived from photosynthesis is essentially from the solar energy coming from off Earth. Photosynthesis is less than 20% efficient (not to mention the processing energy algae oil requires) so it takes a lot of sunlit area to make much biofuel energy. Then combine the need for finite petroleum based fertilizers and biofuels literally have an uphill battle in cost efficiency over time – and one which they cannot win under the current technological criteria.

Clearly, if there were biofuels that could be produced for $2/gallon we would all be driving on this fuel. The petroleum companies would be selling off their drilling rigs. Instead we are not using biofuels and petroleum companies are expanding there drilling rig fleets as we discuss this and greatly – check it out on the web. Since oil platforms cost billions and have a 30 year life, you can tell where the petroleum producers are putting their money and it’s not in algae oil.

Everyone – about this time is saying, “Oh, but we can use waste to grow algae.” Using waste water as a nutrient source turns out to be problematic because most waste sources are not in areas with sufficient space to allow commercial scale algae production. Looking at all waste water sources that are feasibly located, you end up with a very, very small fraction of the amount space required to significantly impact energy requirements – probably less than 3%. Waste from humans and CAFO’s could be a significant source of nutrient for algae production, but only if we re-configure the nations waste treatment and CAFO infrastructure systems to use if effectively. This is something that isn’t going to happen in our current economic environment – where the nation’s tax revenues are being used almost exclusively to wage wars for… wait to guarantee middle eastern oil field access and to prop up it’s failed greed corrupted banking system and related stock market financial instrument sales systems.

It would seem more logical economically – in the face of declining petroleum reserves to invest in primarily in photovoltaic solar, wind, tide, and wave energy which is less reliant (only uses petroleum energy and products in initial fabrication) in the long term on petroleum than any biofuels. If we used our remaining petroleum reserves just for lubricants, fertilizer, special chemicals and even plastics, but not for transportation fuel – it would last us a much longer time. Perhaps enough time to bridge the technological gap between petroleum and the next most economically and environmentally efficient (really the same thing) source of energy.

Poorly phrased and misleading PR from DARPA’s hapless McQuiston only compounds our energy problems and even further reduces the publics confidence in our government and it’s faith in science and technology. Not exactly what is needed in the face of the problems that face us.

  1. By rufus on February 19, 2010 at 1:48 am

    This is something that isn't going to happen in our current economic environment – where the nation's tax revenues are being used almost exclusively to wage wars for… wait to guarantee middle eastern oil field access and to prop up it's failed greed corrupted banking system and related stock market financial instrument sales systems.

    This sounds like something from the Oil Drum.

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  2. By Moiety on February 19, 2010 at 3:17 am

    To add: spot price for ethanol fuel from Rotterdam is 0.5EUR/L or 2.5$/gal. DARPA are essentially saying that in a few years, they can outperform corn ethanol in terms of cost.
    That is in direct contract to EUBIA which puts second generation ethanol at least 5 years from realization.

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  3. By rufus on February 19, 2010 at 3:28 am

    You're getting hosed, Moiety. Ethanol is selling at the dock on the Gulf for $1.90. Maybe, by now, a nickle, less.

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  4. By Moiety on February 19, 2010 at 7:00 am

    Rufus that is the FOB prices currently available from Rotterdam for bulk supplies for T1 fuel,European supplies have a more limited subsidy than US.

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  5. By takchess on February 19, 2010 at 7:03 am

    The link about Durwood and shrimp farming was very interesting.
    It reminds me at one time a local defense contractor in Nashua, NH was working on Lobster Farming.

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  6. By Anonymous on February 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

    I'm surprised that there has not yet been some kind of retraction from DRAPA, since having a statement like this out there getting kicked around for a few days is not doing their reputation any favors. If they can do what is claimed, they should be announcing it from the White House with Obama, since it would be the biggest development in energy and national security since the atom bomb. It would also make moot all the current DoE and USDA deliberations about loan guarantees etc for other alt fuels. DARPA fact sheets from mid-2009 indicated they were just getting started with their algal research, so it seems unlikely they could gear up and solve in a few months what others have been trying to do for decades.

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  7. By Wendell Mercantile on February 19, 2010 at 9:49 am

    …for algae to contribute to our energy needs in any significant way, algae cultivation will require chemical fertilizers… This dependent relationship between biofuel production and petroleum based fertilizers are being ignored…

    Reliance on fertilizer, eh? Sounds a lot like corn ethanol in that respect, doesn't it?

    As with ethanol, the true test of algae fuels will be when they can use some of their output stream as input and still have energy left over to sell.

    As the US Patent Office said many years ago when testing claims of perpetual motion machines, "Plug the output into the input and let's see if it keeps running."

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  8. By Euroflycars on February 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

    How can anyone believe that the DARPA, an agency working for the world's biggest military-industrial complex, should want to challenge Big Oil?

    Here's an example of DARPA's bad will as soon as the interests of the civilian society are concerned:

    When Sikorsky switched from its X-wing to the X2 concept — a counter-rotating, coaxial, variable-speed-twin-rotor helicopter featuring stiff blades and a pusher-propeller allowing for almost twice the chopper's conventional cruising speed — the DARPA stepped out of the project and left Sikorsky to finance it on its own.

    The X2 could indeed be an intermediary solution for the elite to start the trend towards massively widespread individual aeromobility as an alternative to highway road-traffic (prior to the implementation of the revolutionary rotary-wing concept of my own).

