July 7, 2013 – Vol.18 No.17
COAL TO ALGAE TO FUEL (OR BIOPLASTIC).
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Capturing CO2 from coal-fired power plants to grow algae to make
biofuels, or better, bioplastics: ready today.
Both a rock and a fuel.
Way back, long, long before man stretched his legs on the planet and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were much higher than today (and the planet much warmer too), it's generally believed that decaying organic material, from then prolific plant life, settled and became sediments in the ponds, lakes, rivers and oceans of the world. Over more millions of years, under the pressure and heat of the ever-changing crust of the Earth, those carbon-rich sediments were squeezed solid and baked dry to become what is known today as coal.
Today we're reversing that eons-long process. We're burning coal at break-neck speed and in that chemical process known as combustion, we're putting that ancient atmospheric carbon, that was locked up safely in coal rocks, back into the air in the form of black carbon and carbon dioxide.
This is not a good thing. We need to fix that.
What if we were to reverse the coal combustion process once again and do what Mother Nature took millions of years to do? We could take carbon dioxide from the air, or from the exhaust of power plants, and turn it into salable fuel, or better, durable bioplastics?
Well, there's no need to wait for this revolution. It's already set to happen. In Australia.
In a first-on-the-planet project Algae.Tec has signed a deal with Australia's largest power company to site an algae carbon capture and biofuels production facility alongside a 2640MW coal-fired power station near Sydney.
Macquarie Generation, one of the largest power companies in the world and owned by the New South Wales Government, has signed an agreement to site the Algae.Tec facility next to the Bayswater coal-fired power station in the Hunter Valley NSW, and feed waste carbon dioxide into the enclosed algae growth system. The resulting algal oil will be converted to biodiesel and hydrogenated to grade A jet fuel.
Sold in the fuels marketplace and new source of revenue, the algae-derived biofuels will help offset Australia's carbon tax and the cost of building the algae-to-fuel operation.
In terms of cutting carbon emissions, the carbon locked away in the coal would become the carbon in the algae, then the carbon in the biofuel to be burned, which would be subsequently released into the air. However, the algae fuel would displace fuel from another source, petroleum, thus eliminating carbon from its burning.
But, there may be an even better carbon reduction scheme: lock up the smokestack carbon dioxide, more or less permanently, in durable bioplastics from the algae.
No waiting here either. This is possible today.
One company that already offers algae-based bioplastics is Cereplast of Seymour, Indiana. In that company's product line is Biopropylene A150D that is 51 percent algae-based. The company says 100 percent algae plastic should be available within 3 years.
Cereplast is so bullish on algae-based bioplastics that it has set up a new subsidiary: Algaeplast.
Durable bioplastics (those that DON'T decay and last for decades) store carbon for as long as the bioplastic-made product is in use, recycled, or stored in a landfill. Bioplastics can also be burned for fuel alongside coal adding a new dimension to recycling, particularly when algae could be used once again to capture the exhaust CO2 from the power plant and be a source of plastic once again.
Imagine a world where all coal-fired power plants also made algae-derived fuels and bioplastics. The carbon pollution problem from coal would be virtually eliminated.
Learn more about bioplastics for carbon capture at Biobuilt - Plants to Plastic
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