Monday, September 29, 2008

Sapphire Biofuels Raises 100 Million for Algae Based BioDiesel

Sapphire - Algae Based Biodiesel

As many regular SDU readers know, I am a big fan if BioDiesel. I use it, it works, and it doesn't compete with food to the extent that corn based ethanol does. When BioDiesel is made from Soy, 80% of the soy is still used in food or feed. However we here at SDU are always on the lookout for better ways to make biofuels. One promising method is using algae to soak up carbon dioxide. Algae can be more than 50% oil - the key ingredient for BioDiesel. (Roudolf Diesel, the inventor of the engine that bears his name, ran his engine on peanut oil)

From Reuters we find out that Bill Gates is willing to put some money into this promising technology.

From Reuters:

Private company Sapphire Energy, which aims to squeeze "green" crude oil from blooms of one of the planet's oldest life forms, said on Wednesday it has raised over $100 million from investors.

The San Diego-based company hopes to make commercial amounts of the fuel in three to five years for a cost of $50 to $80 per barrel. Sapphire selects and genetically modifies algae to maximize their internal production of lipids, or fats and then squeezes that from algae. It says the oil can be used in refineries like normal crude.

"The goal of Sapphire is to produce a crude product that can be introduced into the existing crude stream for production costs that are similar to other new opportunities like oil shales, oil sands, and even deep, deep water drilling," Jason Pyle, Sapphire's chief executive said in an interview.

The money more than doubles initial investor of about $50 million the company got in June. New investors include Cascade Investment, LLC, an investment company owned by Bill Gates.

Amid lofty prices for crude oil and rising concerns about global warming, companies are racing to make algal fats into oils that can be turned into fuels.

Algae absorb the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as they grow, so the net effect on global warming of the fuel is considered to be neutral.

The burning of traditional fossil fuels, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that has been stored for eons underground.

There are challenges in making fuel from slime that have dogged scientists for decades. One problem has been "layering" or the tendency of algae to slow down their process of making lipids once they multiply quickly in a pond, or in specially-made containers.

More after the jump: Reuters

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BioDiesel - A Biofuel That Doesn't Compete With Food Supply

BioDiesel Barrels

I drive a BioDiesel Volkswagen Jetta. For about a decade now one of the local filling stations has been selling BioDiesel, including 99%, or B-99 grade. For some reason they have to blend 1% regular diesel fuel to qualify for some sort of tax credit so the B-100 that was once available is now B-99.


Biodiesel is a sustainable fuel that can be produced from non-food crops and waste sources such as used restaurant grease. Even with biodiesel made from soybean oil, Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board states “more than 80 percent of each soybean is still used for animal feed or food. Biodiesel’s effect on the food supply is minimal, and to claim otherwise is nothing short of intellectually dishonest.” Jobe noted that less than five percent of the world’s soybeans are used for U.S. biodiesel production.

Recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture released economic analysis that shows high energy prices, increasing global demand, drought and other factors are the primary drivers of higher food costs. USDA has posted economic analysis and charts ( that document that “even with the current uptick in food price inflation, it is much lower than it was in the 1970s and early 1980.” “Let’s not lose sight of all the benefits biodiesel has to offer,” Jobe said. “It is a green fuel, creating green jobs and beefing up our national energy security. We should continue to support biodiesel as part of our longterm energy strategy.”

Check Out: Sustainable Design Update

Monday, September 08, 2008

Super Yeast Double Ethanol Production


A yeast geneticist on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is developing mutant yeast for ethanol production that will reduce or eliminate the need to use corn to make the alternative fuel. When corn is used to make ethanol, corn kernels are ground to produce starch and the starch is broken down into glucose. Yeast is then used to ferment the glucose into ethanol.

The production of biofuels from basic plant material, rather than corn and other crops, would address concerns that making corn-based ethanol is pushing up food costs. The problem, says Mark Goebl, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the IU School of Medicine, involves how yeast decide what they will eat. Common yeast likes to eat glucose and completely ingores xylose, another sugar that makes up about a third of plant matter.

Goebl has developed strains of yeast that will utilize the xylose. Producing mutant yeast strains that will eat xylose just as well as glucose means nearly doubling the amount of ethanol you get from the same volume of basic plant material.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Biogas Bible

The Biogas Bible

I get more inquiries about my biogas posts than just about any other topic. People all over the world, from Toronto to Bosnia to Pakistan want to know how to construct and run a small scale biogas operation.

Well, here it is. The Biogas Handbook by David House has everything you could ever possibly want to know about making your own biogas. Moreover, with his folksy style, David House manages to make the topic fun to read!

From the book:

(If) "30 percent of the land is planted to corn, an area with an 8-mile radius will produce enough cornstalks to supply a city of 80,000 inhabitants continuously. In other words, the cornstalks from one acre will produce the gas for one person for a year.”

Note: You can provide the natural gas requirements of a city of 80,000 with the agricultural waste left in the fields nearby!

This book is a must have for local first, alternative energy folks. Using just leaves and grass clippings + kitchen waste, you can provide a significant fraction of your energy requirements.

Get the book:

The Biogas Handbook