    Yet by still announcing the X2 for military or public service purposes only, Sikorsky either seems to ignore the popular potential of an ULM-version of the X2, or maybe just tries to keep it secret in order to avoid official obstruction.

    Alas, the sad truth is that the US rulers of the world are keen on maintaining total control of the global airspace with their supersonic fighter-bombers and nuclear aircraft-carriers for planetary air superiority, hence their fear to see this joker for world-wide power enforcement threatened by the civilian society taking possession of the global airspace with myriads of personal aircraft.

    This is the very reason why roadbound individual mobility was pushed beyond all common sense as a strategy-based policy, which is in fact at the root of the current crisis threatening to spread to the whole planet — with countries like Russia, China, India, and ultimately Africa bound to be heading straight into the wall if they act irresponsibly enough to go it all for the automobile (whether of the algue-based, gasoline, hydrogen fuel-cell or battery-electric type) and its excruciatingly expensive highway networks with their gigantic foot-print.

    Reptiles got airborne 200 million years ago…

    We have all the material and electronic technology to get all of us individually airborne as free as birds in the bluish ocean surrounding our lonely spaceship…

    Personal Aircraft of the future feeding on algues (like ducks) would therefore not seem such an abstruse vision at all.

    The future of mankind is in the air!

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  9. By Wendell Mercantile on February 19, 2010 at 11:48 am

    How can anyone believe that the DARPA, an agency working for the world's biggest military-industrial complex, should want to challenge Big Oil?

    I can.

    First of all, it's not a challenge to Big Oil. It's a question of national security, and DARPA's mission is to think ahead and try to find solutions before most people even know there are problems. (You do know I hope that the Internet primarily came from DARPA's research to find a reliable way of communicating using packet switching — a little thing they developed called ARPANET turned into the Internet.)

    Any full-scale, general war would require tremendous amounts of liquid fuel, and there is a very good chance that in that type of war, we couldn't get all the fuel our Armed Forces would need from the normal sources.

    DARPA is actually thinking ahead, and looking out for our best interests and the defense of our country. Put on your patriot hat, and don't be so cynical.

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  10. By Bill Henry on February 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    In order to produce liquid fuel at $2/gallon from algae, maybe it's better to cook the books and hide the real costs of production away from prying eyes. This may be tough for the privately funded companies doing advanced biofuels; but now we have the US military to leverage its expertise in fuel-supply accounting practices…

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  11. By Optimist on February 19, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    How can anyone believe that the DARPA, an agency working for the world's biggest military-industrial complex, should want to challenge Big Oil?

    I can.

    I agree with Wendell. Considering how corrupt the civilian government has become, especially when it comes to pork and renewable fuels, the military may well be our best hope.

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  12. By Optimist on February 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I agree with much of what Mr. Dugger has to say.

    But I believe he loses the plot when he gets onto this tangent: The use of petroleum based fertilizer is of no small consequence. As petroleum prices rise – necessarily so do fertilizer prices and consequently so do the costs of the biofuels that are produced with them. More than 85% of the world's food supply is produced with petroleum based fertilizers – 95% of world foods are petroleum dependent in transportation to market and consumers.

    We use petroleum to make fertilizer because that is the cheapest way to do it, even after 2008 and $150/bbl. Coal and natural gas are readily-available alternatives, depending on the economics.

    As for the larger point about biofuel dependence on fossil fuels: this is obviously something that would require attention. But the problem is not unsolveable: you basically need biofuels to scale up to the point where there is enough biofuel to cover the production of fertilizer.

    Whether biofuels will ever scale up to that point, is an altogether different question…

    Looking at all waste water sources that are feasibly located, you end up with a very, very small fraction of the amount space required to significantly impact energy requirements – probably less than 3%. Waste from humans and CAFO's could be a significant source of nutrient for algae production, but only if we re-configure the nations waste treatment and CAFO infrastructure systems to use if effectively.
    Not necessarily.

    The other way to address that challenge is to concentrate the nutrients to the point where it is economical to transport it from the supplier to the user.

    Such technologies already exists: For example, see Ostara for more on that.

    The main outstanding opportunity is a way to capture the bulk of the nitrogen in wastewater and convert it economically to a concentrated product.

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  13. By Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole on February 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Given we have abundant natural gas and coal, I would think easily made methanol would take a higher priority (even for national defense purposes) than algae fuel.
    Methanol is made from natural gas, and has been for decades. It is a very safe fuel, and Indy 500 cars used to run on it, until they switched to ethanol (I suspect for PR reasons).
    As far back as the 1950s, GM built concept cars with twin methanol and ethyl gasoline tanks.
    Believe it or not, there are GM documents from the 1940s speculating on the rise of ethanol as a fuel, to replace dwindling oil supplies! (Rufus has been around a lot longer than you know).

    I am flabbergasted that DARPA would undertake such a poorly thought-out venture, and the issue bald lies about its potential.

    I used to ask this during the Bush train-reck, and now I have to ask in the Obama years: Is anybody in DC thinking about an energy policy? What is out energy policy?

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  14. By Wendell Mercantile on February 19, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I am flabbergasted that DARPA would undertake such a poorly thought-out venture…

    Boom, No Doom~

    Agencies such as DARPA explore many possibilities and avenues at once, and when they find one that looks promising, reinforce that with more research and resources. The Department of Defense is exploring CTL, especially for jet fuel.

