"Rely on the sun and the other eco-friendly things that Mother Earth has given us. We need to stop being dependent on the corrupting effect that is oil now!" – HuffPost Super User "ProgressivePicon86" The next energy revolution is coming - and promises the biggest disruption since the industrial revolution. Today we assume that …
Distribution is the Handicap
Great article and interesting conclusions about the 'new localism' that is emerging. However for me the challenge is scale and particularly distribution. Will the big 5 really allow their stranglehold to be broken and, as Gordon 10 suggests, with our current patent and IP protocols can anyone achieve enough critical mass to effect change?
First Law of Thermodynamics
CO2 is going to be converted to energy-rich hydrocarbons "in a tank". Where is the energy coming from ? The sun ? Not much of that in blighty.
Indeed the Sun - and a lot of it. However, one advantage of artificial hydrocarbons is that the can be readily transported, as the oil industry demonstrates daily. However, that would still leave the enormous problem of covering millions of square km of suitably sunny land with the appropriate plant and keeping it supplied with fresh water etc.
Humans use roughly 500EJ of primary energy a year whilst about 3,000EJ (equivalent) of biomass is created every year. If all 500EJ of primary fuel (the great majority of which are fossil) was to be replaced by artificial hydrocarbons, that would be equivalent to about 17% of the World's annual biomass generation. That's a lot of land area - in the millions of square km, and getting enough freshwater to (say) the deserts rather than displacing agricultural or natural rain-forest and the like is going to be an engineering project, the like of which has never been dreamed of to date.
I was with you right up until the end. Unfortunately there are two finite resources we will still rely on.
One is the stuff of which things are made. the tnsions between china and japan for example illustrate how important access to natural resources used in electronics can be to a nation's prosperity.
The other 'resource' is the waste disposal capability of the planet and its ecosystem.
A renewable energy powered future is attractive, but it certainly doesn't mean that the concept of 'sustinability' becomes redundant.
In fact, if energy is no longer a constraint, the rate at which the resources mentioned become depleted will doubtless accelerate.
Greenies Hate Oil
It doesn't matter where it comes from, Greenies hate oil. They hate carbon. And therefore they hate carbon-based life.
That assumes that
They know what carbon is...
No, don't give up! You can remember the safety word after all.
before the environmentalists, undeterred by logic or science, start preaching that burning algae oil produces CO2 and is therefore bad?
Hate to break it to you, but burning algae oil does produce CO2. Creating it is supposed to use up CO2 too, but I don't see Orlowski give a figure for how much is used vs how much produced on combustion. Because, after all, this tech DOES NOT YET EXIST so knowing its attributes is kind of hard right now ... Orlowski's "hey I'm drinking the kool aid on this because it confirms to my preconceived notions about the issue" notwithstanding.
I mean, seriously, the guy has an axe to grind, but lately he's been grinding it with the basic concept that if anyone famous comes up with an idea, that idea is as good as implemented, with no unforeseen drawbacks at all. The guy needs to work in engineering for a while to instill in himself the gut knowledge that this NEVER happens. How someone so cynical (a good thing) can be so credulous (when it suits him) is beyond me. Well, not beyond me. It's called intellectual dishonesty, but don't tell Andrew.
x CO2 + H2O ---(sunlight + enzymes)--> pretty much any hydrocarbon you want with the general formula of CxHyOz, where z can be zero, but the other two are decidedly nonzero.
Burning the same hydrocarbon:
CxHyOz +O2---(FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!)--> x CO2 + y/2 H2O (+ possibly some CO and even some C if there isn't enough oxygen available)
Amount of carbon going in = amount of carbon going out. Said carbon usually takes the form of CO2 on both ends.
I'll refrain from asking how your degree in Media Studies is working out in today's job market.
> a figure for how much is used vs how much is produced
> but I don't see Orlowski give a figure for how much is used vs how much produced
> on combustion.
Its not very hard... Basically oil comes in multiples of one carbon atom for every 2 hydrogen atoms. So to get oil (lets say, for simplicity cyclohexane) you mix six CO2 molecules, six H2O molecules and get one C6H12 (cyclohexane) and nine O2.
