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Companies to Introduce Lower-Cost Algae Production System

Single Simgae Bed (left); 1 Acre Notional Farm (right). Click to enlarge.

Diversified Energy Corporation (DEC) has formed a partnership and licensing arrangement for an algae production system invented by XL Renewables, Inc. The system, called Simgae (for simple algae), utilizes common agriculture and irrigation components to keep costs to a minimum.

Capital, operations and maintenance costs for large-scale algae systems have been a barrier to adoption for algae-based fuels processing, according to Diversified. The Simgae approach promises 1/2 – 1/16th the capital cost, profitable oil production costs at $0.08 – $0.12/pound, and low operations and maintenance requirements. Under an exclusive worldwide license, Diversified Energy will provide systems engineering and project management to commercialize the technology.

The Simgae system uses thin-walled polyethylene tubing, called “Algae Biotape”, similar to conventional drip irrigation tubes, but optimized for diameter and thickness, and treated with special UV inhibitors instead of carbon black.

The tubing is laid out in parallel across a field. Under pressure, water containing the necessary nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) and a small fraction of algae are slowly pumped into the biotape. As the flow moves along the biotape, CO2 is injected and oxygen is relieved through commercially-modified injection systems connected to common PVC piping. After roughly 24 hours the flow leaves the Algae Biotape with a markedly greater concentration of algae than was started.

All the supporting hardware components and processes involved in Simgae are direct applications from the agriculture industry. Re-use of these practices avoids the need for expensive and complex hardware and costly installation and maintenance.

The Simgae design is expected to provide an annual algae yield of 100 – 200 dry tons per acre. Capital costs are expected to be approximately $45,000 – $60,0000 (a 2 – 16 times improvement over competing systems) and profitable oil production costs are estimated at only $0.08 – $0.12/pound. These oil costs compare to recent market prices of feedstock oils anywhere from $0.25 – $0.44/pound.

The partners are currently conducting a demonstration of the technology in Casa Grande, Arizona. Continued testing and system optimization is expected to occur through 2008. In parallel, DEC is exploring approaches to combine its licensed Centia technology (a technology to make jet biofuel from any renewable oil, earlier post) with Simgae, thereby demonstrating an end-to-end crop to jet biofuel system.



This is awesome, I want a couple of units for my back yard!

The key to energy diversification and sustainability is not only multi-sourcing, but also regionalization, rather than globalization, and having a broad supply base rather than a small number of very large conglomerates


The more players in this game, the more diversified approaches we have, the greater chance of success will result.


This is way cool. Where do they get CO2 in bulk? Lots of dry ice? Does this create an aftermarket for sequestered CO2?

I would think farm run-off, and livestock run-off would be plentiful feedstocks, but then there would be a lot of bulk waste and fiber going through the biotape...maybe not so good.

There's a company that feeds smokestack effluent into algae reactors, so perhapse with the right blowers, smokestack gases could be transported long distances to farms?


Although I like the idea, I also like some calculations :
If you produce 100 dry tons/acre, and are able to convert it with a 50% efficiency to butanol (butanol = 36 MJ/kg) , you produce 50 tons of butanol/year = 1.8E6 MJ/year = 1.8E12 J/year = 57000 J/second or 57000 Watt.
An acre is 4047 m^2, so this farm has a net energy production of 14 Watt.

I suppose the mentioned productivity is in a very sunny location, so in this climate, a solar pannel converting the energy directly to electricity would at least have a mean elektricity production of the tenfold.

Since future solar panels will probably become much cheaper and have a higher efficiency, we may expect an elektricity production at least ten to twenty times the butanol production I calculated. Plus, since there are no moving parts in the solar panels, they will probably be much more durable and in the near future probably much cheaper than the algae farms. The elektricity can be directly used, or could be used to split water into O2 and H2. In a simple reactor, H2+C02 --> fuels.
If you would only have a conversion efficiency of elektricity to fuel of 20%, it would already be many times more efficient than the algae farm. Not to mention the energy needed to run the farm, provide nutrients, all the waste that will be generated when the tubes need to be replaced,...


sory, in my calculation, I ment a net production of 14 Watt/m^2


Where do you get the water, nitrogen and phorphour from to run an algae farm? The answer is your nearest septic tank or wastewater treatment plant. This technology has the potential to clean up wastewater while producing energy in the process. Currently, the excess nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater often ends up in rivers and lakes leading to euthrophication.

