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By Robert Rapier on Oct 8, 2010 with 36 responses

U.S. Navy Pays Big Bucks for Biofuels

Navy Green Hornet F18

On Earth Day, the U.S. Navy conducted a supersonic flight test of the "Green Hornet," an F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighter jet powered by a 50/50 biofuel blend. (U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler)

The U.S. military is the single biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. Because of risks around price and supply security, they are particularly interested in alternatives. As crude oil prices soared in 2008, the Navy saw its annual fuel costs skyrocket to $5.1 billion that year, up from $1.2 billion the prior year.

Jet fuel and diesel can be made from many alternative sources, including algae, camelina, coal (CTL), natural gas (GTL), biomass (BTL), etc. But I always try to stress to people that these alternatives are not cheap. Despite the many predictions that specific companies are going to sell algal fuel for $2/gallon, the real litmus test is actual price paid for fuel. A story this past week provided a data point for jet fuel derived from camelina:

Navy: Alternative fuel needed for security

By 2020, the Navy aims to meet half of its energy needs for ships and planes with renewable energy sources, requiring some 8 million barrels of biofuel.

“That represents a pretty formidable market,” Rear Adm. Philip Hart Cullom, director of the Navy’s Energy and Environmental Readiness Division told the Algae Biomass Summit in Phoenix, The Arizona Republic newspaper reports.

Cullom acknowledged that he expects biofuels to remain costlier than traditional fossil fuels for some time.

Last September, the Defense Energy Support Center, which oversees procurement of biofuel for the Navy, paid $2.7 million for 40,000 gallons of camelina-based fuel. That came to about $67.50 per gallon, compared to the typical cost of about $2.94 per gallon for its standard fuel, JP-5.

$67.50 per gallon seems a bit pricey. But the navy paid a lot more than that for algal fuel:

Solazyme bags U.S. Navy contract for green jet fuel

(Reuters) – U.S. biofuel company Solazyme Inc said on Thursday it will be providing its algae-derived jet fuel to the U.S. Navy for testing and certification.

Privately held Solazyme will sell 1,500 gallons of the green fuel to the U.S. Navy, which is buying fuel from the San Francisco-based company for the second time.

Earlier this month, Solazyme was awarded a separate contract from the Navy to provide research, development and delivery of over 20,000 gallons of renewable algae-derived fuel for use in Navy ships.

The ship fuel contract is worth about $8.5 million while the jet fuel contract was worth about $200,000, said Jonathan Wolfson, the company’s chief executive and co-founder, in an interview.

$8.5 million for 20,000 gallons comes to exactly $425/gallon. $200,000 for 1500 gallons is $133/gallon. What does this mean? I believe that it means nobody else could deliver the quantity and quality of fuel the navy was looking for at a cheaper price. Oddly enough, Wolfson is also quoted in that article as saying they “are quite close” to their target of $60 to $80 per barrel. If that’s the case, why is the navy paying hundreds of dollars per gallon for the fuel?

On the other hand, I am certain that alternative fuel can be delivered to consumers at much lower prices than this. It just won’t be at prices they are accustomed to paying for fossil fuels.

  1. By Rufus on October 8, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Diesel is costing us $400.00/gal in Afghanistan. We could be making “poppy biodiesel” for, probably, $4.00/gal.

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  2. By Kit P on October 8, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    “are not cheap”

     

    Of course some
    alternatives are cheap. Not just as cheap as imported oil from
    existing infrastructure.

     

    “$2.7 million for
    40,000 gallons of camelina-based fuel.”

     

    I wonder what the
    cost for the first 40,000 gallons from a new deep water well will be?

     

    The idea behind
    developing sustainable sources of energy is to amortize the cost over
    the life of the project which could be 40-60 years.

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  3. By PeteS on October 8, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Given the military is such a big spender, it’s a pity its budget for Polywell fusion research is so trifling.

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  4. By anonymous on October 8, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    According to the National Algae Association, commercial-scale algae production is beginning to increase in the US.

