back to article Shell in Hawaiian algae biofuel pilot

Oil giant Shell announced yesterday that it will build a pilot plant in Hawaii to make biofuel out of algae grown in seawater ponds. "Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint," said Graeme Sweeney, Shell veep for Future Fuels. "This demonstration …


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  1. dervheid
    Thumb Up

    Shell Shocked

    This almost seems to make (some) sense. We shouldn't be paying farmers to grow crops to "burn" when people are still starving. I'm sure there's probably some other 'scum' that we could squeeze some oil out of.

    By the way, I'm a Global Warming 'athiest'.

  2. cor

    Back to their roots...

    Interesting to see (sea) Shell returning to their beachcombing roots. I guess allowing the future fuel production to slip from your hands into that of crop farmers was too much for them to bear.

    Me, I'm all for it, having just completed over 160000 km (100k miles) on german-produced 100% biodiesel in my (unmodified) audi.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Suppose you dug a canal from the Pacific Ocean to Death Valley Utah (maybe with a pipe under the rockies), seeded the water with algae as it enters this run of water, poured your residential sewage treatment plant waste into it, and let it run inland (death valley is well below sea level).

    i.e. sea water plus nutrients from Californians plus sunshine from Nevada.

    Could you get it so that the algae would grow as it travelled through the desert and dried out as it got to death valley ready for harvesting. So you'd adjust the depth of the canal to speed up and slow down the algae's travel so it gets just the right amount of sunshine to grow as it travels, a few weirs to add the CO2 and slow and shallow enough to dry it out towards the end of it's run ready for harvesting. At the end you'd scrape the dried algae (and unfortunately salt) off the end of the canal for processing.

    Couldn't you make a sunshine driven production line out of bio algae?

    If you poured it onto the desert floor, could you sequester CO2 and sell the carbon offsetting rights to this process, if it couldn't be made into fuel? (Assuming the salt in the Salt lake prevents bacteria breaking down the algae so it stays where it's poured.)

    Any experts care to wade in?

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Lack of funding....

    ....this is Shell isn'ti it? Profits of gadzillions of £/year? How can it be short of funding.

    What the article should say

    "Due to a lack of kickbacks....."

  5. laird cummings


    California boy here:

    1) your plan is needlessly complex, and

    2) your plan would be shot to hell and gone by the rabid neo-luddite enviro-nazis that wander in vast herds across my home state.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    about time...

    i use 100% biodiesel and its great, so i am carbon-ish neutral and i am not Dependant on mineral oil AND the places they come from

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >government subsidy and research funding.

    Yeah, the only other organisation that could possibly provide similar funding levels would be an oil company!

    Interesting that someone suggests flooding Nevada with a combination of sewage, algae and seawater the same day Paris Hilton is spotted out there...

  8. michael
    Thumb Up

    @ sunshine

    Brillent let me call some venture captlists

    seriousley I think algy produced biofule is the way to go and making "carbon capture" algy plants is probley the best way to undo some of the co2 damage allreday done

  9. Alan Donaly


    Last I checked some of the most expensive land on the planet you think maybe they could find a cheaper location you might as well put it in Manhattan or Tokyo. Seeing as Algae will grow anywhere (there is water) it seems a little silly.

  10. Chris Morrison

    RE: about time...

    And just think, you get to be a smug git and say how environmentally friendly you are whilst people in South America are starving because they can't afford to buy corn because your burning it in your car.

    Biofuels from crops has to be the dumbest, most selfish, least thought out idea I have ever heard of. A few days in the slums of africa or South America and you would soon realise this too.

    PS: This algae idea sounds like a good one, but isn't algae bad for fish because it removes all the oxygen from the water?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seaborne biomass

    They've experimented with promoting algal blooms in mid-ocean by enriching the water with iron. To save using coastal lands (viable or not) couldn't there be some sort of factory ship, on the scale of an old supertanker maybe, that seeded a large area of (mostly barren) mid-ocean with relevant spores and trace nutrients, and then came back and skimmed off the product? Or have the thing steaming perpetually into the weather and a fleet of smaller collecting vessels following on behind, scooping up the thick top layer.