I would assume that you don't need cloudless sunshine to run the system so that direct competition with solar energy in Arizona may not be a valid comparison. While this algae system may not ne the best alternative for the desert southwest it may be perfect for cloudier more densely populated areas.


Wouldn't biodiesel yields be higher than butanol? Actually, you could do biodiesel for the oil and do cellosic alcohol for fiber and starch, and probably sell the protein as animal feed or fertilizer.

Also, you could do this on top of fields that were otherwise fallow, though I don't know how well they would rejuvenate with the tubes cover.

Rafael Seidl

An interesting approach, though there are some issues with it in addition to what Alain and NewHorizons have pointed out.

a) that layer of mulch needs to be quite thick to avoid weeds growing in the beds.

b) unlike porous hoses, these are supposed to be watertight and transparent. One inquisitive birdie star pecking at the tubing and you've got a leak. Things get worse if any critters (e.g. rodents) decide that algae are tasty.

c) the UV inhibitors will keep the algae from getting sunburn but the plastic itself is degraded by UV as well, which makes it brittle. Transparent varieties are especially vulnerable to this, one reason they are rarely used in windows.

d) thermoplastics also tend to slowly leach into adjacent fluids when they get hot. Some of the solvents involved in their manufacture resemble the hormone oestrogen. Some researchers have linked prolonged exposure to elevated levels of such quasi-hormones to embryological defects in higher animals and humans. Whether or not this has any bearing on algae, I don't know.

e) it's not clear from the article if the system is compatible with salt water. That would make it usable in arid and desert regions near the coast and on arid islands, e.g. Southern Europe, North and South-West Africa, North-Western Australia, Baja California, Cape Verde Islands etc. That way, it wouldn't compete with food production on arable land.

Alain, Algea feed CO2 have achieve energy conversion efficiencies of 7-14%, thats converting sunlight water and CO2 into sugar and mostly fats (bio-oil). At present we have nowhere near that efficiency of converting CO2 into oil using only photovoltaics.


If cost estimates are accurate then sounds like excellent transportation fuel source for short term. In longer term PV and electric transportation may make better economic sense. We can still use this stuff as feed-stock for industrial plastics manufacturing. Electricity won't work as substitute for that.
PV on rooftops and algae tubes in the desert!
Works for me!


Electricity can't replace plastics and jet fuel, Biomass can. So give cars the electric plug and give jets the green plastic tube.


I have some questions about this approach. Service life may be an issue as Rafael points out, but the extend press release states the licensing company in engaged in a $260M project and I’d hope that they are satisfied that there will be a useful component operating life.

I’m more concerned with internal deposition blocking all light frequencies. Finding char women small enough to crawl into the thing, aaaaaand willing to do window might be a big problem.

Tweaking algae genes to fit should not a horrendous task, but selling the fuel in the EU may be more difficult – “Don’t want no stinkin’ Frankenfuel here!”


When comparing this technology to solar cells it is important to consider the raw materials and other processes used to create the hardware. Solar cells are nice in that they capture sunlight but only by harnessing many synthetic materials. Biological solar cells, however, use natural organisms like algae to produce energy while uptaking CO2. In the future, with the promise in this technology that has been shown to date, there is considerable potential for reducing net anthropogenic carbon emissions. And, it is important to remember that forms of algae have maintained colonies on this earth for millions of years. That seems pretty efficient and sustainable to me.

Rafael Seidl

@ WhiteBeard -

as I understand it, the tubes are just a few inches in diameter. The article indicates the medium is constantly kept in motion by a pump, at least during daylight hours. It may also need to be kept at a suitable temperature. This, plus perhaps a coating on the inside wall, should eliminate the risk of biofilms fouling the inside. If they form regardless, the system would need to be periodically flushed with a cleaning solution and then rinsed.

On the outside, accumulated dust will surely have to be removed periodically.

As for Frankenfuels, I think you may find that Europeans are much less concerned about GM for true non-food agriculturals such as algae.

The concern advanced by opponents is always the "contamination" of the food chain. This is a bit bogus, as DNA produces proteins which are broken down in the stomach. By contrast, livestock and humans are typically not able to metabolize synthetic pesticides.

A more valid concern is that GM plants grown in open fields could cross-breed with regular strains in the wild and, potentially lead to patent infringement lawsuits. I also suspect the European pesticides industry is taking full advantage of the general distrust Europeans have toward GM.


The most rational concern with gmo is that they will breed in the wild out of our control. This can be prevented by inserting lethal genes and genetic sterility, so that the gmo can’t breed or even live without human supervision.