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  5. By Kit P on October 8, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    I suspect Pete that
    Polywell fusion will be a little heavy for jet fighter propulsion.
    However, when pigs fly we can use their manure  in flying anaerobic
    digesters.

     

    Pete is not the only
    one that can work unrelated topics into a tread. Hey Perry, how
    about an idea for battery electric jet fighter propulsion?

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  6. By russ-finley on October 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Kit P said:

    I suspect Pete that Polywell fusion will be a little heavy for jet fighter propulsion …Pete is not the only

    one that can work unrelated topics into a tread (sic).

     


     

    I wouldn’t worry about it, Pete. A blog can be analogous to a village, each with its attendant bully, et cetera, et cetera: 

     

    “…the Navy aims to meet half of its energy needs for ships…”

     

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  7. By Wendell Mercantile on October 8, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    We could be making “poppy biodiesel” for, probably, $4.00/gal.

    Rufus~

    How do you know that? Have you got a 40-acre plot of poppies down some back road in Tunica County?

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  8. By fozzy on October 9, 2010 at 1:34 am

    Kit P said:

    “$2.7 million for

    40,000 gallons of camelina-based fuel.”

     

    I wonder what the

    cost for the first 40,000 gallons from a new deep water well will be?

     

    The idea behind

    developing sustainable sources of energy is to amortize the cost over

    the life of the project which could be 40-60 years.


     

    I think the difference is between upfront costs and reoccuring costs. The first 40K gallons of oil from a new well is expensive if at the point of 40k extracted you tally up the total costs. The difference with renewables is that the inputs, both in feedstock and energy, continue to be expensive even as more is produced.

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  9. By perry on October 9, 2010 at 7:01 am

    The military needs a fuel that can be used in jet engines, tanks, ships, or humvees. I think they’ll end up going with butanol. It’s got the versatility and energy content, and can be made for a lot less than these exotic fuels.

    The DOE funded a slew of projects back in April that have to do with microbial conversion of CO2 to biofuels. This could be the clean, sustainable answer we’ve all been hoping for. Proof of concept has been achieved in a number of labs. Now, it’s just a matter of cost.

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  10. By perry on October 9, 2010 at 7:19 am

    fozzy said:

     The difference with renewables is that the inputs, both in feedstock and energy, continue to be expensive even as more is produced.


     

    This is why the concept of biofuels from CO2 using bacteria is so attractive. The feedstock is free. The energy would come from solar arrays or windpower, which means a stable electricity cost over a 30 or 40 year period. The unknowns are the costs and lifespan of bio-reactors and the bacteria’s. Seems to me that even a gold-plated refinery could pay for itself over a 40 yr. period if the feedstocks were free.

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  11. By Kit P on October 9, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Russ you do know
    that many navy ships are power by nuclear reactors that never need to
    be refueled. About 1/3rd of the nuclear work force is
    navy trained?

     

    “The difference
    with renewables is that the inputs, both in feedstock and energy,
    continue to be expensive even as more is produced.”

     

    How do you figure
    that fozzy?

     

    Camelina, for
    example, can be rotated with dry land wheat crops in the inner
    mountain west with little extra equipment. If the commercial cost of
    biofuels are initially more expensive, keep in mind the money is
    going to struggling farmers. Also camelina can be used for animal
    feed after the energy is processed out.

     

    Saying cost for
    experimental programs is expensive is redundant. R&D is
    expensive. That is why the governments often do the R&D

    R&D

     

    “Seems to me that
    even a gold-plated refinery could pay for itself over a 40 yr. period
    if the feedstocks were free.”

     

    That is a safe bet
    Perry. When I joined the navy 40 years ago, gasoline and heating oil
    were $0.25/gal. When I got out in 1980 it was $1.25/gal. When you
    are on a fixed income that really hurts. I do not mean hurts like
    buying children’s cloths at K-Mart instead of Macys, I mean hurt like
    having to deciding between school cloths and heating the house.

     

    This is why I get so
    irritated when rich people talk about taxing energy. I stopped worry
    about the cost of energy the day I got my fist pay check form GE but
    I still remember when I spent my days off savaging for fire wood to
    heat the house.