    It was rather pointless for them to make the $2/gallon claim at this time, and I bet someone had DARPA wishes they hadn't.

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  15. By RBM on February 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    I'm surprised that there has not yet been some kind of retraction from DRAPA, since having a statement like this out there getting kicked around for a few days is not doing their reputation any favors.

    I'm wondering if there are any long time DARPA watchers that can provide any insight in this event.

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  16. By Wendell Mercantile on February 19, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    I'm wondering if there are any long time DARPA watchers that can provide any insight in this event.

    There is available a recently published book about DARPA. The department of mad scientists : how DARPA is remaking our world, from the internet to artificial limbs

    I haven't read it yet, but am on the waiting list at my public library.

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  17. By Wendell Mercantile on February 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    DARPA book now available! ~ The Department of Mad Scientists

    "Michael Belfiore's research spotlights the genius of a few hundred scientists and engineers whose work for five decades has flown "under the radar" of public attention. The result is an entertaining and information rich account of a small, efficient government agency that often turned 20th century sci-fi into 21st century technical reality. Belfiore will inspire young readers of a scientific bent to flood DARPA with their resumes."

    —Robert Wallace, author of SPYCRAFT: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs from Communism to al-Qaeda

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  18. By Anonymous on February 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    RR,

    Good post, good information from the author. However, I'm a little confused by Durwood's assertion that fertilizers are made from petroleum. I've heard from others this isn't true, including peak oil folks. Here's one right here: (http://www.gregcroft.com/peakoil.ivnu) Anyway, if you could shed some light on the subject, I'd greatly appreciate it.

    Changing the subject a bit… What do you think of Simmons's latest push for ocean energy?

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  19. By rufus on February 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    The bottom line, so far at least, seems to be that DARPA is standing behind their press release.

    I'm sure there were a thousand computer engineers that, in 1980, would have told me that there was no chance, whatsoever, that I could be sitting here contributing to this blog, today.

    We live in the age of gene-splicing, skype, and nanotechnology. I'm reticent to bet against any reasonable technology that is supported by serious, and/or government money.

    I'll wait, and see.

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  20. By Anonymous on February 19, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    The $2.00/gallon is probably a shot across the bow against anyone trying to cut that program's budget. The next few years will bring increasing pressure on all 'discretionary' government spending (at some point, China will lose its appetite for any more pretty engravings of Ben Franklin). This is positioning the algae program as too valuable to cancel.

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  21. By RBM on February 19, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    There is available a recently published book about DARPA.

    Yeah, I saw that link when I was searching the topic before I posted and no I haven't read it either.

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  22. By Kit P on February 19, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    “Ostara’s struvite recovery technology”

    Getting nutrients like N &P out of out of waste water and recovering them is accomplished by growing bacteria and producing organic fertilizer. I could find not find any information on Ostara's web site to document claims of having a better process. Since struvite is a general problem in WWTPs, any economical process to produce struvite by removing it from waste, would be a winner

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  23. By Wendell Mercantile on February 20, 2010 at 12:52 am

    However, I'm a little confused by Durwood's assertion that fertilizers are made from petroleum.

    Anon~

    Durwood is actually incorrect when he says "petroleum."

    Fertilizer is found naturally such as in Chile where there are massive deposits of Chilean saltpeter (sodium nitrate), but most of it is now synthesized from natural gas using the Haber-Bosch process.

    If you search around, you can find many references that think the Haber-Bosch process was the most significant technological advance of the 20th century, and that without it, Thomas Malthus would have been proved correct, and that the world's population probably would have never gone much beyond two billion people.

    Because so much synthesized nitrogen fertilizer is used to grow the corn for corn ethanol, many such as RR, consider corn ethanol to be little more than reformed natural gas. That is kind of what Durwood is getting at in his comments about algae growth needing fertilizer of some kind.

    As a side note: The Haber-Bosch process also made possible much of the explosives manufactured in WW II.

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  24. By Russ on February 20, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Don't know about 1980 but in 82 İ had an internet connection and could download the Dow or talk to a friend through the PC.

    DARPA has been the lead in many advances – some of the best scientists/engineers anywhere – a parallel to NASA.

    Anyone that thinks fertilizer does not mainly come from hydrocarbons (NG) is not aware of how it is manufactured. İn the 80's İndia made a big push into fertilizer which made their green revolution possible.

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  25. By Anonymous on February 20, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Wendall,

    Thanks for the information – it's what I thought. Peak oil will certainly display her share of dilemas, but as far as I can tell, we should still be able to run agriculture fairly well (at least for a while). The last I checked, agriculture commands 2.5% of daily US oil consumption – and that's with a lot of waste thrown in: for example, corn prodution for ethanol, or massive amounts of grain needed to support America's massive meat consumption.

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  26. By Euroflycars on February 20, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Any full-scale, general war would require tremendous amounts of liquid fuel…

    Wendel, please tell me who else than the mad war-mongers of the US military-industrial complex would trigger a full-scale, general war?
    But they will not, believe me, because they can't! Otherwise we could only wish they'd soon run out of liquid fuel.

    Put on your patriot hat, and don't be so cynical.

    Being Swiss, I ought to be even more of an US patriot than you… Don't you know that the European media, and the Swiss in particular, are maintaining an absolutely tight black-out on 9/11, whereas in the USA there is widespread objection against the official version, including from high-ranking professors, scientists, engineers, and even members of the air-force, as you may know…

    Switzeland is indeed Oncle Sam's right hand in the midst of Europe, with the CIA's control center for Europe about to be set up in Bern.

    And didn't you know that awareness grows fastest where censorship is worst!

    I agree with Wendell. Considering how corrupt the civilian government has become.

    Optimist, how can you be so optimistic as to believe that there is anything like a civilian
    US government? Not only is your President chief of all armed forces, but the board of directors (and the stock-holders) of the military-industrial complex are actually sitting in the Capitol!

    There can be no corrupt civilian government where there is no civilian government at all!

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  27. By Wendell Mercantile on February 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Wendell, please tell me who else other than the mad war-mongers of the US military-industrial complex would trigger a full-scale, general war?

    I don't know Euroflycars, but the last full-scale, general war was triggered by an Austrian who decided to live in Germany and wanted Lebensraum.

    Perhaps our motto should be: Peace through superior firepower.

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  28. By Kit P on February 20, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    “I could increase domestic production of dung for home heating if I threw enough money at it. But that doesn't make it that basis of a sound energy policy.”

    This is actually a good idea. Collect the 'ding' from CAFOs and put it in an anaerobic digesters. Biogas can be used for electricity generation to heat homes. Or you could use the energy to produce process steam for ethanol production You do not even need to throw that much money at it. Besides energy, you also get high quality organic fertilizer much better and energy efficient than Ostara’s struvite recovery technology. I can provide a list of the environmental benefits too from marketing documents I produced for my company that resulted in three contracts more than 10 years ago.

    You can see there is a difference between being pro-technology and anti-whatever. Productive people find a way to over come problems. Sure maybe they will fail. The anti-whatever group is doomed to fail it is just a case how many they drag down with them.

    Fortunately, the US is dominated by the 'get er done' rednecks. We do clean up nicely when we have to go to conference in a big city. We can be spotted in groups taking about who makes the best chain saw. Other groups form to congratulate themselves on their most recent essay explaining the evils of subsidies.

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  29. By Robert Rapier on February 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    You can see there is a difference between being pro-technology and anti-whatever.

    Then there are those who don't comprehend the issue well enough to understand the difference between "anti" and pointing out BS.

    Fortunately, the US is dominated by the 'get er done' rednecks. We do clean up nicely when we have to go to conference in a big city.

    Kit, we are all aware of your self-importance. No need to call attention to it in every other essay. Perhaps you can start your own blog and crow about what you consider your accomplishments. I think most of us are probably getting tired of hearing an anonymous poster tell us all what a mover and shaker he is.

    Other groups form to congratulate themselves on their most recent essay explaining the evils of subsidies.

    Did you think that was what my essay was about? If so, congratulations. You win today's award for failing to comprehend what you read. Probably too busy out getting things done to worry about comprehending issues.

    Seriously, do you ever stop to consider the contradictions in your positions? They are pretty glaring.

    RR

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  30. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    RR, you never accuse the anti-ethanol posters of being "anonymous."

    Your source for this article is "anonymous."

    Why the double standard?

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  31. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Oh, I'm sorry. This guy wasn't anonymous. He's a "Shrimp Farmer?"

    I thought the reference was to the gentleman in Central (?) America that grows algae for pharmaceuticals.

    A "Shrimp Farmer?"

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  32. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    We're going to see a lot of this this year. This will be the Oil Companies (States,) Cattle Ranchers, Hog, and Chicken Farmers, and Cereal Companies' absolute, last chance to kill biofuels.

    I doubt if they really think they can completely destroy the industry, but the oil companies would dearly love to slow the funding toward cellulosic, and algae, and back-up E85 expansion all that they can.

    I think they might be somewhat successful. Just the threat is effective. It would take a truly brave banker to get his customers' money involved in, for instance, a "Vonore" type deal, this year. As much as I belive in the overall concept, were I a banker I would have to hold off until Dec, or whenever this legislation gets addressed.

    It ain't beanbag.

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  33. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    A lot of people think the Saudis have about Two Bullets left in their Bandolier. (Two Million Barrels spare capacity.)

    If so, it seems reasonable they might fire them both this summer in a, quite likely successful, attempt to hold oil prices under $100.00/bbl. $90.00 oil would translate out to about $3.00 gasoline at the pump. Worrisome, but not Infuriating.

    Ain't "Election" Years fun?

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  34. By Robert Rapier on February 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Oh, I'm sorry. This guy wasn't anonymous. He's a "Shrimp Farmer?"

    What is your implication? That a shrimp farmer wouldn't know anything about algae? No, I can't see any connection between shrimp farming and growing algae. None at all. Of course then I wonder why so many shrimp farmers try to integrate algae into their operation.

    Of course if you read a bit more, you will see that the guy grows algae. So really there is no need for aspersion-casting.

    Finally, I am "accusing" people of being anonymous. I am pointing out that anonymous posters – regardless of their position – operate under a different standard. They have nothing at all at risk by making any claims they wish.

    But I don't have a problem with anonymity. I can understand why people choose to be anonymous. But anonymous claims – such as Kit's perpetual boasts – have to be taken with a big grain of salt unless they are verifiable.

    RR

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  35. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Well, ok, but in the last couple of days you've brought up the anonymity factor against Me, Kit, and I think (I'd have to look back to be sure,) Maury.

    I've, yet, to see you bring it up as regards any of the Anti-Biofuels poster, no matter how insulting their language, or outlandish their claims.

