Last updated: July 27, 2007
July 24, 2007
Jul 23, 2007 04:30 AM
Capturing carbon dioxide can be done in several ways, but the most unusual approach by far is to literally feed the greenhouse gas to CO2-hungry algae.
Several companies have attempted over the years to develop algae bioreactor systems that can be attached to coal- or natural gas-fired power plants or big industrial facilities. The idea is that CO2 emissions from these operations can be directed to an algae "farm," where the tiny organisms feast on the gas until they're fat enough to harvest.
The mature, oil-rich algae can then be processed into a number of products, such as biodiesel, ethanol, animal feed and a variety of plastics. So you end up with a double benefit: keeping CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and producing renewable products that can reduce the need for fossil fuels.
But like most dream technologies, CO2-to-algae-to-oil systems would be great if designing them didn't present so many challenges.
Last month, Cambridge, Mass.-based GreenFuel Technologies, a leading developer of algae-to-biofuel systems, found that a pilot system it had built in Arizona was growing algae so aggressively that it couldn't harvest them fast enough. As a result, the algae began to die (about this Italians say: Gluttony kills more than the sword. NB).
The company also found out that the cost of its next-generation system was twice as much as it originally calculated, so it was forced to shut down the Arizona pilot and lay off nearly half of its staff.
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. . . earlier this month, a consortium of academics, scientists and businesses threw their hat into the algae pond, describing their collective goal of building a commercial "photo bioreactor" within three years and designing it for the needs of the Canadian market.
One company in that consortium is Ottawa-based Menova Energy Inc., which in other circles is known as a provider of solar hybrid systems that can provide both heat and electricity to schools, industrial facilities and other large buildings.
Another is Trident Exploration Corp., a natural gas exploration company looking at ways to reduce its CO2 emissions.
Menova president Dave Gerwing says Trident knew it was only a matter of time before the federal government began imposing penalties on CO2 emissions. Trident approached a number of companies looking for solutions, including GreenFuel Technologies, but it ended up teaming up with Menova last year.
So what does a solar company have to do with carbon sequestration in algae?
Gerwing, a determined engineer, says it's a combination of innovation and better economics. What Menova brings to the table that other companies don't is a combination of heat and light – both of which are crucial ingredients to algae cultivation.
Menova's Power-Spar system uses solar concentrators to focus the sun on photovoltaic solar cells, which produce electricity, and fluid-filled channels that capture the sun's heat. But the system goes one step further, capturing the sunlight and redirecting it where necessary through fibre-optic cables.
What this means is that an algae farm – or what Menova calls its "photo bioreactor" – can be designed in a way where heat and light are concentrated in a relatively more confined area, allowing for the high-density growth of algae without the need for acres and acres of land.
"Our initial estimates are that we're going to be able to recycle 100 to 150 tonnes of greenhouse gases into biomass a year, then convert it into biofuel, based on 70 square metres of collector area."
Keeping a constant temperature is key, Gerwing points out. "We've figured out a way to make stuff stay at 70-degrees C when outside it's minus 30C," he says. "It's something you can do all year, meaning you don't make green popsicles out of algae (in the winter)."
On top of this, any algae system using Menova's collectors can produce electricity that can be sold into the grid or, in the case of Trident, used for their own power needs.
Suddenly the economics, compared to other models on the market, begin looking attractive – even in Canada. Companies that purchase such a system can earn revenues generating electricity, producing raw material for making fuels and other bioproducts, and selling carbon credits into cap-and-trade markets.
In fact, Trident and Menova expect the system will reduce by half the amount of carbon emissions resulting from petroleum processing – welcome news, if do-able, to producers in the oil sands.
The pilot project is expected to begin shortly, and a working commercial system is being targeted for 2010.
Other consortium members include the National Research Council, Olds College School of Innovation-Biofuel and Technology Centre, and the University of Saskatchewan.
The photo bioreactor technology is currently in the process of being patented, so Gerwing wouldn't go into further detail about how the technology works. This, however, doesn't hide his excitement.
"I don't sleep much," he says. "If you saw some of the stuff on the drawing board ... it's just so rewarding."
Canada may be late in this race, but the Menova-Trident project, if successful, could quickly put us ahead of the pack.
July 27, 2007
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i wish we were more proactive in energy technologies in israel.. we have every incentive i reckon..
even if we were to develop and "open source" the methodologies we would potentially stand so much to gain just on the back of the potential to reduce the military equipment buying power of our neighbours and the conversion of that into a lower need for us to spend..
yeah bla bla bla.. did anyone understand me?