When you burn a C6H12 it burns with 9 O2s, and gives you back the six CO2s and six H20s. The number of molecules involved don''t change: they never do unless nuclear reactions are involved.
I don't share Mr. Orlowski's views on environmentalism and global warning, but you're off the mark.
In basic chemistry (absent nuclear reactions), elements are neither created nor destroyed, only recombined. So, if carbon comes out of the tank in the form of diesel, it needs to first go into the tank (probably in the form of CO2 in the case of Ventner's work, or in the form of sugar for the second gen biofuels). Hence these technologies being described as "carbon neutral."
The concerns I would have would be this:
1) for Ventner's work, carbon dioxide needs to be highly concentrated. If we get rid of nasty coal burning plants, its there a low-energy means for achieving this sort of concentration from atmospheric CO2?Is the net energy gain still positive? If not, but it's at least near-neutral, this could still be a decent means of storing traditional solar energy, and would probably be significantly more environmentally friendly than battery cars/hybrids.
2) I doubt that the bacteria and yeast researchers are experimenting with consume solely CO2, water, and sunlight. If other compounds are required in concentrations in the fermenting vats, they'll be spread in a fine film over the earth once we combust them. Depending on what they are and how hard they are to get, this could be a long term problem.
Other than that, I think this is a really interesting technology and I'm hopeful for it. Make huge hundred story tanks out in the desert and go to it.
Beer, because it comes from a vat full of yeast and look how good it is.
it turned out to be a £300-£350 a day yield, how YOU doin?
for your concerns,
1. Technology exists today to extract the CO2 from the air at relatively low cost. Basically, what you have are calcium ions in some kind of membrane. It can be solid or liquid. Air is blown over the membrane. The CO2 sticks to the calcium, forming single molecules of limestone (Calcium carbonate). When heated to around 150 C, the carbonate disassociates back to CO2 and calcium. with proper heat transfer, there is little energy lost. The disassociation occurs in a chamber, and the CO2 is captured. This process was developed for carbon sequestration (CCS). It works just fine for atmospheric CO2 capture also. Then the CO2 is just compressed, and transported. Later, you release it into the algae growing medium.
2. They are not talking about ANY fermentation process. They are not intending to produce ANY ethanol. That is a different bio fuel. Oils generally have a higher energy density than alcohols do.
Also, on 2., yes, you do need some sort of fertilizer. Sewage waste works just fine, as does the dead algae that the oil was recovered from. Almost any biological waste will do. There is also a need for nitrogen. Air supplies this. Fortunately, most algae can 'fix' the nitrogen. Most plants cannot. The usable nitrogen is usually in some form of ammonia or a compound of it.
Sustainable oil just fine (but what about phosphate?)
Re: "Buzzwords such as "sustainability", founded on a resource-constrained view, will no longer be credible. People will simply laugh at them."
Bah, oil just becomes a renevable resource, so using it is sustainable. As a green-minded guy, I see nothing wrong with that. Assuming it works as advertised, a big if. Besides the algae will compete with the same space, water and sun-light to grow as foods. Might cause a replay of the bioethanol from corn debacle. I hope a solution can be found to that (maybe farming the "oil algae" in tanks floating on the sea?).
Oil by the way is not the only non-renewable resource that can cause problems. Look up "phosphate scarcity" in Google. Don't expect end-of-timers going away, ever.
Don't expect end-of-timers going away, ever.
Except maybe until the end of time?
There's loads not to like, from the environmental activist point of view. The biggest advantage to global warming was it's ability to justify endless interference in everyone else's business. If it didn't exist, it would have to be invented...and when it's "gone", something else will suddenly emerge
"There's loads not to like, from the environmental activist point of view."
Yes, but what if one DOES bathe and possesses a capacity for logical thinking?
You are probably too young to remember. But, 30 years ago, before Global Warming, there was Global Cooling. Yes, you are correct, the only thing that could save us was the same solutions that are being pushed today to 'solve' Global Warming. so, there is precedent for what you are saying.
Surely growing lots of algae requires lots of space to grow it in. That's not an infinite resource (at least on Earth, and there's no obvious way to utilise the vastness of space for this enterprise.) The environmentalist argument could simply move on to population levels and usage of land.