    Jes sayin

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  36. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    As for algae. I wouldn't bet a plugged nickle on $2.00 (or $3.00) algal biodiesel next year. Or the year after.

    However, in the age of Gene-Splicing, Genome-Tracking, and Nano-Technology, I sure as shooting wouldn't want to bet the ranch against DARPA, and Lord knows how many other Scientists, either. No matter what any shrimp farmer says.

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  37. By Robert Rapier on February 20, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Well, ok, but in the last couple of days you've brought up the anonymity factor against Me, Kit, and I think (I'd have to look back to be sure,) Maury.

    In Maury's case, that's because he was casting aspersions against my character. I am not anonymous like he is. I have more at stake. I want him to understand that.

    For Kit, I think we are all tired of hearing his hollow boasts and tolerating his double-standards. I simply remind him that as an anonymous poster here, what he says he is doing is really irrelevant if he is trying to make that point – which he was – that he gets more done than others around here.

    For you, you asked if I still think you are a lobbyist. How can I know that? You are anonymous. All I have is the word of an anonymous poster.

    In the end, I am not complaining about anyone being anonymous, but I am making clear that the fact does have certain implications.

    I've, yet, to see you bring it up as regards any of the Anti-Biofuels poster, no matter how insulting their language, or outlandish their claims.

    Give me an example. As I have said before, we aren't going to do insults here. Of course they are more noticeable to me when they are directed at me, but it isn't my intention to allow any posters to be insulted. So if you feel that someone is simply throwing insults at you – and I do not react – point it out and I will.

    RR

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  38. By Wendell Mercantile on February 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    This will be the Oil Companies (States,) Cattle Ranchers, Hog, and Chicken Farmers, and Cereal Companies' absolute, last chance to kill biofuels.

    Rufus~

    Why on earth would those enterprises want to kill bio-fuels?

    All hog, cattle, and chicken ranchers want is an even playing field where the prices of their feed don't go up because of what corn and ethanol subsidies, mandates, and tariffs do to the cereal market.

    They don't want to kill bio-fuels — they just don't want bio-fuels to have an adverse effect on their industries.

    And as for the oil companies, they really aren't oil companies, they are ENERGY companies. If/When bio-fuels pan out, what you call oil companies will be right there involved in production and distribution.

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  39. By Robert Rapier on February 20, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    This will be the Oil Companies (States,) Cattle Ranchers, Hog, and Chicken Farmers, and Cereal Companies' absolute, last chance to kill biofuels.

    Rufus, I have to agree with Wendell here. These industries don't want to kill biofuels, but they don't want to bear the burden of increased biofuel usage. If ethanol usage drives up the cost of chicken feed, then I can see where the chicken farmer might have an issue. Wealth is being transferred from him to the ethanol producer.

    For the oil company, they don't care where they are getting their fuel, as long as they make money selling it. If ethanol was selling for $1/gallon, I can guarantee you that oil companies would be buying far in excess of the mandates and heavily promoting E85. This notion you have of oil companies cowering in fear at the sight of growing ethanol production is ludicrous.

    But they don't want to be told – "Here, you must use this regardless of whether it is in your best economic interests." That's all it boils down to for them.

    RR

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  40. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Wendell, we used to pay corn farmers a lot of money (as much as $8 Billion, or so, some years) as a difference between what they were able to sell their corn (to the Cattle Ranchers, Hog and Chicken Farmers, Cereal Companies, etc) for on the open market, and what it cost them (expenses, plus small profit) to raise the stuff.

    The Cattle Ranchers, Hog and Chicken farmers, Cereal Companies, Soft Drink Companies, et al were getting a heck of a deal. They were buying corn for $2.00, or so, Subsidized by the taxpayer.

    Now, corn is selling for about $3.50/bu. The Taxpayer is No Longer Subsidizing their feedstock. Of course, they liked it better the Other Way.

    As for Oil Companies. They own Oil Fields. They don't own "energy" fields.

    Some of the Majors, like Exxon, have even Sold their Filling Stations.

    They're, mostly, concentrating on where their money is – Oil Discovery, and Extraction. Every gallon of ethanol that's sold is approx. 0.8 gallons of oil products that They won't sell.

    It's naive to think that Exxon, et al, wouldn't like to see ethanol "go away." Especially, higher blends, like E85.

    *I should have included the Japanese car manufacturers in that grouping. They have completely ignored the Flexfuel market. Were it to "take off" they would be left playing catch-up. Their lobbying group is very active in the anti-ethanol campaign.

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  41. By Robert Rapier on February 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    As for Oil Companies. They own Oil Fields. They don't own "energy" fields.

    Actually, domestic oil companies own little of what they refine. So why do you think they care whether they buy Saudi crude or Iowa ethanol? If Iowa ethanol is going to make them more money, it is naive to believe they are going to buy Saudi crude.

    It's naive to think that Exxon, et al, wouldn't like to see ethanol "go away." Especially, higher blends, like E85.

    No, it just shows that you have a comic book view of the oil industry.

    RR

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  42. By Russ Finley on February 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I talked to a member of Boeing's biofuel task force last summer at an environmental street fair in Seattle. He was clueless.

    My guess is that they want to jump on the green bandwagon by mixing some small amount of biodiesel in with their kerosene so thay can advertise to customers that they use biofuel. A gas station near me sells what it calls biodiesel, although it is only a 2% blend, far less than the "biofuel" used by my Prius (10% corn ethanol).

