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India Aims to Reduce Costs of Algal Oils by Factor of 25!

By Al Fin | Thu, 10 February 2011 13:57 | 0

India's Institute of Chemical Technology is aiming to reduce the cost of producing oils from algae from Rs 500 per litre to roughly Rs20 per litre. Using a combination of careful selection of algal species plus genetic engineering to produce higher oil production, ICT researchers believe they can bring the price of algal fuels down to earth.

In the US, there already exist technologies to generate algal biofuels but the cost of production is very high, around Rs500 a litre. India aims to bring down the cost to Rs20 per litre from micro-algae that can be grown on a super scale.

Stephen Mayfield, director, San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, University of California, said: “Countries with a well-trained technological force like India will have an enormous advantage, but only if investments along these lines are made now.”

ICT’s five-year project in collaboration with International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, will genetically modify the best-suited algal strains to increase productivity...Once the best strains of algae are indentified, they will undergo genetic modification to change their photosynthetic machinery for efficient carbon dioxide assimilation and growth, followed by cost effective technologiesc for harvesting and conversion to suitable biofuels.

“Marine algae have relatively poor growth rate and biomass yield that will lead to inefficient biofuel production,” said Syed Shams Yazdani, head, Synthetic Biology and Biofuel Group at ICGEB.

“Therefore, we are metabolically engineering the marine algae to improve its growth rate and fat content for biodiesel production,” he said. _CheckBiotech

Mexico and parts of Africa may soon be locations for new Agave plantations for biofuels:

Researchers have discovered that the Agave plant, used in making tequila, may be an excellent source of biofuels, with two agave species producing yields of biofuels that far surpassed the yields from biofuel feedstocks such as corn, wheat, soybean, and sorghum.

Reporting in a recent edition of the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy, scientists said that 14 studies confirmed the high biofuel potential of Agave.

The fuel can be harvested from the remains of the plant after it has been used to make tequila, or can be grown on abandoned Agave plantations in Mexico and Africa, the report said.

In either case, researchers say that large amounts of Agave biofuel could be grown without the need to produce the crop on lands that could be used to grow food - a major drawback of biofuels such as corn and soybeans. _CheckBiotech

Agave can grow on lands unsuited for other biofuels crops such as sugar cane, maize, wheat, soy, rape, etc.

What we are likely to see, once humans learn to produce biofuels economically, is a huge glut of biofuels and biofuel feedstocks and byproducts. Humans will need to find good, economical uses for all of these things, as prices for liquid fuels will tend to drop at that time.

Remember that while the bounty from human research into abundant liquid fuels is slowly hitting the markets and ramping up production, an accelerating movement from liquid and gas fuels over to nuclear energy (and perhaps enhanced geothermal) will also be taking place. For a period of about 30-50 years, new modular nuclear plants will be used to facilitate extraction and production of unconventional fossil fuels such as oil sands and oil shales (kerogens). But over the next 50 years, nuclear generated electricity will displace most of the energy uses of fossil fuels, except air transport and much of marine transport.

So, by the time algal fuels are slicing away market share from fossil fuels, humans will already be moving away from liquid fuels for most energy uses. All the research will not have been wasted, however, since there are multiple applications for everything the researchers are doing.

By. Al Fin

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