Fernando Gatti

Just a few number to put thing in perspective.
USA consume 18 millons Barrels per day; aprox 980 millons tons per year.
If 50% become usable fuel (optimistic in my view)you need 360,000 Km2 (equivalent of all Texas) to produce 9 millons tons year, less than 1% of the American oil consumtion.
You need 7 acres to keep one 100watts lamp running all the time (think in Las Vegas).
The size of the enrgy problem is humongous, you need to think big to make any solution make sense.


How many acres of algae farms does the USA need to replace oil?

For starters, lets admit that the USA wastes at least half of its fuel every day in moving millions of people alone in huge gas guzzlers. For the sake of analyzing needs, lets assume that the USA really needs 9 million barrels per day instead of 18 million or 490 million tons per year according to Fernando's calculations.

If we conservatively estimate that the system will produce on average 100 tons per acre annually in the desert and 50 tons per acre annually in more temperate areas, and fuel yield is 50%, than it would take 9.8 million acres of desert and about 19.6 million acres of temperate areas. That's probably equivalent to the area that we already plant in corn for ethanol.

Muir Matteson

Yes, Ben was way off in his estimates. For instance, he said it would take 7 acres to collect enough energy to run a 100 watt bulb continuously. The actual area required is more like 7 square meters. So Ben's estimate is off by a factor of over 4,000.

Muir Matteson

Apologies, Ben. It was Fernando Getti who gave the outlandishly pessimistic estimates.

Ok, I remember a report on this very forum that showed to replace all the worlds jet fuel it would require the area of Maryland. That not actually that bad compared to any other biofuel.


that was me by the way, sometimes it does that.


Didn't the Aquatic Species program guy from New Hampshire who founded Green Fuel Technologies predict that you could derive 5,000-20,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre from algae, and that if you used just 15% of the Sonora desert (California/Arizona border, with a canal bringing sea water up from the South) you could replace all liquid fuel used in the US? I think he assumed some fuel economy improvements. I wonder where all the nutrients come from. Even if you build a bunch of live stock feed lots, that's a lot of carbon that has to come from somewhere. Anyway, the point is that Algae is the best feedstock for biodiesel because there's not as much cellulose...just a bunch of free floating single cells, and you can harvest nearly continuously, which the refiners shoul like.


"Algea feed CO2 have achieve energy conversion efficiencies of 7-14%, thats converting sunlight water and CO2 into sugar and mostly fats (bio-oil). At present we have nowhere near that efficiency of converting CO2 into oil using only photovoltaics."

Concentrated Solar Thermal efficiencies are about 30%.
Concentrated PV efficiency of 35% acheived with 40.8% PV cells from SpectroLab.
Many Si PV manufactures are acheiving 20% efficiency.
All these solar approaches are better than 7-14%.
Why use PV electricity to convert CO2 to oil? Burning the oil just releases the CO2 again. Using to charge PHEV or BEV is way more efficient.

Similar comment. Why use PV electricity to make H2? Why not use at 90% efficiency or better in PHEVs and BEVs?

Logic and reason is missing. What's wrong with using sand (Si) and other inert elements from the earth to harness electricity from the sun? Just because living organisms have been around for millions of years does not mean it's easy or cost effective to use them in industrial power/fuel processes.

Both Air Bus and Boeing are experimenting with fuel cell air planes. These are electric planes, so maybe electricity could be used to replace jet fuel. May not make technical or economic sense yet, but maybe some food for thought. ;-)

Economics sound promising, if some of other concerns raised here on't bite them. Hope this venture is very successful.


Flue gas from Coal power plants has been proposed as its a major source of carbon (CO2 and CO which algae converts to CO2), Nitrogen (NOx), Sulfar and phosphorous.


I would love to see how you could get a electric or fuel cell powered plane to fly at mach .8 or greater. For decades now both the USA and Russia have experimented with the idea of hydrogen powered jets but the weight of the cryogenic tanks and the grossly low volumetric density of even liquid hydrogen resulted in these experiments concluding that hydrogen was not practical for airplanes, at least airplanes traveling between mach .8 and 3, methane (LNG) was considered most viable for hypersonic scram jets and the only unmanned hypersonic jets have used hydrogen for their few seconds of power flight.

Most of all there no way you can convert hydrogen into plastics and industrial oil products, you can turn biomass into those products though and at the same time make a carbon sink.

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