    If there is any industry out there that will remain dependent on oil, it is the airline industry.

    If we shift enough ground transport to plug-in hybrids and full electric, there may be enough affordable oil around to keep that industy going for some time, although flying may get more expensive, the way it used to be.

    I'm sitting in Buenos Aires at the moment. It took fifteen hours of flight to get here. Trips like this are going to be more restrained by cost in the future.

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  43. By Wendell Mercantile on February 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    *I should have included the Japanese car manufacturers in that grouping. They have completely ignored the Flexfuel market. Were it to "take off" they would be left playing catch-up.

    Rufus~

    There's a simple reason the Japanese car makers have ignored flex-fuel: They don't have to worry about CAFE penalties.

    The only reason GM, Ford, and Chrysler build any flex-fuel cars is because of the E85 loophole in the way CAFE is computed. For example a Chevy Tahoe that gets 15 mpg with gasoline, magically gets rated as 32 mpg if it's flex-fuel, even though it really gets 12 mpg using E85. The E85 loophole in CAFE prevented the U.S. automakers from paying millions in fines for not otherwise being able to reach their CAFE goals.

    If there was no CAFE loophole for flex-fuel, GM and the others could give a fig about building any flex-fuel cars. In fact, they don't care whether car buyers even use E85, as long as they get the benefit of the CAFE E85 loophole for building them.

    As for the Japanese falling behind, there is no magic about flex-fuel technology. They could do it tomorrow if they wanted to. It's a simple matter of replacing any gaskets and fuel lines that ethyl alcohol would corrode, and adding the right sensors and appropriate mixture and combustion algorithm to the fuel control.

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  44. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Wendell, that is Absolutely the reason Ford, GM, and Chrysler started building flexfuels. No argument from me on that one.

    And, you are, also, correct in that any moron can build a "flexfuel" the way the American automakers have been doing it.

    However, the New engines hitting the market from GM, Ford, and Fiat (Chrysler) will have a more advanced way of using ethanol when they are converted to flexfuel than the Japanese engines, I "believe."

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  45. By benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole on February 20, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    I wish some posters would be more appreciative of RR's efforts and this blog, rather than merely attacking him all the time. I consider this the best energy blog.

    I disagree with RR on some issues or outlooks. So what? I think oil will not be scarce in the forseeable future, while RR predicts somewhat more scarcity. Yet RR and I never throw brickbats at each other. We have different points of view (and given RR's, I need to look carefully at mine).

    There is plenty of room for different points of view, sans ad hominen arguments and e-braggadocio.

    I worry RR will throw in the towel on an unpaid blog, and we all will be the poorer.

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  46. By Euroflycars on February 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    DARPA has been the lead in many advances (…) a parallel to NASA.

    Russ, the NASA is a govt agency, and the US govt just doesn't grant the interests of the American civilian society, but those of the US military-industrial complex.

    Years ago, at the Oskosh experimental aircraft convention, the then NASA boss promised the
    pilot community to support their cause by launching a project called AGATE (Advanced General Aviation Transportation Experiment) mainly aimed at

    1) halving the production cost of general aviation aircraft

    2) halving the cost of the PPL (Privat Pilot Licence), and

    3) implementing the "Free Flight" concept.

    I would be glad to hear from anyone who knows what has become of this project — but I'm afraid the last letter of the acronym was premonitory, i.e. the NASA boss knew that his project was going to be merely… Experimental.

    Months later, the German Lufthansa announced a project called LIANE (Lufthansa Initiated Air Navigation… Experiment).

    Never ever heard anything whatsoever about either of these projects!

    Shortly before quitting, G.W. Bush gave the FAA green light for the implementation of ADS-B (Advanced Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast), a GPS-based (instead of ground-radar-based) so called New Generation Air Traffic Management System designed to project on every pilot's screen the same information as on the ground-based air-traffic controller's, thus enabling each pilot to act as an independent, airborne air-traffic controller.

    Now watch the D of the acronym! The project includes indeed hundreds of virtually obsolete ground-based control centres (and has got completely stuck by now).

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  47. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 5:43 pm
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  48. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Was that before, or after he okayed the attack on the Twin Towers?

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  49. By Kit P on February 20, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    ut Rufus is it an investment in our future or is it a subsidy?

    USDA Awards REAP Grants and Loan Guarantees
    http://www.epa.gov/agstar/news/digest/index.html

    Each project looks like good investigates that benefit the community.

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  50. By Kinuachdrach on February 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Benny wrote: "I wish some posters would be more appreciative of RR's efforts and this blog, rather than merely attacking him all the time. I consider this the best energy blog."

    Motion seconded, Benny. RR does a great job here keeping us informed. Round of applause for our Host, please!

    "I think oil will not be scarce in the forseeable future"

    My crystal ball is cloudy, Benny. But it is pretty clear that what is rapidly becoming scarce is the investor who wants to finance growing government deficits. We are going to see "Peak Government" long before we see "Peak Oil". And the implications of Peak Government are very hard to predict.

    Maybe we will all have to go to Switzerland, just like in "The Sound of Music"?

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  51. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Kit, I read somewhere that there are 100 millin cattle in the U.S. (I don't know how many hogs,) and 400 Million in India. That's a sizable chunk of electricity.

    Thanks for the link.