They are already working on this issue in an environment where there is lots of space and lots of sun....the Arizona desert. Seems a perfect place to grow algae. And there are lots of deserts about the globe.
It would all be worth it
just to see the lovely House of Saud riding camels again, rather than being filthy rich despots because they happened to be born on top of an oil reservoir.
but they get lots of sun ...
... good for growing all that photosynthesizing algae. They're born on top of a giant fossil-oil reservoir, and underneath (near) peak solar intensity.
And they have acres of space...
...full of sand and nothing (much) else.
exactly - we'll still be dependent on the Middle East for much of our oil
Imagine a future not too far off. Vast ships carrying pressurised CO2 captured from power stations in the industrialised world offload it at algae farms spread across the equatorial deserts where guaranteed sunlight and land with no other value makes it economical. This means North Africa and the Gulf States, plus South Western US and Australia. Sea water is pumped in using wind or solar power (no fresh water, and that's a scarce commodity anyway). From space, the deserts will start to look very green...
Similarly, if we ever crack high-temperature superconductors, then basing our solar power stations in those areas and feeding it back to the populated areas along vast transmission lines would become practical.
They've already got so much money invested in banking, etc, that it's probably not TOO much of a concern.
Oil is not the only constraint
Fresh water will be next. Competition between uses (consumption, industry and agriculture) will lead to real problems until someone works out a way to use the cheap oil to effectively desalinate enough to meet all needs.
This all smacks of technologism (like scientism but with technology) in that we'll bury our heads in the sand over any possible current problems because we'll develop a technology that will cure our ills. We might, but to think we'll do it in time to avoid any pain is optimistic.
Note that bacteria or plants or whatever is being tweaked to make oil
are *not* evolved to make it in the first place.
Evolution selects for *survival* over the conditions that the source species have encountered over their evolution.
It's *highly* unlikely those conditions would have driven their body chemistry to make them *perfect* oil substitute producers, or anywhere *near* that level of efficiency.
Which suggests there is *lots* to play for.
However there is the issue that whatever is produced will need raw materials (including sunlight) to operate.
Unfortunately also suggests
that we'll need to be constantly on the lookout for genetic drift in our tanks towards "fitter" algae that does not waste so much of its energy creating oil for us.
Nah, that's easy. We merely need to apply 'population pressure' to make the production of oil adventitious. The obvious solution is some aggressive growing medium where the aggression is mitigated by secreting 4* petrol.
Then Darwin will work to improve, rather than reduce, yield.
The usual rubbish.........
........spouted by people without a broad education. The comments mainly, not the article. Scientific consensus is that current climate change is anthromorphic; that debate is dead amongst all but folk who are in, or candidates for the Teaparty.
The question is what are the solutions? Keep up at the back.
........spouted by people without a broad education. The comments mainly, not the article.
did that "broad education" not teach you about sentence structure?
Scientific consensus once had it that the moon couldn't affect the tides because there was no visible mechanism.
Galileo came up with that one...
Two things to learn from this: Consensus is meaningless in science, and even the greatest of great men can completely fuck up when they invoke it.
Or, the people commenting here anti-AGW are smarter than the Climate Scientists, PhDs and all.
As pointed out before, photosynthesis usually has a really low efficiency. If the efficiency of those new algae is much less (more than an order of magnitude) than the one of photovoltaic cells, it's not viable.
Obviously, if I may put on my conspiracy hat, there are many people interested in the continuation of oil-based economies, regardless of what's sensible.
So one day the middle East will just be somewhere dry and very hot. we dont have much interest in. They can only dream of the day.
...it will turn out to be the only viable place to grow the stuff and we'll be needing to "persuade" people to stop living there.
All you guys assuming the wars are about oil need to check a bit further back in history.
The crusades predate the car.
Afghanistan has been under invasion from one force or another for longer than the history of the automobile or the crisis of oil that plastics and mass use of cars started in the 60s.
Or were the romans trying to save $0.10 on chariot trips to the local shops?
Whatever the outcome, the necessary decoupling of world finance from fossil oil ain't gonna be pretty.
the thing to remember is facts
"The most important thing to point out, of course, is that carbon dioxide is NOT responsible for damaging our atmosphere, it is an essential ingredient and plants can't get enough of it"
and the phrase "too much of anything" slipped past you all these years.
