Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published July 27, 2010, 08:59 AM

Algae: Biomass of the future?

Move over, corn and canola. There’s a new player in the biomass game. “Algae is the hottest thing in biomass. No question about it,” says David Haberman, president of Delray Beach, Fla.-based IF L.L.C.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Move over, corn and canola. There’s a new player in the biomass game.

“Algae is the hottest thing in biomass. No question about it,” says David Haberman, president of Delray Beach, Fla.-based IF L.L.C.

Haberman, who’s involved in several algae, hydrogen and solar projects, was a speaker at the Biomass ’10 conference July 20 and 21 in Grand Forks, N.D. About 300 scientists, businesspeople and government officials from around the world attended.

Biomass is organic material made from plants and microorganisms. Biomass fuels, or bio-fuels, are derived from a wide range of materials.

In the Northern Plains, ethanol produced from corn and biodiesel made from the oil of crops such as canola are well known.

But algae has great biofuel potential across much of the world, says Haberman and other conference speakers.

Algae are photosynthetic organisms, which means they use sunlight and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce their own nutrients. Algae range from simple one-celled organisms to large kelp.

There are roughly 50,000 identified species of algae, and different species thrive in both sea and fresh water, says Tom Allnutt, senior vice president of research and development for Phycal L.L.C. in Highland Heights, Ohio.

His company is working on

an algae biofuel project in Hawaii. The site was selected

because it offers the warm, sunny weather in which algae fare best, he says.

Algae already is an established source of a wide range of products, including fish food, cosmetics and paints.

Extending the use of algae to biofuels makes sense, Allnutt says.

Although the start-up costs of an algae/biofuel project are high, enough algae can be produced to make the project feasible, he says.

Allnutt, a farmer’s son who’s based in Ohio, says algae has economic potential for farmers in the Northern Plains despite the region’s relatively low temperatures and algae’s fondness for warm, sunny weather.

Raising algae is essentially the same thing as raising crops, he says.

Anyone “with a big pond” is a potential algae grower, although “the lack of heat (in the Northern Plains) is a problem,” he says.

Allnutt says algae isn’t in competition with biomass sources such as corn and canola.

The use of algae for biofuels has a controversial component that will be familiar to most farmers on the Northern Plains.

Some algae/biofuel supporters, including Exxon Mobil, want to use genetically modified algae for biofuel.

Critics, including Haberman, say the risk from genetically modified algae is too great.

Others, including Allnutt, say the risk can be controlled.

Tags: