just two words
(I'll be back, geddit?)
With pee-powered cars a very real possibility, it shouldn't come as a shock that we may soon be driving vehicles that run on green slime. Well, algae, to be more precise. The Algaeus is a modified plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius that, instead of unleaded, uses an algal biofuel developed by Sapphire Energy. Sapphire grows the …
What is this thing you call C02 exactly? A "second C" of some kind? Or is it some discreet attempt at l33t-speak?
Anyway, that's good news for the planet: the prius is now half green... I mean, seriously, where do you think the 'leccy comes from? When you add up the coal plant emissions (times the loss in leccy transport, the poor efficiency of the motor under load etc) and the pollution caused by the huge batteries (both manufacturing and disposal), the 'leccy part of the thing was hardly as "green" as marketted to begin with...
If you can grow it in coasts and other shallow salt waters and it's high-grade flammable, isn't this an excellent means to generate fuel for existing oil power plants? Carbon neutral, solar generation, minimal capital cost, technologically suitable for any county, no land use, storable..
People on the coast might complain about the smell though.
"eats up CO2 emitted by other industrial processes"
well, it more holds onto it for a while...
And to those who listen to Jeremy Clarkson for their information, yes, the power has to come from somewhere in the case of plug in hybrids. Though you know what, that could be coal powered power stations, or hopefully something a lot less poluting, neuclear for example. Also -- and this maynot be exactly 'eco' -- Id rather the cars around me to be quiet and non-poluting. What exactly is wrong with shifting the polution out of town?
"When you add up the coal plant emissions (times the loss in leccy transport, the poor efficiency of the motor under load etc) and the pollution caused by the huge batteries (both manufacturing and disposal), the 'leccy part of the thing was hardly as "green" as marketted [sic] to begin with..."
This is a mixing and matching of toxins / pollutants.
The coal plant emissions do contribute to global warming, but I should like to see some rigorous numbers regarding losses in electricity transmission, battery charging, and motor operation before deciding if the power plants aren't a net benefit over burning the fuel directly in the internal combustion engine bolted to the wheels. Also, not all power plants are coal; there are others and there will continue to be others - as e.g. windmills (yes, yes, destroying the planet one bird at a time) come online the electricity goes straight into the same batteries without any difficult work for the consumer, marketers, etc..
Coal plants also have the benefit of (in my country, anyway) polluting somewhere further than 15 feet in front of my face. Usually a lot further. And since they're not toting themselves around corners and up hills and parking in shopping malls, they have the option of having better pollution scrubbing attached to them.
Similar with battery manufacture and disposal. It may not presently be fair to developing nations, but for me personally having a battery made then disposed of is fairly cleaner on the air I breathe and the water I drink than the ICE alternative. And as in the coal plant output scrubber above, there's the option of paying more (i.e. internalizing the externalities) for manufacture and disposal so battery lifecycle is safer for everyone. (This option is again because the mines and recycling or destruction facilities are in general not stopping every block at a red light then accelerating to try and beat the next one in order to carry someone to the office.)
Paris, because her stop-and-go is perfectly safe for the environment.
Well, apparently Clarkson knows something, while you're an idealist. Do the math, the vast majority of your power it is NOT from nuclear, because your predecessors 20-30 years ago stopped humans from doing the sensible thing.
And it's a lovely attitude to demand the smell to get out of town. Green people annoy the hell out of me. Especially when they're idiots, too.
In a word - Yes.
Long answer: I'm almost certain that the algae doesn't produce large amounts of arsenic and sulfur dioxide as by-products of the manufacture. Also, biological solar generation (photosynthesis) has efficiencies that we cannot come near with the current state of engineering.
In all, I approve! It's a renewable resource that is in itself carbon neutral (tho that phrase is a load of bullocks) This is what ethanol wanted to be, but failed.
"I should like to see some rigorous numbers regarding losses in electricity transmission, battery charging, and motor operation before deciding if the power plants aren't a net benefit over burning the fuel directly in the internal combustion engine bolted to the wheels."
Well if memory serves the efficiency of a good ICE is 20%-ish while a fossil fuel plant has an efficiency roughly double that (40%). The loss due to power grid distribution is between 5% and 10% in the US (the last average figure I saw was 7 point something but it was out of WP so caution advised). I have no data about the loss of power in the battery itself, but at least we can safely assume that it does exist. And electric motors are bad at dealing with load (that's due to how they operate) so they are quite efficient when operating fans for example, but not so when getting 2 tons of steel from 0 to 100 km/h. In any case I seem to remember that you can expect a max efficiency of 80-85% on a very good day and under low charge.
So you have 20% efficiency for the ICE, and 40x93x85/10000=31.62% efficiency for the leccy engine. And that's taking the very best numbers and not taking into account the loss due to the battery because I don't have the numbers there. So it might be a tiny bit more efficient than ICE, but really not by much. And then the battery manufacturing and disposal kicks in, with all the heavy metals and carbon-intensive manufacturing... so as I said, all this 'leccy car thing has been a bit overhyped as far as "saving the planet" goes. Not that it couldn't be improved (non-fossil-fuel sources of 'leccy, and better, less toxic batteries spring to mind). But right now, with the tech available, we would probably be better off with rocket-powered vehicles (the power efficiency of those is 70%-ish). One can dream...
"So, is getting algae to produce hydrocarbons more efficient than just covering the same space in solar panels?"
