Looking like something out of a science-fiction movie, the concept for a proposed algae farm and vertical garden on the outside of an old Boston historical building is drawing some big attention.
The pods, which are prefabricated and designed to be interlocking, contain algae-incubators on the inside and plants on the outside. The architects for the project would use the old Filene’s Basement site in Boston’s Downtown Crossing as a temporary home for research and biofuel production. The city planners, meanwhile, would have plenty of time to work through the red tape of zoning, financial, and legal webs for any permanent ideas. From the article,
The pods, which are used as incubators for growing algae for biofuel, can be configured in several ways depending on the needs of a given site. Individual pods can also be rented out by researchers for algae-based projects, according to Howeler Yoon. The spaces that form between the attached pods allow for planting and creating a vertical garden.
What do you think? Would you want something like this in your city? I think it’s a pretty wild project that might give us a glimpse of permanent vertical gardens in buildings years from now. For others, however, such a radical shift in architecture might be less than pleasing. Still, better to take advantage of something just sitting there, right?
This is a link to my first publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I am honored to have worked with Charlie Hall (my advisor) and my colleague Dave Murphy on this paper, and thrilled to be published in a journal alongside David Pimentel.
Many thanks to the editors of the journal Energies.Â Â PDF available for free download.
Hall, Charles A.; Balogh, Stephen; Murphy, David J.. 2009. “What is the Minimum EROI that a Sustainable Society Must Have?” Energies 2, no. 1: 25-47.
Economic production and, more generally, most global societies, are overwhelmingly dependant upon depleting supplies of fossil fuels. There is considerable concern amongst resource scientists, if not most economists, as to whether market signals or cost benefit analysis based on todayâ€™s prices are sufficient to guide our decisions about our energy future. These suspicions and concerns were escalated during the oil price increase from 2005 â€“ 2008 and the subsequent but probably related market collapse of 2008. We believe that Energy Return On Investment (EROI) analysis provides a useful approach for examining disadvantages and advantages of different fuels and also offers the possibility to look into the future in ways that markets seem unable to do. The goal of this paper is to review the application of EROI theory to both natural and economic realms, and to assess preliminarily the minimum EROI that a society must attain from its energy exploitation to support continued economic activity and social function. In doing so we calculate herein a basic first attempt at the minimum EROI for current society and some of the consequences when that minimum is approached. The theory of the minimum EROI discussed here, which describes the somewhat obvious but nonetheless important idea that for any being or system to survive or grow it must gain substantially more energy than it uses in obtaining that energy, may be especially important. Thus any particular being or system must abide by a â€śLaw of Minimum EROIâ€ť, which we calculate for both oil and corn-based ethanol as about 3:1 at the mine-mouth/farm-gate. Since most biofuels have EROIâ€™s of less than 3:1 they must be subsidized by fossil fuels to be useful.
Continental Airlines will test a Boeing 737-800 fueled partially by biofuel on Janurary 7th. This test flight will be powered with a mix of traditional jet fuel and a biofuel made from algae and jatropha plants. This will be the first biofuel-powered demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner.
Not sure what jatropha is? Check out Michael’s post on jatropha here.
Australian farmers are embarking on a bit of an experiment to see whether or not they can self-sustain their production using diesel-producing trees. As some may know, I have a bit of a love-affair with plants that can produce — in one way or another — biodiesel. For those looking for an update to my “Adventures In Sustainability” series growing Jatropha — it’s coming soon. The plant is currently in hibernation. But I digress…
The diesel-producing trees are called Copaifera langsdorfii and are native to the Brazilian rainforest. The world has known of their unique properties since about the seventeenth century, but it’s only been recently that harvesting of the petrol is being planned on a grand scale. From the article,
The tree produces terpene hydrocarbons, which are the family of molecules that give us turpentine from pine resin. The particular hydrocarbons the Copaifera tree produces are so well suited to powering diesel engines that they can almost be put directly in the tank from the tree. Itâ€™s harvested in much the same way as a maple tree is tapped for producing syrup.
As with anything almost too good to be true, there is one catch. 100 trees will only produce about 25 barrels of diesel fuel annually. Additionally, that fuel will only last a couple months in terms of keep. That being said, Australian farmers aren’t interested in becoming the next OPEC. Instead, they hope the trees will provide a consistent and cheap fuel source for their machines; essentially making them independent producers and lessening the shock of oil prices on the bottom line. Not bad, right? The trees are expected to continue producing fuel for about 70 years.
The experiment is underway in North Queensland, Australia where farmers recently bought 20,000 of the Copaifera langsdorfii. In about 15 years, we should see how well the investment has paid off.