  12. Tim Blair

    Soilant green sir? shall i super size that?

    wonder what they'll use for nutreants?

  13. Anonymous Coward


    Trying to be polite, but what a godawful idea.

    First, Death Valley is in Nevada, not Utah. Also, the rockies are about five hundred miles eastwards from Death Valley.

    Crossing the Sierra Nevada mountain range, however, would be necessary. Likely, nuclear bombs would be needed to accomplish such a feat.

    While Death Valley is indeed below sea level, this is because it lies in an endoheric basin-- think of a pot hole in a roadway. One would still need to pump the water over the edges, substantially reducing efficiency, because those pumps are going to need some form of power as well.

    If you were to actually cut the canal at sea level from the ocean to Death Valley, it would flood the entire valley, causing widespread ecological disaster to the existing flora and fauna, not to mention submerging the city of Las Vegas.

    Finally, the actual undertaking of such a project would, without a doubt, be the largest civic works project in the history of mankind. It would make the Three Gorges dam look minor; it would be longer than the Suez, Panama, and Erie canals combined; it would require ten times the amount of men and equipment than were used in the construction of the American interstate highway system, the trans-Siberian railway, or the English Channel tunnel.

  14. Morely Dotes

    Aha! So there *is* an upside!

    "If you were to actually cut the canal at sea level from the ocean to Death Valley, it would flood the entire valley, causing widespread ecological disaster to the existing flora and fauna, not to mention submerging the city of Las Vegas."

    Finally some urban cleanup!

    Sadly, there are also a few rivers in the way. Such a project would destroy them, and all of the ecology downstream that depends on fresh water from them.

    Of course, the Red Sea is already salty, as is the Great Salt Lake in Utah, but in both cases, the biofuel production would be at the mercy of the local religious extremists...

  15. Michael

    @ @Sunshine

    You're both a bit off. Yes, Death Valley is partially in Nevada, but over 90% of it lies in California.

    It's no so much past the Sierra Nevada range, and more as the national park service notes, between the less known Amargosa and Panamint ranges.

    If you doubt the feasibility of such an engineering project, take a look at how Los Angeles gets its water supply.

    Las Vegas is a good 70 miles away from Death Valley...

    Finally, regarding your sensationalist comments about how big such a project would, and how long the canal would be...

    1.) The longest Canal in the world is the Grand Canal in China. The canal was completed in AD 609 and is over 1,000 miles long. As the crow flies, Death Valley is somewhere around 200 miles from the ocean.

    2.) The US interstate system, the trans-siberian railway and the channel tunnel all required different amounts of men and machinery to complete, so it's curious that one project could simultaneously require 10 times the amount of each of them. if A > B > C, then 10 * C < 10 * A.

    3.) As of 2004, the US Interstate system is 46,837 miles long.

    Honestly, I'm not saying it's a great idea or even a viable one, but YOU ARE saying that it's NOT viable, on the basis of absurd claims that are not based on anything remotely resembling fact (read a map?), on sheer supposition, and on nothing short of complete sensationalst BS.

    If you're going to tell someone their idea is crap, at least put the time in to make sure you're don't look like a complete idiot yourself.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    mmm, decaying sewage and rotting stuff on beaches...

    they'd go from "Shell" to "Smell"

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Dried American Seaweed

    1) American geography means nothing to us non Yankees so please don't quote stuff like "First, Death Valley is in Nevada, not Utah. Also, the rockies are about five hundred miles eastwards from Death Valley." at us because it means shite all. Just say that there appears to be a mountain range in the way.

    2) An engineering feat of this sort is SOOOOOOOO COOOOOL.

  18. Rick Damiani
    Thumb Up

    It's about time

    someone looked at a biofuel idea that might actually scale up big enough to be a solution. Using food crops for fuel is dangerously short-sighted, because it will never actually work and it keeps people from looking at things that might.


