Bio-oil, How viable is it?

Anybody have any insight into how viable of a fuel this could be? I have zero knowledge of this field. ALICANTE, Spain (AFP) – In a forest of tubes eight metres high in eastern Spain scientists hope they have found the fuel of tomorrow: bio-oil produced with algae mixed with carbon dioxide from a factory. Almost 400 of the green tubes, filled with millions of microscopic algae, cover a plain near the city of Alicante, next to a cement works from which the C02 is captured and transported via a pipeline to the “blue petroleum” factory. The project, which is still experimental, has been developed over the past five years by Spanish and French researchers at the small Bio Fuel Systems (BFS) company. At a time when companies are redoubling their efforts to find alternative energy sources, the idea is to reproduce and speed up a process which has taken millions of years and which has led to the production of fossil fuels. “We are trying to simulate the conditions which existed millions of years ago, when the phytoplankton was transformed into oil,” said engineer Eloy Chapuli. “In this way, we obtain oil that is the same as oil today.” The microalgae reproduces at high speed in the tubes by photosynthesis and from the CO2 released from the cement factory. Every day some of this highly concentrated liquid is extracted and filtered to produce a biomass that is turned into bio-oil. The other great advantage of the system is that it is a depollutant – it absorbs the C02 which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. “It’s ecological oil,” said the founder and chairman of BFS, French engineer Bernard Stroiazzo-Mougin, who worked in oil fields in the Middle East before coming to Spain. “We need another five to 10 years before industrial production can start,” said Stroiazzo-Mougin, who hopes to be able to develop another such project on the Portuguese island of Madeira. “In a unit that covers 50 square kilometres, which is not something enormous, in barren regions of southern Spain, we could produce about 1.25 million barrels per day,” or almost as much as the daily export of oil from Iraq, he said. BFS, a private company, hopes to negotiate “with several countries to obtain subsidies for the installation of artificial oil fields,” he said. Other similar projects being studied in other parts of the world. In Germany, the Swedish energy group Vattenfall last year launched a pilot project in which algae is used to absorb carbon dioxide from a coal-fired power plant. US oil giant ExxonMobil plans to invest up to $600 million in research on oil produced from algae. Companies, in particular those in the aeronautic sector, have shown keen interest in this research, hoping to find a replacement for classic oil.

I think they should combine the bio oil industry with the liposuction industry. Given the growing obesity rate in many countries, this will have endless potential. Plus, instead of the foul-smelling gas emitted by today’s motor vehicles and fossil fuel power plants, we will get the pleasant aroma of human bacon.

From what I know about this, undergrad bio major and finance for grad school, the greatest determinant will be cost. Can they get this to be competitively priced against other sources such as electricity, solar, natural gas, and etc? Therefore, I think the greatest risk in this investment will be time to market and pricing. If it will take 10 years to reach production capacity; how proliferated will electric vehicles be by that time? How much will it cost to produce 1.25 million barrels? Is there a possible that a mass die off could occur in one of these fields?

A key advantage of oil and gasoline for transport is that you can take your energy source with you; unlike electricity, where you have to be connected to a source, or have heavy batteries. I think there is some future for this in terms of substituting some fossilized oil for this. As Zesty said, big issue is scalability and time to market, and how long it would take to make this price competitive with other energy sources. Remember that oil isn’t just about jet fuel and gasoline. Virtually all of our plastics come from it too. Imagine a world without plastic in it. Some parts of the image may be nice; but it won’t take long to find something plastic that you can’t live without. One thing that is good about this is that it is ecologically cyclic, so you are using essentially solar energy to create your power, but having biological agents do the processing for you. It may also be carbon neutral (to the extent that you don’t have to pump in fossil-fuel power to produce the stuff), because the algae sucks CO2 out of the air as it makes the oil and then re-releases it when it’s burned as fuel. In general, biological processes are more energy efficient than man-made processes, too, although it depends a bit on the genetics of the situation.