Australian Researchers Achieving World-Leading Production Rates of Algae Oil in Open Ponds
05 November 2009
Australian scientists say they are achieving the world’s best current production rates of oil from algae grown in open saline ponds. A joint A$3.3 million (US$3 million) project led by Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, and involving the University of Adelaide in South Australia, has shown more than 12 months of consistent results at both universities.
It was previously believed impossible to grow large quantities of algae for biofuel in open ponds consistently and without contamination, but we’ve proven it can be done.
—Project Leader Professor Michael Borowitzka from Murdoch University
The project has received A$1.89 million funding from the Australian Government as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.
The project is working simultaneously on all steps in the process of microalgal biofuels production, from microalgae culture, harvesting of the algae and extraction of oil suitable for biofuels production, said Professor Borowitzka.Based on current results, construction of a multi-million dollar pilot plant to test the whole process on a larger scale will begin in Karratha in the North-West in January and is expected to be operational by July.
Borowitzka said that the project has achieved production rates of 50 tonnes of algae per hectare per year (20.2 tonnes/acre), more than half of which is converted to oil. At 50% oil content (10.1 tonne/acre), that would work out to approximately 2,900 gallons·ac-1·yr-1.
These high production rates are expected to increase at the new pilot plant due to the even better climatic conditions in Karratha.
The first stage will cost A$1.5 million and further funding is being sought for future stages estimated to cost between A$5-10 million.
Dr. David Lewis from the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering says a key aspect of the project is to show that commercial levels of algae can be grown without competing for resources with food crops.
International partners in the project are Indian algae producer Parry Nutraceuticals, and South China University of Technology.
An excellent result, and without some horrible coal power plant next door to provide the CO2 as far as I can see. Pure atmospheric CO2 scrubbing (well, until it's burned again).
Posted by: clett | 05 November 2009 at 04:21 AM
Actually getting over 500 gal. of oil per acre per week year after year blows the doors off any other rate I've heard of.
Posted by: kelly | 05 November 2009 at 05:26 AM
Actually, that works out to 55.76 gallons per acre per week. Still very impressive. Way higher than anything I've heard, especially out of open pond operations.
So that's 7.96 gallons per acre, per day.
You'd need 5.27 acres for 1 barrel per day
447,950,000 acres for 85 million barrels per day
... which is 699,921 square miles
That's HUGE! That's like the size of the state of Alaska. Somebody please check my numbers and tell me I'm wrong.
Posted by: GreenPlease | 05 November 2009 at 06:19 AM
Craig Venter would be interested in this....
Posted by: ejj | 05 November 2009 at 07:09 AM
You could go 50% conversion to oil or 99% conversion to methane with catalytic gasification.
Use that to balance wind power, or dual fuel in diesel engines until there are more plug in's on the road.
Posted by: 3PeaceSweet | 05 November 2009 at 08:02 AM
Algal oil even with this kind of yield cannot replace liquid fuel on any scale. It has never been suggested it should (except perhaps by old studies.) At 1 barrel per acre/week even at large scale this resource would be best applied to high quality jet fuels and some diesel. But other liquid fuels MUST take up part of the heavy lift load.
To that end biomass to alcohols is the best solution near term. By combining cellulosic and waste to alcohol production with algal oil and a decreasing volume of fossil fuels - most of the heavy lifting demand can be met. Of course simultaneously there must be a fast-paced transition to electrified transport. Including electrified buses with recharge stations at route end points.
Posted by: Reel$$ | 05 November 2009 at 11:09 AM
I would like to hear how the Aussies are mitigating the contamination problem. That was what tanked the DOE Aquatic Species Program.
Posted by: Reel$$ | 05 November 2009 at 11:11 AM
There are saline open pond systems to the near south
The two sites at Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia and Whyalla, South Australia are the world's largest algae farms with .... beta-carotene sourced from algae.
The link above shows just how hard an operating environment. This shows that employment in these environs is of a high value. Mining including salt, fishing, tourism and border protection are the major employers.
Posted by: arnold | 05 November 2009 at 11:44 AM
Your numbers seem correct and you caught my extra decimal error.
It might be well to note that 699,921 square miles is less than one fourth of Australia. But, perhaps more important, even a tenth of that amount would give heavy lifters a viable fuel alternative and price hedge, while EV's could handle much urban personal transport.
These options could temper a oil sheik's lust for new harems or suicide explosive ultralights into the largest refineries or Iraq radiating the Strait of Hormuth or big bankers wanting to absorb smaller bankers or whatever else is planned to double quarterly gasoline prices.
Posted by: kelly | 05 November 2009 at 04:30 PM
699,921 square miles is a large area. But nobody says there should be 1 algae pond. If there are 10000 ponds around the world (in desert zones close to the sea), each pond is 'only' 70 square miles or squares of 10x7 miles. And of course, this is not the only option for alternative liquid fuels.
Since the by-product of the algae could produces multiple times the amount of food needed to feed the world population, it could replace multiple times the agricultural land 'wasted' today on animal feed production. So for each square mile of desert transformed to algae pond, we can transform many square miles of cornfield to natural habitats.
Let's try it !
Posted by: Alain | 06 November 2009 at 01:15 AM
The size of alaska? We have huge swathes of land that aren't productive - the Sahara and other desert regions of the world that could be used to create pond. Water supply - simple - pump it in from the sea and as part of the processing process desalinate to pure water for local human consumption, and perhaps greening the parts of the desert which aren't used for algae production so that real agriculture can sit side by side. Someone needs to work out what to do with all that salt, maybe export some of the stuff for winter gritting roads in colder climbs, or for new solar plans which use salt for storing heat energy - massive potential when you think how this kind of stuff could be linked into other ventures to solve many issues.
Posted by: Scott | 06 November 2009 at 01:30 AM
What farmer is going to willingly give up his primary asset/source of income for a natural habitat? And why.. suddenly do we want to become a civilization once again in the wilderness?
Posted by: Bryan | 06 November 2009 at 07:45 AM
Maybe there would be a way to use these algae strains in the dead zone of the Gulf of Mexico...remember there is that company that wants to harvest the fish that eat algae in the Gulf --- maybe you could do both...get oil from both algae and the fish in massive offshore operations. Petrobras will be doing a shuttle type of operation from deep sea oil wells - shuttling oil to port in tankers so no undersea pipelines are needed. Maybe they could do a similar operation with an offshore fish-algae-algaefuel operation.
Posted by: ejj | 06 November 2009 at 04:32 PM
Each of you who wish to promote biofuels, please buy enough land from your own pocket to first supply all the food you eat and then supply all of the oil and gas you burn then all of the coal you burn, but first buy sufficient vacuum solar heat collectors to supply hot water to your dwelling summer and winter. Nuclear electricity can be had for 10 cents a kilowatt-hour on your bill and much cheaper if you make aluminum.
Even in yards, every square foot of land where rainfall is adequate should have large trees to collect CO2, and all the leaves and branches should be collected to produce pure black carbon that will remain almost forever in ordinary soil and not produce CO2, but will promote fertility for more CO2 collection. Europe is phasing out landfilling of organic materials, but carbon should be allowed if there are no farms that can use contaminated carbon that cannot be cleaned. Perhaps low fertility waste land will be improved by even contaminated carbon. Few uses of biofuels in industrial countries actually lower CO2 releases compared to growing trees on the same and more lands, and saving forever the trapped carbon. ..HG..
Posted by: Henry Gibson | 06 November 2009 at 10:59 PM