     

    Biofuels create jobs
    for struggling people. Creating 50 jobs is a small town is a big
    deal that many in the city can not understand.

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  12. By Wendell Mercantile on October 9, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    The military needs a fuel that can be used in jet engines, tanks, ships, or humvees. I think they’ll end up going with butanol.

    Perry~

    Butanol is certainly the most attractive of the fuel alcohols, but in the event of a national emergency and if we needed a solution fast, we would do the same as the Germans in WW II: Use our vast reserves of coal to make liquid fuels using the Fischer-Tropsch process.

    The military’s jet turbines and diesel engines already use the same basic fuel — all can run on diesel. (Diesel and jet fuel are very close, and for all intents and purposes interchangeable.) I once saw a guy with a Mercedes diesel car fill up with Jet A at an airport in Minnesota. He said it worked fine and he didn’t have to pay as much tax as if he bought diesel at a roadside fuel station. (I guess he was lucky I wasn’t a revenue agent.)

    Jet engines even have some flexibility. I flew F-4 Phantoms in the Air Force, and we could run on a number of fuels. We had a checklist to use for adjusting the engine’s fuel control. Had I needed to, I could have landed on an Autobahn, taxied up to a German filling station, filled the jet with gasoline, adjusted the fuel control, and taken off again. There were (still are) a number of landing strips built into sections of the Autobahn all across Germany. A-10 landing on Autobahn landing strip

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  13. By Oxymaven on October 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Maybe diesel / JP5 or JP8 is costing DoD $400 / gal in AfPak, but that is the extreme for ‘forward operating bases’. I wonder how much of the $400 is in getting it to the FOB. Does anyone really think you can come up with a package biorefinery approach, even for relatively simple biodiesel, that would work at an FOB? Maybe some solar stuff can help out with power needs for lighting, and electric and heating/cooling etc, but for vehicles that need liquid fuels, I don’t see local production at FOBs. I suppose you could do it at a main operating base, but I’d think that would still not be a trivial exercise. And you’d still have to transport in a lot of methanol to make the biodiesel.

    I’d think that DoD would want to spend most of their energy research $$ on efficiency, pushing the limit to get a 100 MPG HumVee – that would get them a bigger bang for their buck.
    I would also love for DoD to give a no-nonsense assessment of how far away we might be from actual commercial viability. I think the prices quoted probably include some other stuff besides a straight xx$$ for xx gallons of fuel? Clearly the Navy should clarify exactly what it got for that price., and by doing so provide some useful cost insights that could be communicated to policy makers so they can better gauge we are and how far these technologies have to go before they can begin to enhance our ‘energy security’. If camelina oil jet fuel is really $67/gal, it would seem to have a long way to go towards economic viability.

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  14. By paul-n on October 9, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    You have to think there is more to this deal than just fuel – if not, all it shows is that the biodiesel industry is either overcharging, or will never be commercial.  They were exporting (subsidised) biodiesel to Europe for an order of magnitude less than this.

     

    If the prices remaining at anything close to these levels, the Navy would be better off contracting with someone to do an oil shale operation in Colorado/Utah.  It is  not cheap, but the process is known, weather independent, and scalable.

     

    Regardless of prices, the bigger question, which appears unanswered, is can these sorts of biofuels provide enough volume, at any price, to make a significant difference to the military’s operations?

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  15. By rrapier on October 9, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    if we needed a solution fast, we would do the same as the Germans in WW II: Use our vast reserves of coal to make liquid fuels using the Fischer-Tropsch process.

    When the time comes, that is exactly what will happen. Despite certain environmental objections to coal today, if oil continues its upward march in price we will see CTL plants start to pop up everywhere. I believe that is inevitable.

    RR

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  16. By rrapier on October 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Paul N said:

    You have to think there is more to this deal than just fuel – if not, all it shows is that the biodiesel industry is either overcharging, or will never be commercial.  They were exporting (subsidised) biodiesel to Europe for an order of magnitude less than this.