    The test is being conducted in Hawaii becasue the alge they want to use is native to the islands. If it works out, they will undoubtedly try to figure out how to safely re-locate the alge or do further testing with other strains. While it's still in the testing phase, though, it would be a really bad idea to take that alge and try to establish it elsewhere. Search for 'kudzu' or 'zebra mussel' for some ideas on why that might be. Besides, parts of Hawaii are not as expensive as you might think. Lots of Hawaii (especially the big island) is still quite rural and undeveloped.

    @biodiesel coward:

    Biodiesel only works becasue very few people are interested in running it.

  19. Brian
    Thumb Down

    Soooooooo....Let me get this straight......

    The green scum is being courted, developed, and sold by the yellow scum?

    As far as the crack about Neo-Luddite-ism, I am rather happy about being bronze-aged in my regard for the bleeding-edge technologies. Mostly, this stems from the fact that pure science is almost never is simply science for profit....same as its been for quite some time. The newtech we end up with is what is marketed to us. Then we get to buy the upgrades to fix the unforseen problems from V that point we end up as a society being railed into one paradigm (think Microsoft, among others). I refuse and I resist...let the suckers pay the bill over and over again.

    As far as the references to eco-nazis, I believe that there do need to be movements to counter the effects of those who could not care less. Take away the need for safeguards, and the safeguards will not be enacted. Being an "atheist" about it is just as myopic as those who are hyper-glassy-eyed about the ecological movement without realizing the negatives.. If you believe so whole-heartedly one way or the other, then your rational process is governed by a preconception akin to religious fervor.....a proposal will be ignored if it conflicts with your belief and adopted completely if it jives. At no point is the validity tested, just off-handedly dismissed or completely accepted unchallenged. Narrowmindedness like that has hamstrung humanity far more than can be comfortably calculated.

    Lastly, I believe that instead of the term "free society" , the more apt term is "free-er society". If there is central planning involved, it ain't totally matter if it is politically planned, shaped by prevailing religion...whatever. Only the level of personal restriction varies among societies. Oddly, the central planners are historically the only ones who will have the best chance at experiencing this "free society" I keep hearing about.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    What happens...

    when we start using these algal blooms to produce fuel. Algal blooms produce oxygen at an astonishing rate, and enough to fuel the planet would produce a lot more oxygen that we have not had for the last several million years. :) just a thought but wouldnt having too much oxygen in the atmosphere cause problems too.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >Las Vegas is a good 70 miles away from Death Valley... (and it's a bit hilly)

    But perhaps with pumps we could still flood it with green goo, shit and sea water though? It must be possible!

    On a more serious note there is a plan for a giant evaporative power plant in the Qattara (s?) depression in western Egypt, using pipes from the med to drive turbines. As the water evaporates so the flow can continue and the turbines can keep spinning. Also has the fringe benefit of desalinating the med, which is already getting too salty for life.

    Given that such a plan only requires pipes rather than a canal perhaps such a thing is possible, for the doubting yanks, it may be of interest that over in yurp we do have a functional triple bore tunnel that goes 31 miles.

    Also, from Bloomberg:-

    "April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Russia plans to build the world's longest tunnel, a

    transport and pipeline link under the Bering Strait to Alaska


    A 6,000-kilometer (3,700-mile) transport corridor from Siberia into the U.S. will

    feed into the tunnel, which at 64 miles long(...)"

    I don't think they intend to use Nuclear Weapons.

  22. john mann
    Paris Hilton

    @What happens...

    The excess oxygen would be consumed when the fuel produced from the algae is burned.

    Or perhaps Paris Hilton will spontaeously combust.

  23. Jeremy
    Paris Hilton


    :) ahh but combustion creates CO2 so are we really getting a net gain?

    Though I hope the side effect that Paris hilton would combust(talk about a waste of oxygen heh)

  24. Colin Dines

    re: about time

    Biofuel as it stands is not even REMOTELY carbon neutral. I'll repeat that - it's not even CLOSE.

    To make it you need to convert huge areas of land into growing crops. This means that first of all you release the carbon in the forests, then you release the carbon on the forest floor, in leaf litter and in the soil, and it just gets worse from there.

