Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Flying on weed: algae biofuels in airlines

More airlines appear to be banking on algae as a possible source for jet fuel in a world of oil shortage or impossibly high oil prices.

(Image: An algae cocktail.)

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing is a major player in the new Algal Biomass Organization, whose motto is “Algae for Energy.” See for more. Air New Zealand, Continental and Virgin Atlantic have all joined up.

Algae appears to be turning into the next hot topic in the fuel world (previous hot topics: hydrogen, corn ethanol). See and

In Hawai'i, Cellana is a join venture of Royal Dutch Shell and HR Biopetroleum, which are working on the technology of making biofuel from algae at the Hawai'i Natural Energy Lab.

Dutch airline KLM has announced plans to begin testing algae biofuel in its planes. Virgin Atlantic has already flown a flight using a mix of regular jet fuel and biofuel.

What's so special about algae? Here's what Algal Biomass Organization has to say:

“Renewable Fuels: Algae are an ideal low cost, renewable and environmentally progressive raw material that can be converted into biofuels. They can grow rapidly (doubling in biomass in as little as a few hours), require limited nutrients, and can annually deliver up to 2,000–5,000 gallons of fuel per acre of non-arable land.

“Environment: Algae do not require fresh water to thrive and so they will not compete for limited supplies of fresh water. In addition, they can also be used to clean wastewater and to recycle greenhouse gases such as CO2, NOx and SOx. As the algae grow, they can be harvested and converted to next- generation biofuels.

“Economic Development: As developing nations continue to look for ways to spur economic development, algae-based industries can be a central part of an overall strategy. Many developing nations currently import nearly 100 percent of their fuel. An algae-based energy strategy provides a way to either reduce oil import costs, create fuel/feedstock export revenue, or both without competing with food crops.”

The other thing that makes algae biofuel attractive continues to be the price of petroleum. At this writing, crude prices stood at $133.81 a barrel.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate