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San Diego company touts oil alternative

June 1, 2008

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San Diego-based Sapphire Energy has created "green crude" from algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide and nonpotable water that it says can be refined in existing facilities and used to fuel cars.

San Diego-based Sapphire Energy has created "green crude" from algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide and nonpotable water that it says can be refined in existing facilities and used to fuel cars.

A San Diego company says it can turn algae into oil, producing a green-colored crude that yields ultra-clean versions of gasoline and diesel without the downsides of current biofuels production.

The year-old company, called Sapphire Energy, uses algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide and nonpotable water to make "green crude" that it contends is chemically equivalent to the light, sweet crude oil that fetches more than $130 a barrel.

Chief Executive Jason Pyle said the company's green crude could be processed in existing oil refineries, and the resulting fuels could power existing cars and trucks just as today's more polluting versions of gasoline and diesel do.

"What we're talking about is something that is radically different," Pyle said. "We really look at this as a paradigm change."

Sapphire's announcement is the latest development from companies and researchers focused on finding ways to cut harmful emissions from cars, trucks, trains and planes.

Sapphire's process would help curb U.S. reliance on imported crude and alleviate concerns about the world's dwindling supply of oil, Pyle said. And by using carbon dioxide spewed out by such things as coal plants, the production process would help remove harmful emissions from the atmosphere.

The green crude also would produce fewer pollutants in the refining process and fewer harmful emissions from vehicle tailpipes, Pyle said.

The company would not give details about the production process or where its pilot project would be located. Sapphire expects to introduce its first fuels in three years and reach full commercial scale in five years.

Pyle would not cite the pricetag for a barrel of green crude, but he described the expected cost as competitive with producing oil from deep-water drilling and oil sands. The company already has produced green versions of jet fuel, diesel, and clear, premium-grade gasoline, he said.

Today's biofuels - in the United States, that's biodiesel and corn-based ethanol - have helped displace petroleum but also have troublesome characteristics that reduce their appeal. Corn-derived ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel eat into croplands used to grow food, and their production and distribution consume large amounts of energy.

Many companies are making strides in producing ethanol from nonfood sources such as switchgrass, plant waste or recycled paper.

Virent Energy Systems Inc., based in Madison, Wisc., in March unveiled a joint venture with Shell Oil Co. that would produce "biogasoline" from plant sugars - creating fuel that could be distributed through existing pipes and stations and used in existing vehicles.

And there are plenty of companies working toward producing oil from algae. The idea isn't new, but interest and research have grown so significantly that Web sites such as www.oilgae.com are devoted to the topic.

"One thing that is encouraging is the level of attention and the investment that's happening to really try to find better ways to fuel our transportation system," said Don Anair, vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

If they'd made it the centerpiece of their proposal, maybe I could have believed. But they didn't, and I don't-- they're just frantic not to get stuck with massive coal reserves they can't stuff down our throats.

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hornhunter 5 years, 10 months ago

Bozo beleive what you want it was there and the KDHE knew it, sooner or later you need to pull your head out! http://www.greenfuelonline.com/gf_files/KansasSunflower_PR.pdf

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Paul Decelles 5 years, 10 months ago

Here is another article about using algae for production of biofuels focusing on the Salton Sea in California. Interesting reading.http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/pdf/algae_salton_sea.pdfThere has also been a lot of work done on using algae and photosynthetic bacteria to produce hydrogen gas.See for instance this review article:http://felix.ib.usp.br/pessoal/marcos/minhaweb3/PDFs/Photosynthesis%20as%20a%20power%20suply.pdf

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i_tching 5 years, 10 months ago

Deep-sea drilling and oll sands/shales require enormous inputs of energy to obtain useable fuels.If algae-derived energy is "competitive" with those sources, then we're still in a heap of trouble.Hey look over there! A preacher critical of American defense policies!

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Pogo 5 years, 10 months ago

Sasol has perfected the compression of coal into liquid petroleum. Stock ticker is SSLhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sasolhttp://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/09/montana_governo.php notes how the Gov of Montana sees the use of coal as a pragmatic and eco-friendly method for alternative access to "oil". So what if the Nazi's figured it out and the South African's perfected the Fischer-Tropsch technology? We need to use it....it works. As the price of oil has gone up, the stock value of SSL has grown and grown.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

If Sunflower wants to get seriously involved in this algae technology, and actually comes up with something that works, then coupling it with a coal-plant proposal might be enough to make a coal plant worthy of consideration. But they didn't do any more than throw it in as an afterthought when they realized that their proposal was in trouble.

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hornhunter 5 years, 10 months ago

Just like all the bozos' on the bus

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

"Now this algea farming sounds good to you all when it doesn't include Sunflower Electric!"Given that this is totally unproven technology, unlike wind or solar, the algae proposal was never anything but a distraction.

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JerryStubbs 5 years, 10 months ago

Check this out:Yield of Various Plant OilsCrop Oil in Liters per hectareCastor 1413Sunflower 952Safflower 779Palm 5950Soy 446Coconut 2689Algae 100000If they can get this in production it could be our answer.But they have been working on it for some time now and it still isnt' ready for the 'big time'.

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hornhunter 5 years, 10 months ago

Now this algea farming sounds good to you all when it doesn't include Sunflower Electric!

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poop2scoop 5 years, 10 months ago

Over 30 years ago President Carter implemented an array of energy initiatives to move the United States away from fossil fuels. Then Reagan-Bush immediately halted those programs at the bequest of U.S. oil companies.Now, 30 years later, try to imagine where this country might be in terms of alternative energy if Reagan-Bush had not been profiteering shills for those oil companies.So, when you are paying $4.00...$6.00...$10.00...$20.00 per gallon for gasoline and the oil companies continually report record profits, then be sure to credit the Reagan-Bush Republican legacy.