    In Indonesia they are draining peat swamps and cutting down the forests to grow palm oil. If this is not the MOST environmentally indefensible action there is then it must be pretty close.

    Draining the swamps is estimated to release 30 times as much CO2 as will be saved by not using fossil fuels. Currently this activity is equal to about 8 PERCENT of the entire world's CO2 output from fossil fuels.

    Yeah, real bright idea that. The only reason they are doing it is so smug people like you from rich countries can feel good about yourselves while as usual the other side of the world suffers the consequences. The difference here is that climate change is going to screw us all so you're not even being selfish, just stupid.

    So, Anonymous, continue patting yourself on the back with a great big goofy contented smile on your face - whatever you do don't bother doing any research or thinking for yourself, just let the car and oil companies tell you how environmentally friendly they are.

  25. Michael

    @ Anonymous Coward

    While I do not expect Brits to know US geography, I do expect them to not PRETEND to know US geography. Someone was trying to sound like they knew their shit and decided to throw a state name in

    If I knew something was in the UK (say, stonehenge), but didn't have a clue whether it was in England, Scotland, Wales, or N.I., I damn sure wouldn't say something like "You should build that next to stonehenge in Northern Ireland". Why? Because then I'd be a douchebag who while completely ignorant of the actual location, still pretends to have a clue.**

    I don't expect anyone, really, to know US geography (Sadly, I can't even expect my fellow Americans to get it right), but if someone DOESN'T know US geography, they probably shouldn't use their (lack of) knowledge to tell someone else that their idea is crap. Just in general, if one doesn't know what s/he's talking about, one should resist the urge to talk.

    As the phrase goes, better to let people think you're an idiot, than to speak and remove all doubt.

    **And yes, I know that stonehenge is NOT in Northern Ireland, and is in fact located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 8 miles north of Salisbury. Took a total of some 30 seconds to look that up. Nifty thing, this interweb...

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Algae Link

    There already is a company in the Netherlands developing and selling commercial solutions for producing algae for biodiesel not as relevant but still on the same topic of bio fuels there’s also a company in New Zealand 100% carbon neutral producing bio diesel from hemp

  27. Jim Lewis

    The correct action is more important than any action

    I have recently modified my position on global warming from outright supporter to generally pro-skeptic, this hasn't however changed my position on the issue of what the correct reposnse to the threat, (real or not), is.

    It certainly is not to try to replace petroleum fuel with biofuel from oil-palm which as already mentioned threatens to herald the greatest ecological, habitat and species destruction ever seen, in one of the world's most species rich and ecologically threatened regions.

    The argument against using food crops as there are people starving, however, is entirely bogus, where people are starving, it is nearly always due to political problems, (war, displacement, etc.), not a lack of food, even within the country in question, it just isn't being distributed properly.

    Whilst I don't have a ready answer to the source from which our energy should come, (certainly not nuclear, which isn't even low carbon producing when reactor construction, fuel mining and transport and decommisioning are properly factroed in), I do feel that no where near enough effort is being made to curb demand.

    And are we really relying on the oil companies, the very organisations that got us into this situation in the frst place, to come up with a solution?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not enough CO2

    Well, it's bloody freezing today. -5C when I left for work this morning. Fire up the V8's, I say. Get rid of the catalytic converters (didn't i once read somewhere that these things are more damaging to produce than what they convert in the long-term??) Lets get this place warmed up a bit.

    I thought the flood Las Vegas bit was a good idea. The amount of lights that place has, must have a carbon footprint comparable to the entire British Isles.

    I think the sooner we shift away from the idea of having to burn stuff to create energy, the sooner we will make some progress. But as it stands, it seems almost everyone are racing to find something to burn thats environmentally friendly. Logical.

    We're only about 100km or so above a sea of molten rock thats been there for millions of years. Me thinks thats quite hot. Hot enough to tap into & maybe boil a bit of water in a modified steam engine thats connected to a generator. Or is that just a ridiculous, expensive & brain-dead idea? More brain-dead than transporting millions of litres of oil from the middle-east? Then sending it to a refinery. Then all the other environmentally unfriendly processes that go with that before its distributed?

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