Amir Ben David
Israeli company Solel, which develops and implements solar thermal technology, has signed a contract with Pacific Gas and Electric Company to build the world's largest solar plant in California's Mojave Desert.
The project will deliver 553 megawatts of solar power, the equivalent of powering 400,000 homes, to PG&E’s customers in northern and central California.
Meanwhile, plans to develop a similar project in Israel, where sunlight is abundant, have so far been stalled due to bureaucratic hurdles, and despite efforts by Solel and Greenpeace Israel to promote such a project.
Only recently the Infrastructure Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment decided that a solar plant would be built near Dimona.
The Jerusalem Post
Jul. 24, 2007
The Environmental Protection Ministry announced this week that there was a significant rise in the import of hybrid cars into Israel over the last six months. The number of such vehicles sold in the first half of 2007 is double the amount sold all last year.
To make the purchase of hybrid vehicles more appealing to consumers, the ministry promoted the lowering of sales tax on the environmentally friendly vehicles to 30%, compared to 84% in regular cars.
"Hybrid family cars are the cleanest vehicles being imported to Israel today," said ministry vehicle pollution supervisor Avi Moshel. "We're talking about between 30-50% less emissions compared to regular gasoline driven vehicles of the same size."
The amazing in all this is that some Israeli companies such as Solel and Ormat are world leaders in their respective fields for producing renewable energy. Yet while projects of these companies span the globe, it's Israel that's lagging behind others on everything from biofuels to solar plants.
Shimon Peres, when he was a minister a while ago, solemnly announced that he would push for more alternative energy projects to lay economic foundations for his new Middle East (never mind that more alternative energy projects will destroy our neighbors more than they will create a new Middle East). That's why he came up with his peace corridor and even co-opted Jordanians to take part in a joint venture for manufacturing electric cars.
Unfortunately Solel seems to have seen very little from Peres peace making. This is because Shimon Peres projects are always huge, multinational and positioned at the border between Israel and another country in such a way that at the first sign of trouble mobs sack the whole place leaving nothing intact. In economic terms Peres peace ventures also tend to be such that if a peace process fails (say Muslim Brothers take over Jordan) the whole project immediately collapses sending both countries into a deep recession.
Peres sure studied Solel's proposal to set up solar farms in Negev but there was nothing in this idea that could allow him to involve international investors, employ Palestinian labor or relocate the whole thing to Jordan. And so while Solel is running the world's biggest solar projects in California and Spain, Israel still has no solar plant.
While the frail and more delusional than ever Peres is now blissing out after winning a presidential race against another perennial loser, another genius from the Labor party is working tirelessly to solve Israel's energy problems.
The Jerusalem Post
Jul. 21, 2007
By Jonatan Ferziger
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer met with BG vice president Nigel Shaw in Tel Aviv this week, ministry spokeswoman Hanit Ganish said in Jerusalem. "The negotiations are still going on," she said.
Commenting on an article in The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that said a deal with BG was "imminent," Ganish said it could be a few months away. "The purpose is to reach a deal, and so we're going to continue talking."
BG wants to develop the Gaza Marine gas field and build pipelines to sell gas to Israel. Under the initial proposals, BG would transport gas by pipeline to Ashkelon Port, without crossing the Gaza Strip. Should the deal fail, BG has said it would consider selling the gas to Egypt instead.
Meanwhile Ormat has set up a joint project with Evogene, a small start-up founded in 2002. Evogene claims to possess a proprietary genetic know-how capable of increasing oil yields in crops used for producing biodiesel.
The Jerusalem Post
Jul. 26, 2007
The two Israeli companies agreed on the terms for a $2 million, three-year project that will seek alternatives to soy and canola and, if successful, will then form a joint venture to market the crops, Evogene said in a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange Wednesday.
"The big increase in the use of biodiesel in recent years has caused soy and canola prices to rise, increasing the need to develop crops dedicated to biodiesel use and not for human consumption," Rehovot-based Evogene said in the statement.
Use of biofuels in the US and Europe has grown to about 4.5 billion liters a year, and the European Union is targeting growth to 19.5 billion by 2010. Ormat's board last September approved a plan to spend about $13.5m. over five years developing technology to turn plant oil into fuel and as much as $50m. for a facility to make the fuel.
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