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ralphralph 5 years, 10 months ago

Salinity definitely harms the soil. Look around any oil wells, especially those that pre-date recent spill-containment rules, and you can see the barren ground spoiled by salt water spills.Algae, though, is certainly worth a look, and not just inland but at sea. The oceans are enourmous resources, which can be utilized in reasonable ways ... although, if Exxon & Friends are in charge of it, there would need to be stringent standards in advance to offset the rape and pillage instincts. While we're at it, we need to look hard at harnessing tidal energy ... even to my layman's eye, there seems to be no comparison in the potential energy of the seas vs. the wind or rivers. There must be some safe and sustainable ways to use some of that energy.

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Marion Lynn 5 years, 10 months ago

Camper:I dunno but I'll take a look around.

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camper 5 years, 10 months ago

"......and it can use water from salt aquifers that is not useful for drinking or agriculture."I really like the idea of developing this. Neat stuff. However, the only thing I'm somewhat skeptical about is the idea of using saltwater. Even if algae is grown on unsuitable land, I could potentialy see some of this draining off and possibly harming other land. Marion, do you know what the risk is? I think I saw something that raising the salinty level of soil can really do long-term damage.

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JerryStubbs 5 years, 10 months ago

The web site mentioned the in article, www.oilgae.com, is full of information about this subject. Some of the problems encountered are similar to those involved with fish farms, such as contamination.I was surprised to read that the oil we use today was probably generated from algae milliions of years ago.

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Reality_Check 5 years, 10 months ago

Won't replace oil, but if alternatives like this could replace GROWTH in oil consumption coming from the developing world, that would help immensely. Meanwhile, reducing consumption in the USA would help us a lot...speed limit anyone? Same thing with wind and solar power: Won't replace existing supplies, but if it could replace the growth, we'd be much better off.

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JayCat_67 5 years, 10 months ago

Of course, if oil prices really do take a nosedive (believe it when I see it), who do you think will be the first in line begging for a government bailout. Move over Mr. Subprime Lender, Mr. Broke-@ss speculator needs a little love too. Seriously though, even if oil does drop some, I hope the interest in other forms of energy doesn't. I don't care how much oil costs; the supply is finite.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

"And by using carbon dioxide spewed out by such things as coal plants, the production process would help remove harmful emissions from the atmosphere:"Well, the devil is still in the details. If the algae is consuming CO2 from coal power plants, it's really only being slightly delayed on its way into the atmosphere. As soon as the algae diesel or gasoline is burned in car, any sequestration effect is gone.

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JerryStubbs 5 years, 10 months ago

This looks like one of the most promising biofuels. After all, most people don't eat their algae anyway, so it's going to waste. Unless oil prices take a big nosedive soon, we will soon need anything we can get. On the other hand, I was reading on Friday that there is evidence these oil prices are an artificailly induced bubble, and if somebody invests heavily in somthing like this and oil goes back to $30 barrel, they will really get burned. Gee, did I say $30 barrel? I guess that is pretty unlikely.We already have a lot of algae growing out at Lakeview and Lonestar, and we could develope areas around the river flood plain for this.

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classclown 5 years, 10 months ago

"And by using carbon dioxide spewed out by such things as coal plants, the production process would help remove harmful emissions from the atmosphere... The company would not give details about the production process or where its pilot project would be located"==============================================This project apparently won't be in Kansas due to some people's inability to see the forest for the trees.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

From your own link, Marion."The theoretical potential is clear. "As I said, the devil is in the details. That doesn't mean this technology won't revolutionize our fuel supply, but just as wind and solar have the potential to largely replace coal and nuclear for electrical generation, if there isn't a strong political will to make it happen (and the existing dinosaur industries are spending furiously to prevent it,) it could be decades before the potential is realized.

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Mkh 5 years, 10 months ago

Algae seems to be the real deal and finally a promising biofuel. I've been watching Algae energy developement for several years and I'd say within five years it could be a reality...perhaps sooner do to this break through.Other than Hemp, which the government continues to surpress...Algae is the best source for biofuels.I'll only tell you once....Invest in Algae!

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Marion Lynn 5 years, 10 months ago

I don't know, Bozo but why don't you just once in a while take some time out of that drab wretched life of your and do your own homework?A much more informative and detailed article on this subject may be found here:http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18138/From the citation:"Algae makes oil naturally. Raw algae can be processed to make biocrude, the renewable equivalent of petroleum, and refined to make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and chemical feedstocks for plastics and drugs. Indeed, it can be processed at existing oil refineries to make just about anything that can be made from crude oil.""The theoretical potential is clear. Algae can be grown in open ponds or sealed in clear tubes, and it can produce far more oil per acre than soybeans, a source of oil for biodiesel. Algae can also clean up waste by processing nitrogen from wastewater and carbon dioxide from power plants. What's more, it can be grown on marginal lands useless for ordinary crops, and it can use water from salt aquifers that is not useful for drinking or agriculture. "Algae have the potential to produce a huge amount of oil," says Kathe Andrews-Cramer, the technical lead researcher for biofuels and bioenergy programs at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, NM. "We could replace certainly all of our diesel fuel with algal-derived oils, and possibly replace a lot more than that."Bozo, there is this new thing out there on the interwebs.It's called "Google" and you can find things on the interwebs with it.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

"The company would not give details about the production process or where its pilot project would be located."And the devil is in the details. The current versions of biofuels can't replace oil as we currently use it without creating major problems of their own. Will this be any better?

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