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China to test fly algal fueled carbon neutral jets in 2013

There was a telling emphasis on water and food security issues when Airbus, EADS Innovation Works and the large China natural gas and biofuel company ENN signed an agreement concerning the production and testing of algal aviation fuel at the Zhuhai Air Show this week.

The headline interest in the story was the intention to fly an airliner in China in 2013 using fuel refined from oil harvested from microalgae.

But China’s population density, the pressures on its arable land and water supplies, and the enormous demand that rising prosperity is placing on its need for energy from all sources were apparent in the country’s media reporting of the event, competing for space as it had to with the political power transition then underway in Beijing.

Dr Zhongxue Gan, the chief technical officer of the ENN Group, said in a statement that, “Applying algae biotechnology to produce clean energy using industrial waste, including CO2 and wastewater, is part of our carbon recycle program.

“Certain species of algae contain high amounts of oil. This oil can be extracted, processed and refined. Microalgae reproduce rapidly and create at least 30 times more organic substance per cultivation area than, for example, rapeseed. Their cultivation does not compete with food production. Algae can be grown on poor quality land using non potable or saltwater. Their main advantage is that microalgae are consuming large amounts of CO2.”

ENN’s part in the project will be based on a high tech but micro scale microalgae production and refining plant with an output at present of only 10 tonnes of fuel a year.

Once it demonstrates that it is turning this tank grown oil this into an alternative fuel to aviation grade kerosene, production will be scaled up with a view to lowering its price to levels where it will inhibit price rises in conventional refined kerosene and become a blend that will in effect, lower the amount of fossil sourced carbon emitted by jet engines, and eventually, to zero.

The quest for such an outcome is world wide. EADS and Airbus, and Boeing, and various energy company funded projects similar to the ENN involvement, are all pursuing algal breeds of liquid fuels, and not just for airliners, but land vehicles, ships, power plants, manufacturing processes, and the massive requirements for domestic heating fuel in the northern world.

They seek a carbon neutral outcome, in that the processes recycle the carbon used by the algae through the natural carbon cycles, instead of adding to the growing carbon overburden in the atmosphere and oceans through the burning of fossil-carbon releasing fuels.


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    Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Only problem is the ‘micro’ part of microalgae — it’s still difficult to grow the stuff then harvest the stuff on a large scale, net of GM methods that could grow them to the size of a grape and thin down the cell walls to make harvesting easier.

    Test oilgae plants placed near coal-fired power stations to attempt to clean up the coal and bubble CO2 through pipes of algae just tend to get clogged up with the stuff.

    Further, you have to destroy the crop to harvest the long chain hydrocarbons they produce by crushing. The relative toughness of the cell walls are a problem.

    However, microalgae are hardy and grow on brackish water unusable for crops, and therefore don’t have to compete for water supplies.

    There is also a blue-green algae sp. (not a true algae but a cyanobacterium) that *exudes* diesel like hydrocarbons which can be skimmed from the water’s surface, and therefore does not have to be destroyed.

    It’s been estimated oilgae under cultivation in an area the size of Belgium could supply the world’s oil needs.