Quick refresher of pre-O level biology. ecosystems are balanced...
Want to challenge that? if you can grow any plant inside your car exhaust whilst the car is in use I'll give you my salary for a year.
True, catalytic converters help to increase the amount of CO2 emitted from the car's exhaust, but there's usually too much CO still in the exhaust to ignore, and plants like animals tend to have a hard time dealing with CO.
The article is talking about engineering algae that are specifically designed to photosynthesize at faster-than-viable rates. That's why they won't work without a higher CO2 concentration (still leaves the question of whether or not you can feed it enough sunlight to power the reaction--not much use putting richer fuel in the cylinder if the spark won't fire). It's an extreme lifeform for an extreme environment--sounds like a balance to me.
>>"Buzzwords such as "sustainability", founded on a resource-constrained view, will no longer be credible. People will simply laugh at them."
Well, there does seem to be more to 'sustainability' than simply energy issues.
Sure, clean/cheap energy could help in all kinds of ways, but there are issues of land, population, water, etc that wouldn't be immediately solved even if free clean renewable energy arrived next year.
How many of the Preachies, would you guess, have PDS (Poor Driving Skills) ? How many of them are therefore car haters? Any guesses at a percentage?
A couple things
"But renewable oil is local, and so there's no need to ship it around the world."
Ah, but there is oil, and there is oil. The 'sweet light crude' is the most desirable and getting algae to make THAT will be trickier than getting them to make oil. And even then, there will likely be refining required, and in refining the economy of scale makes a huge difference in cost.
"The 10 largest companies in the world are all oil companies – and all are privately owned."
By this do you mean "owned by one person as opposed to owned by individual shareholders and investment companies" or "not state owned"? Big difference.
Sustainability is a certain future, get over it
I don't get how you can poo-poo sustainability when you're proposing a sustainable solution. Sustainability is a dead certainty: we can't degrade the earth indefinitely. It's just a question of how trashed the environment will get before sustainability is achieved. I agree with you that sustainability will be achieved with some high tech solutions rather than returning to the days of Jethro Tull but it will be sustainability none the less.
You might benefit yourself by investigating why you have an emotional reaction to sustainability. The answer is biological. Your brain was forged in in an environment where exploitation of available resources was the only successful strategy. Factors outside the individual's control - disease, homicide, warfare and starvation - kept human numbers at sustainable levels. Sustainable thinking, indeed any thinking beyond the present and immediate future was biologically unnatural, a waste of precious energy. It is only really achieved with the aid of surplus, order, and the guidance of mythologies, and then only precariously - just a little stress and we fall back on our built-in pleistocene mental framework.
It might work in years to come eh? So might cold fusion and ant-gravity, but it aint likely.
Pie in the sky hopefullnes from AO.
Synthetic fuel is actually quite old.
Some countries used it back in WW2 (I'm from the USA, figure it out). Given that it is known that synthetic fuel can be produced, all we need is a nice big energy source. Those were also produced back in WW2, and even supply electricity in some locales.
Mix, match, stir a bit and we have energy for a long time. It even is in a portable form (like gasoline/petrol). Life goes on.
"Synthetic fuel is actually quite old"
Mostly made by hydrogenating coal !
Algae will grow in salt water too
Just walk to any beach in the UK / world wide and You find of it on rocks.
Algey is also a plant so it easy to cross bread and make new salt water loving Algeys
And it's Not that hard in a high solar region (dessert) to make Salt water into Fresh water
Gravity pipe sea water to any well access point in a dessert then pump it up to surface level using wind or solar
The Salt water into Fresh water Array doest need to be that big all you need is 8x to 16x Vacuum Tube solar water heaters and your able to make water steam. and a chamber that allow this steam to be taken away form the warm salt water and condensed in another chamber to make pure water
You don't exactly need a (Rivers volume worth of water ) all you need is Just a garden hose pipe volume (Or fire hose) worth to fill / top-up your Algey system since its sealed loop it doesn't suffer with evaporation.
Salt water into Fresh water Array could also be used for growing Fish and they can be used to Both improve Algae production + hydroponic farms + fresh water for a small village
Science will solve all problems
its humans engineering with it that really fucks things up.