     

    They were, but soy-based.

    Having said that, I got a note from Solazyme’s CEO clarifying some points. I have asked for permission to publish, and if he says OK will put it up as a stand alone post.

    RR

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  17. By Kit P on October 9, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    “A-10 landing on
    Autobahn landing strip”

     

    Most likely a navy
    or marine pilot.

     

    “(I guess he was
    lucky I wasn’t a revenue agent.)”

     

    That says something
    about your integrity Wendell. You see a rich guy cheating the
    government and you look the other way. That is okay Wendell I do not
    take your rants against American farmers seriously.

     

    In eastern
    Washington State some folks were filling their trucks up with farm
    diesel. They saw a car with a state decays so they decided to dump
    the fuel at the side of the dirt road. Turn out the car was from the
    Department of Ecology. Cleaning up hazardous waste is very
    expensive. I also understand serving time at Walla Walla state pen
    is not very pleasant.

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  18. By mac on October 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Speaking of swapping one fuel for another:

    A friend of mine was out on the freeway when he ran out if gas, Instead of walking way down to the next exit, he just took a gallon of lacquer thinner he had in his truck, poured it in the tank and drove home. I’ve often wondered what the octane rating of that lacquer thinner was.

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  19. By rrapier on October 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I’ve often wondered what the octane rating of that lacquer thinner was.

    A lot of lacquer thinner is toluene-based, and toluene is used as an octane enhancer. Straight toluene has an octane of over 110, and is often used in fuel for small airplanes.

    RR

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  20. By Wendell Mercantile on October 9, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    That is okay Wendell I do not take your rants against American farmers seriously.

    Kit P.

    I have much empathy toward the American farmer. I can’t even begin to count the number of uncles and cousins I have who are now (or once were) farmers, and when as a kid I spent many idyllic days each summer on my Grandparent’s dairy/hog/corn farm where my Mother grew up.

    My problem is with American farm policy and the shady back room politics that have forced us away from family farms towards industrial, mono-culture farming.

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  21. By Kit P on October 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    “towards industrial, mono-culture farming.”

     

    That is called a rant.  Farmers are okay if they do it according your ideal ‘childish’ view of the world. 

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  22. By Wendell Mercantile on October 9, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    “towards industrial, mono-culture farming.” That is called a rant.

    Yes — it is. But not a rant against American family farmers.

    You see a rich guy cheating the government and you look the other way.

    Who said he was rich? You’re mighty quick to jump to conclusions, aren’t you? It was a rusted, yellow 1982 Mercedes 240D that probably had more than 300,000 miles on it. (Even when brand new, the 240D was not a luxury car. It was a solid, very well built, practical car, but certainly not a luxury car. It didn’t even have power windows.)

    And what would you have done? Start yelling, “Citizen’s arrest. Citizen’s arrest” as Gomer Pyle did when he tried to take Deputy Barney Fife into custody?

    I was several hundred miles from home and had landed at a small public-use airport in southwestern Minnesota to refuel and go to the rest room. I was at the self-help pump filling my airplane with 100LL when this guy in the rusty, yellow MB 240D drives up to the Jet A pump. Him and I were the only people on the airport.

    Abut all I could do was exchange pleasantries about the weather and listen to his story of how Jet A worked in his car just as well as diesel fuel.

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  23. By ronald-steenblik on October 10, 2010 at 6:10 am

    Oxymaven wrote:

    Does anyone really think you can come up with a package biorefinery approach, even for relatively simple biodiesel, that would work at an FOB? Maybe some solar stuff can help out with power needs for lighting, and electric and heating/cooling etc, but for vehicles that need liquid fuels, I don’t see local production at FOBs. I suppose you could do it at a main operating base, but I’d think that would still not be a trivial exercise. And you’d still have to transport in a lot of methanol to make the biodiesel.