Treehugger via Popular Science
“When gasoline gets too expensive, we’ll just switch to ethanol.” – Clueless Consumer
From The Houston Chronicle,
A BB&T Capital Markets analyst said Monday corn rationing may be necessary this year, following a U.S. Department of Agriculture report predicting farmers would plant far fewer acres of corn in 2008.
Analyst Heather L. Jones said in a note to investors if the USDA estimate proves accurate, the year may produce just 200 million bushels of corn. That, she said, wouldn’t be enough to meet demand, given current export and feed demand trends and higher ethanol demand.
At least we haven’t seen corn riots in the US yet. Â But hey, don’t worry about your shortening your commute or switching to ride a bicycle. Â Â “They” will figure something out.Â <wink>
GreenFuel Technologies, a leading player in the algae-to-fuel industry, announced today that it has received $92 to build a bioreactor in Europe. The algae would be grown using the carbon dioxide emissions of power plants. From the article,
The algae is harvested and turned into different types of fuel–either biodiesel or biomass–that can be burned to make electricity. The company ran into trouble last year when it found that its process was too expensive because it generated too much algae and required too much manual intervention.
According to Wikipedia, Algae are high-cost/high-yield — $5-10/kg and 30 times more energy per acre than terrestrial crops. Using such methods to capture carbon emissions would be one way of dealing with power plant pollution — but in the end, relaxed environmental laws that govern how coal is extracted in the first place still undermine claims that this industry is “going green and clean.”
I’ve given readers a look into Coskata’s history and process, now I’ll take a little liberty and give my opinion on the partnership and the future of ethanol in transportation.
I have to admit, since the days of “Live Green, Go Yellow” – I’ve been perplexed a why GM would chase a blatantly unsustainable solution to our energy dependence problems – Corn ethanol. Despite what the public may feel about GM’s environmental record, I’ve met only extremely bright people working in GM’s environmental department. I’m sure that they have access to a calculator, and could do the math and figure out we’d need to cultivate nearly the entire land area of the US to grow enough corn to produce the ethanol needed to fuel our cars and trucks for a year (Pimentel 2001).
Turns out, they weren’t banking on endless fields of corn to produce the ethanol needed. Their strategy has been to look to ‘second-generation’ biofuels in the form of cellulosic ethanol. (I was told that the ‘live green go yellow’ ad campaign has since been retired).
A senior executive confirmed over lunch that a foreign auto company had approached Coskata prior to GM looking to invest in their technology. The story goes that that executive contacted GM, to see if they would be interested in investing and keeping the company domestic. GM and Coskata were able to work out a plan over the past 6 months for them to take a large (undisclosed) stake in the company, and the deal was announced in January at the Detroit International Auto Show.
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Cars are not friends of the environment, however many people can’t do without them. Having just moved to a place in the US with limited public transport, it has become apparent that some people just cannot do without. Thanks to high (well, higher than they’re used to) gasoline prices in the US, vehicle manufacturers have finally woken up to the fact that in order to sell more cars they’re going to have to produce ones that are cheaper to run and own. That usually means alternative fuel vehicles, but what are the options?
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GM has graciously invited Groovy Green to travel to Chicago to tour the new Coskata Biofuels plant. This biofuels plant does not use corn as a feed stock, but can use biomass and waste as feed stocks for ethanol production. GM recently announced the partnership with Coskata this year.
With an undisclosed equity stake in the company, GM is enabling Coskata to produce the next generation of biofuels – without using a food source – making ethanol economically viable and commercially available. Together, GM and Coskata will work to accelerate the commercialization and retail development of biomass-based ethanol to encourage more stations to sell E85, and make this alternative fuel a viable choice for drivers of flex-fuel vehicles.
Our work together is an important step towards enhancing U.S. energy security, while at the same time, tackling some of our most important environmental challenges in a meaningful way.
This process may potentially increase cradle to cradle efforts as car parts at their end of life could be broken down and turned in to fuel:
Using Coskata’s innovative ethanol conversion process, GM can provide non-recyclable plant waste, such as non-recyclable parts of vehicles that have reached the end of their lifespan, as a feedstock for ethanol, further reducing landfill use and contributing to GM’s effort to increase the number of its global production facilities that send zero waste to landfills.
I am curious to find out more about the EROEI of the plant and the waste to fuel process. I am pleased to see that GM is pursuing other ethanol feed stocks besides corn.
We are looking forward to bringing our readers more information. Check back in over the next few days for reports from Chicago.
UPDATE:Â forgot the mandatory disclaimer…Â GM has not only invited us, but will be paying our way for the trip.