California-based Sapphire Energy has announced that it has created a process that nets ASTM certified 91-octane gasoline from little more than algae, sunlight and waste water.
While several other companies produce bio-fuel in a similar fashion, Sapphire’s process is a unique technique that produces a uniform product that can be used in gasoline engines without any modifications. Sapphire stresses that their fuel is not ethanol or biodiesel.
Yes, there’s also the distribution factor. How do you get it to your customers? E85 “Biodiesel” has very limited distribution due to not having very many refueling stations. Compare that to a much smaller country like Germany that has mandatory availability at all “petrol” stations.
It’s renewable though – oil will eventually run out. (Maybe not in your or my lifetime though)
One important question is, is there a correspondingly easy way to reabsorb all the released carbon? It isn’t really clear if the “virtually eliminates any emissions in the creation process” quote means that it acts as its own carbon offset, or if it just doesn’t produce any of the other byproducts of typical industrial processes.
AFAIK, the full process may or may not be carbon neutral (I don’t know) but the consumption process is.
Plants absorb atmospheric CO2 -> Made into this algaefuelstuffs -> Burnt in Cars and CO2 released into atmosphere -> Plants absorb atmospheric C02… etc.
As I understand it, the biggest problem with CO2 emissions from fossil fuels is that its effectively releasing CO2 that would normally be buried deep underground, so the overall atmospheric CO2 levels go up. With this solution and others like it, the worldwide CO2 levels should level off.
The statement “virtually eliminates any emissions in the creation process” leads me to believe that the process must not be that bad. And, if its currently using fossil fuels, they can always switch over to this new stuff (hopefully) and be mostly carbon neutral.
Of course, one caveat is that this will still be concentrating CO2 in population centers with lots of driving and moving it away from wherever the plantstuffs are being cultivated, but if the overall CO2 emissions aren’t increasing, then it should definitely be better for us in the long run.
Oh duh, I should have seen the loop in the process… The limiting factor here is the energy introduced by sunlight then. Pulling numbers from here, and assuming 100% efficiency, it would take about 4700 km^2 of farms to completely replace fossil fuel usage in the US. That’s not too bad, with plenty of wiggle room for error and inefficiency.
(Edit: Though technically the same thing applies to any biofuel, but algae would seem a lot easier to efficiently optimize.)
For a second, I thought E85 referred to the octane number, and I was shocked. Then I remembered Germany rates octane by the RON formula. I thought Germans were crazy, no car can run on 85 RON. Then I read “Biodiesel”, and realized I was silly.