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  52. By rufus on February 20, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    And, whether it's a subsidy, or an investment: I don't rightly care. I sold a lot of insurance to farmers, and their families. I've never sold the first policy to an Iraqi, or a Saudi Prince.

    Anyone that thinks Local investment/spending isn't better than buying from abroad is just nuts.

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  53. By PeteS on February 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Euroflycars – you make me want to dash for my tinfoil hat.

    "Free flight" is not stuck. You DO realise how long it takes to implement new aviation standards? TCAS was under development for close to thirty years before becoming compulsory for American and European air traffic. Point-to-point routings without ATC will surely come, but I for one hope it will not be any less tested than TCAS.

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  54. By Anonymous on February 20, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    RE the DARPA claim about a 50MGY commercial scale facility in 2011 – it seems wacky just from the perspective of land use. They seem to be pretty proud about producing 1000 gal / acre / yr, but that means they'd need a 50,000 acre (78 sq miles) open pond bioreactor – or 50,000 one acre ponds? How the heck does anyone put that kind of a deal together?? And I just can't imagine any way that CapEx and O&M costs would be anything but hugely prohibitive? Seems like you'd have to demonstrate at least 3000+ gal/acre/yr at small scale to even begin to think it might be cost effective? I don't want to think that DARPA is the Cello Energy of the algal sector, but absent some clarification from them about these claims, they sure seem to be giving Cello a run for their money. I was very surprised that they didn't back down when pressed (as indicated in the comments 'chsee' posted in the comments on Wednesday." Resolution of this controversy will be a fascinating chapter, and hard to see any way it ends favorably for DARPA.

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  55. By rufus on February 21, 2010 at 12:08 am

    They must mean they're going to start "moving dirt" in 2011. Surely. Otherwise, you're right. It just makes no sense.

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  56. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Rufus

    Calculated the generation from all the US dairy cows and it would about the same as a large nuke.

    The benefit and the value is better manure handling especially in semi-arid soils. I think they are better than wind and solar but much more complex. Many dairy farms already have their hands full without making electricity.

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  57. By rufus on February 21, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Ah, a large nuke, here – a large nuke there . . . .

    Kit, they have milking machines now that will move themselves up to the cow, locate the udders, and attach themselves, all the while monitoring everything about the volume, quality, of the milk, etc.

    We used to send the little "pooch" out to get the cows. Today, the farmer can send the tractor out to plow, and plant the field.

    Once they see a workable system they'll find time to do it.

    Dairy farming is one tough bizness.

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  58. By Benny "Tell It LIke It Is Man" Cole on February 21, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Kinu-
    Uncle Sam may find borrowing money tougher in years ahead.
    Still, there is a global glut of capital. Who knows?
    What do US taxpayers really want?
    You tell me.

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  59. By russ on February 21, 2010 at 2:29 am

    @Euroflycars – İ'll back NASA and Darpa any time – the trickle down effect of technology has been great over the years.

    They do things no private company would ever dream of and some of them work.

    1) halving the production cost of general aviation aircraft

    2) halving the cost of the PPL (Privat Pilot Licence), and

    3) implementing the "Free Flight" concept.

    Would be useful? For who and how many. İ for one (like 99% plus of the population) have no interest in any of the three points.

    The hold up in the new navigation system – cost plus getting everyone on board – there has been lots of discussion about this after the Air France flight went down.

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  60. By Russ on February 21, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Robert has one of the most even handed blogs on the net. İ look forward to each new post of his and constantly learn from everyone here.

    Thanks Robert!

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  61. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    “while monitoring everything”

    This allows a computerized diet to be provided to each stall in a free stall barn. Maure was flushed hourly to a logion in one farm I visited. One dairy farmer would not tell me how much milks his cows produced but it was more than any other in the state. That was more than 10 years ago.

    My wife grew up on a dairy farm until her dad had to put down all the heard because of disease. Yes, farming is a tough business.

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  62. By rufus on February 21, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    For several years we ran feeder calves in the winter, sold them in the Spring. Then, one year, we lost half the herd to shipping fever. That was a blow. Took years to recover.

    I took up "Poker." It was more stable. :)

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  63. By Euroflycars on February 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    TCAS was under development for close to thirty years

    PeteS, it happens that Bell-Boeing's military version of the tilt-rotor aircraft was also under development for close to thirty years… but believe me, only to make believe that there was no other valuable convertible aircraft concept, and that only the world's biggest military-industrial complex could afford the gigantic cost of its development. When Bell associated with Agusta for the civilian BA 609 tiltrotor, they announced certification for 2002 — the last annoucement I can remember was in 2008, for 2012…

    The truth is that this aircraft will never ever be able to obtain civil certification because it has zero autorotation capacity due to its strongly twisted high-speed propeller blades.

    What should you learn from this about the TCAS?

    The TCAS (Traffic and Collision Alert System) has been delayed for decades because the US rulers sensed that it will ultimately allow hundreds of millions of personal aircraft to fly in our atmosphere as free and safe as birds — with the GPS just still needed for orientation, but not any more for complex real-time computation of collision-safe flight paths.

    İ'll back NASA and Darpa any time – the trickle down effect of technology has been great over the years

    Russ, trickling down is what a liquid does when passing through a filter. Hence, you ought to pay greater attention to what they are witholding from the general public…

    Finally, DARPA's algae revelation looks to me like a mere attempt to undermine the motivation of all those working hard on genuine alternative energy solutions.

