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Friday
Jun062008

Biodiesel Algae for the Building

I was corresponding with someone from the algal biodiesel group the other day. Genetically modified algae is one of the more intriguing fuel strategies in the mid-term. The short version is to add some oil-production genes from some other plant to fast-growing algae, scoop out algal mats and process into fuel.

Traditionally, algae has been seen as something to grow in plants about the size and distribution of this year’s boondoggle, the corn ethanol plant. Instead of large parking areas for constant transportation of corn, large shallow vats of algae would soak up the sun. Eliminating the need to transport the raw material to the processing plant would be yet another advantage to this process.

Some have suggested that the proper place to build the facility is by a coal plant. Algae grows faster in a high CO2 environment. The CO2 would get sequestered into new biomass, and then converted to biodiesel. The CO2 would make it into the atmosphere eventually, but not until it had done double duty for electricity and transportation.

But I thought, why stop there?

All kinds of moderately complex processes are now being built into small microprocessor controlled autonomous systems. If one could automate the production of Biodiesel on the rooftop, then local diesel generators could run on site generated fuel.

I do not imagine that this process would ever provide all power for, say, a commercial office building. It could, however have a place in zero net energy buildings and in local self-reliant microgrids.

Many organizations, from the AIA to ASHRAE, from the US department of Energy to the UN Environmental program, are chasing after the Zero Net Energy Building (ZEB). The ZEB uses a variety of strategies centering around local generation, storage, and conversion of energy to limit its purchases from the power grid to when the prices are right. The ZEB will likely make use of internal DC to eliminate DA/AC/DC conversion penalties on each source of energy. The ZEB building may well have PV, ST, Wind, and generators, mixing and matching as needed.

The problem with most of these local renewable energy sources is that they are unpredictable. As has been well demonstrated by the German Kombikraftwerk effort (search the archives), you can build a reliable grid almost entirely of unreliable sources as long as they are unreliable in different ways at different times.

Why not BioDiesel generators in the building? Why not algae vats and automated fuel production in the building? I do not see such a system being able to carry the building on its own, but if called on occasionally, as diesel generators are now, perhaps the tank could be filled in the interval.

So, why not Algal Biodiesel in the Building?

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References (3)

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    Response: making biodiesel
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    Response: making biodiesel
    Nice story! Can I use this for my blog? gr, remcowoudstra
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