    Exactly my thoughts. In any case, somebody has already looked into biodiesel from opium poppies. Here is what they conclude:

    One hectare yields 39 kg dry opium, translating into $3,354 per hectare per year at December 2008 prices. That same product, if pressed for its oil instead of dried, would yield 978 kg oil and would need to clear an oil farm-gate price of $3.43 per kg or $1.03 per gallon to be competitive with dry opium market prices. Retail diesel prices in Afghanistan are roughly $2 a gallon, and with current crude oil prices at $53 a barrel or $1.26 a gallon, biodiesel refineries would likely purchase opium poppy feedstock for far less than $3.43 per kg. As a result, significant subsidies would be required to ensure that farmers would sell their opium poppies to biorefineries and not to narcotraffickers.

    Of note is that in December 2008 prices for dry opium were down 20% from the previous year due to a glut on the market.

    Unless the U.S. Military is intending to stay in Afghanistan for a very long period, starting up an opium-poppy biodiesel industry for its own needs doesn’t look to me to make sense. Whether or not it might be worth spending some money to get the farmers to produce feedstock oil for the country’s own non-military needs is, however, a question worth exploring.

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  24. By Kit P on October 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    “Yes — it is.
    But not a rant against American family farmers. “

     

    Sure it is. Wendell
    have you ever asked the people whose integrity you slander if they
    have a family or work on farms?

     

    “”Citizen’s
    arrest. Citizen’s arrest”

     

    Why not? Generally
    when I see someone committing serious felony I speak to them nicely.
    If that does not work I get more aggressive. I have placed two high
    school teachers and about 15 boys under citizen’s arrest. These men
    were about one more smart remark away form loosing their jobs. It is
    a sad commentary when two hundred people watch something with have
    thinking it is funny and do nothing. After I got done no one was
    laughing. As I was leaving I walked by a group of teachers from my
    son’s school. I told them if I ever saw them allow that kind of
    behavior on school property again I would have them fired and
    arrested.

     

    If you were trained
    to fly jets, that implies you were an air force officer and a
    professional.

     

    “And what would
    you have done?”

     

    Act like it!

     

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  25. By Wendell Mercantile on October 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Kit P.

    It must have been enjoyable having you as a shipmate on those long cruises.

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  26. By Wendell Mercantile on October 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    When the time comes, that is exactly what will happen. Despite certain environmental objections to coal today, if oil continues its upward march in price we will see CTL plants start to pop up everywhere.

    RR~

    There are serious environmental concerns with CTL. But in a true national emergency, those would be ignored. Even most of those who live in the country and commute 35-40 miles to work each day would rather have fuel from CTL and accept the adverse environmental effects, than move to the city where they could walk or bus to work. In a true crunch, the environmental concerns would be tossed to the side.

    Fortunately for us, because of our vast reserves of coal, CTL will always be our ace in the hole.

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  27. By paul-n on October 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Before it gets to the point of CTL, would we not see GTL first?   With all the new shale gas development we are seeing NG get cheaper as oil goes up.

    One option that comes to mind is the Alaskan North Slope.  It has huge amounts of stranded natural gas, and needs a $20bn (or more) pipeline to get it to market, where it can then be sold at a low price with all the shale gas.

    Meanwhile, the Trans Alaska oil pipeline is declining in volume, and, unless something changes, within a decade will reach the point where it is not operable – this is at about 300,000 bpd.  To move the smaller oil volumes a new, smaller pipeline would be needed, which while not $20bn, would still be a significant expense.

    Build a GTL plant there and you make use of the gas, and keep the pipeline going, enabling continuing conventional production.  The plant could also be upgraded/expanded to use coal as a feedstock, something of which Alaska also has vast amounts.

    If the military wants to use that oil, it arrives a safe, deep water, ice free port from where it can be shipped to anywhere.  Doesn’t solve the logistical problems of getting it to where its needed, but would at least be a secure supply.

    Admittedly, there is a lot more coal than NG, and if that means massive CTL plants get built in Wyoming, W.Va etc, then so be it. Let us hope if it gets to that point that the C/GTL is not subsidised.  If that means gasoline is $6+gal, we will see a lot less wasteful usage than we do today.