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  64. By Kit P on February 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Playing poker with jarheads is profitable. I have learned not to play cards for money with anyone deployed for a long time or spent time in the joint. They have learned how to deal so that it is no longer a game of chance.

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  65. By Dharmesh Mahajan on February 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    I just did some basic maths & realized that DARPA can definitely do it if they can achieve something that I have mentioned at the end of the calculations:-

    Let us assume that Dry Algal Biomass contains 30% Oil (for the time being, ignore how it got dried, pleaaazzzz).

    So we have Oil content = 30%
    1 Gallon Biodiesel = 3.786 Liters

    Now onward, to keep things simple, we will go with Basis of 1 Kg Biodiesel.

    1 Kg Biodiesel requires = 3.33 Kg Algal Biomass

    After getting 1 Kg Oil, you have Deoiled cake = 2.33 Kg

    Now if 3.786 cost $2, you need 49 cents for 1 Kg Oil keeping Cost of production at 9.8 cents per liter end product. (just assume that miracles taking place at DARPA labs).

    For every 1 Kg Oil produced from algal Biomass, you have DOC 2.33 Kg which can fetch almost same rate as that of Soya DOC (Current CME price per MT is 288). So per Kg DOC Algal biomass, expect to get almost 29 cents, not bad hmmm.

    Therefor now you have:

    1 Kg Oil @ 49 cents
    2.33 Kg DOC Algal Biomass @ 29 Cents

    Total = 49 + (29X 2.33) = 1.166 $ for 3.33 Algal Biomass (30% Oil)

    This comes out to be 1.166/3.33 = 0.35 cents for 1 Kg Algal Biomass containing 30 % Oil

    Let us go with NREL's best numbers for Algal yields so far which is 180 MT/Hectar/Year (What a beauty…)

    This translates to (Assuming 30 CM depth of open pond) as:

    1 Hectare = 10,000 m2 Area
    Depth = 30 cm = 0.3 m

    Overall Volume in 1 Hectare for this pond depth = 10,000 X 0.3 = 3000 cubic meter

    Now we have 180 X 1000 = 180,000 Kg Biomass produced from this volume in 330 working days which means:

    180,000/330 = 545 Kg/day in a hectare

    That again means:

    545 Kg/3000m3 = 0.181 Kg/m3

    This, my friends, implies that we need (3.333 Kg)/(0.181 Kg/m3) volume to handle & that number is 18.4 m3 which is 18,400 liters of solution containing Algae sufficient enough to give you 1 Kg Oil.

    For 1 Gallon, this number would be (1 Gallon = 3.786 Liters = 3.33 Kg) = 3.33 X 18,400 = 61,302 liters = 61 m3.

    If DARPA can extract 3.33 Kg Oil (1 Gallon Biodiesel end product) from this much volume of throughput considering best of the class NREL numbers for Algal yield per year per hectare, in some 4.33 $(40 cents COP + $ 2.26 for DOC cake + 17 cents for crude glycerol + $1.5for Biodiesel excluding Cost of production).

    These numbers are not perfect as lot of assumptions are too cool. Moreover Captial investments, paybacks, depreciations, interests, return on investment factors are completely ignored for keeping stuff simple. Sorry for talking in Kgs & Liters but I am used to Metric system :-)

    Cheers,
    Dharmesh

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  66. By Optimist on February 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I could find not find any information on Ostara's web site to document claims of having a better process.
    Two factors set them apart, as I understand it:
    1. Controlled precipitation of struvite, i.e. not coating the inside of pipes, but coating the outside of seed crystals.
    2. A weird-looking clarifier that allows them to size the product according to customers' preferences.

    Getting nutrients like N &P out of out of waste water and recovering them is accomplished by growing bacteria and producing organic fertilizer.
    Oh, it is? How many farmers are queing up for the organic fertilizer, Kit? Are you aware of the legal battles Kern County is engaging in to keep Los Angeles' organic fertilizer out of their county?

    Face it, Kit: you and I may know the value of a good organic fertilizer, but there is a lot of useful idiots out there, who scream bloody murder whenever anybody mentions it. That gives Ostara their room to exist.

    Fortunately, the US is dominated by the 'get er done' rednecks.
    So, Mr. Get-er-done Redneck, why can't you leave Ostara to 'get er done'? Or can't you go through a day without contradicting yourself at least 50 times?

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  67. By Anonymous on February 27, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    "If we could make biofuels for $2/gal the oil companies would be selling their drilling rigs"
    Oh, really? In `94 team Clinton cancelled the largest energy research project in history, the integral fast reactor, just because Hazel o'Leary didn't want natural gas to become obsolete. In my view, only nuclear fission can save humanity from extinction, but the coal on gas companies– and heating oil companies and diesel for ships and trains companies– would disappear.

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  68. By Rantus on March 21, 2010 at 2:35 am

    The question I have is regarding this:

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2006-01-10-algae-powerplants_x.htm

    The author of this article doesn’t mention anything about algae photobioreactors being fed from coal power plants. And there are ways to make algae grow without using fertilizer, Phosphorous being one of the chemicals that accelerates algae growth. So, basically, you could produce a significant amount of algae from coal plant off gases and you may not be able to cost effectively produce fuel from it but what about fertilizer? Or just biomass in general? It seems like there has to be more to it than what he’s purporting in his statement.

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  69. By Patrick on February 1, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Why doesn’t anyone trust DARPA on their algae breakthrough claim?

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