     

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  28. By ronald-steenblik on October 10, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Paul N wrote:

    Let us hope if it gets to that point that the C/GTL is not subsidised.  If that means gasoline is $6+gal, we will see a lot less wasteful usage than we do today.

    I’m with you on that one, Paul!

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  29. By Wendell Mercantile on October 10, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Before it gets to the point of CTL, would we not see GTL first? With all the new shale gas development we are seeing NG get cheaper as oil goes up.

    Good point Paul. And the enviro concerns w/ GTL would be less significant than those w/ CTL.

    That gives us two aces in the hole.

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  30. By rrapier on October 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Before it gets to the point of CTL, would we not see GTL first?   With
    all the new shale gas development we are seeing NG get cheaper as oil
    goes up.

    GTL will be built as long as natural gas supplies are projected to be adequate and cheap. I am pretty familiar with GTL economics, and those two things are key.

    RR

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  31. By ronald-steenblik on October 11, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Guys, guys, guys. Haven’t you heard? The solution to all our fuel problems has been discovered: Artificial Photosynthetic (“Frog”) Foam. To quote The Earth Awards website:

    Tackling carbon emissions while presenting an alternative environmentally-friendly fuel for the future lies at the heart of Artificial Photosynthetic Foam. The concept was initially devised by Dr. Carlo Montemagno and first successfully implemented by Dr. David Wendell, a long-standing research team at the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Cincinnati. The process is based on artificial foam, inspired by the foam nest made by the Tungara fog, which is capable of capturing and converting the sun’s energy at greater efficiencies than living organisms. The overall impact of this innovative new process is a more efficient form of carbon capture and energy production with the huge commercial, societal and environmental benefits that meet the goals of the Earth Awards. The chief advantage of this “manufactured system of photosynthesis” is that all captured energy is converted to sugars, whereas natural photosynthesis in plants and algae results in a large amount of energy being used to maintain the life of the organism. In short, the foam is a far more efficient and versatile energy production platform. … Plants typically convert solar energy into sugars at a rate of 1-5% but the foam does this at a minimum rate of 16% – and even more in some circumstances.

    I can see aircraft carriers in the future covered with big aquariums full of the stuff. And, if we’re lucky, foam may even come back as a material of adornment!Foam

     

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  32. By perry on October 11, 2010 at 4:36 am

    That sounds a lot like microbial electrosynthesis Ronald. It might be able to kill three birds with one stone. Store solar energy in the form of biofuels, and without the need for biomass.

     

    As the researchers explain, microbial electrosynthesis works at a much higher efficiency than traditional photosynthesis. This efficiency is partly due to the fact that solar panels can harvest 100 times more effectively than plants. Also, a year ago, the scientists developed a new Geobacter strain that is eight times more efficient than other strains at producing power. Another advantage of microbial electrosynthesis is that it can be used with existing infrastructure, and doesn’t require arable land or intensive farming of biofuel crops.
     

    http://www.physorg.com/news192…..13023.html

     
     

     

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  33. By ronald-steenblik on October 11, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Thanks, Perry. Looks like a similar, but not identical idea. Your article describes genetic modification of a microbe. Froggy foam sounds like manufacturing an artificial phytosynthetic substance (that I assume would have to be regenerated). What is worrying about a microbe is what happens if they get loose in nature? Do they start generating stinky butanol all over the place? Like alcohol-producing yeast, do they poison themselves if the concentration of butanol gets too high? In any case, exciting stuff.

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  34. By Optimist on October 11, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    FYI, Ronald,
    Butanol does not stink. It is the remnant butric acid in current products that produce the odor…

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  35. By ronald-steenblik on October 11, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    OK, so butanol smells like musky rotten wood (not so unpleasant to some people), and butyric acid (oxydized butalo) truly stinks. But I would assume that the butanol produced by microbes in the wild would become oxydized eventually.

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  36. By Rick on April 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I think people are kidding themselves concerning biofeuls. These along with the many other alternative NRG schemes, they aren’t going to save us from Peak Oil.

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