I would bet so. Unless I missed some very recent development, photovoltaic panels are not terribly efficient, and yet very expensive (and not particularly rugged either). I was told that the best solar panels are the ones that heat water, but powering cars with lukewarm water is not going to be particularly easy -not impossible, just not easy. This algae thing looks quite inexpensive and low-maintenance. So if it's cheap and carbon-neutral, why would you possibly want to use expensive, frail and inefficient solar panels instead?
"""The firm is also working on a new demonstration facility capable of producing 2m gallons of auto fuel and 1m gallons of jet fuel each year."""
I don't know why all the bio-fuel plants feel the need to publicize their capacity in gallons, when every other liquid petroleum facility measures their capacity in barrels. I suppose it's because they get numbers that are a factor of 42 more impressive. Chevron's El Segundo Refinery can process 279,000 barrels per day, which is 11.7m gallons. Per day.
Oil power plants are so rare that you might as well not worry about finding alternate fuel sources for them. Oil is far more expensive than coal, and if someone is looking to make a cleaner-burning power plant, they normally go with natural gas.
Actually those modern, small diesel engines that are showing up lately have efficiencies in the mid 30% range, and 40% is the top end efficiency for a new coal or single-stage natural gas plant. Most power plants are not new, and would be uneconomical to upgrade, which means that the average fossil fuel power plant (In the states) is normally quoted in the 30-35% range.
The electric motors used in a hybrid, on the other hand, can convert electrical to mechanical energy and back at nearly 100% efficiency, while battery energy losses tend to vary. When batteries charge or discharge rapidly, their internal resistance causes them to waste energy as heat. Everyone tends to keep their battery technology details secret or vague, but as best as I've been able to figure, modern batteries probably only contribute a loss on the order of 5%.
It sounds like they want to grow this stuff in the desert - I wonder how much it costs to supply all the water they'll need out there. Presumably the pools are covered with greenhouse glass, which presumably also needs to be cleaned as the desert sand/dust/wind take their toll.
Attention hugely annoying rant follows
From my previous "numbers" post you could assume that a 'leccy car can (in the best theoretical case) be 50% more efficient than a gas-powered one (20% vs 30% conversion efficiency). However, the Prius does have huge batteries+a gas tank+2 engines instead of one, which makes it 50% heavier than an equivalent gas-powered car. Guess what it does to you power consumption in the traffic...
Also, just to give some perspective, an ICE diesel engine does have a conversion efficiency higher than 50%. When you take the weight factor into account, it's twice the efficiency of the Prius. Whithout that nasty huge battery.
Also, even with a gas-powered car you can significantly decrease pollution by just switching the air conditionner off (I would hazard a 10% estimation, though I must admit that I just pulled this figure out of my hat). Oh, and if you want to reduce your, erm "carbon footprint", why don't you buy a smaller car? Fiat makes this nice lil' Seiciento -wich is incidentally an awful lot of fun to drive. Or a nice small turbodiesel 5-seater with no AC to avoid the temptation. Of course you'd have to find gasoil, but it's still much more convenient than overnight charging over the mains (even in the US).
Of course, all that is assuming that car-produced CO2 is a problem to begin with, which I do not really believe to begin with (even assuming that man-made CO2 is a problem, in the US 'leccy production accounts for 40% of total man-made CO2, and various industrial processes make for the bulk of the rest). But then, better safe than sorry, limitting energy waste and pollution is bound to be a good thing in the end. Only the Prius (or any hybrid car) is really not the solution.
Now I should mention that you can feed any modern diesel engine (with its 50%+ conversion efficiency) on 1/3 colza oil (crude, just filtered. The supermarket grade will do). Some car-grade diesel engines, and all industrial-grade diesel engines (tractors, lorries, harvesters, you name it. The injection pump is the key) can run on 50% colza oil. You will lose in the acceleration department, but win a lot in the torque department (in plain English, it means "you wont race a mustang on the next traffic light, but you won't stall ever again, even with the handbrake on"). Bonus: your exhaust fumes will smell like french fries. Really. (OK, maybe that's a malus finally). And with minor modifications, you can run those on 100% colza oil (minor modifications being mostly a pre-heating system: viscosity and flashpoint are the enemies here). Of course it's illegal to drive such a modified car on a public road in most countries, and thanks to the oil lobby it will remains that way for the foreseable future.
But in any case, the Prius with its max theoretical conversion efficiency of 30%, its huge toxic super-heavy battery (and most obnoxiously, its dumb smug driver) is *not* *going* *to* *save* *mother* *earth*. Get that?
It is perfectly safe to check the level of colza oil in your tank with an open flame - or to smoke, use a mobe, play with matches, juggle torches, etc at the colza-oil station. That should settle it. Think of the saved lives! Hollywood might lose the opportunity for some nice special effects though. Well, it's not like they were ever stopped by realism, is it?
"those modern, small diesel engines that are showing up lately have efficiencies in the mid 30% range"
My oh my, that must have been modern in the, like, forties or sumfin. Like, before they even *invented* the diesel engine...
"The electric motors used in a hybrid, on the other hand, can convert electrical to mechanical energy and back at nearly 100% efficiency"
You tell me. The max efficiency for a brushless electrical motor is in the 80-85 % range. in the no-load to low-load region that can be raised by a few % with the addition of brushes, but it falls down hopelessely as soon as you increase the load. sorry to burst you "100% efficiency" unicorn buble.
"It sounds like they want to grow this stuff in the desert "
Having some experience in microbiology, it sounds like they could grow the thinfg pretty well anywhere (including deserts if they wished to move sea water over there). I don't give a feck anyway. I't's stll better than people who think that rotary electrical motors operate at "nearly 100% efficiency". (Just so that you know, the max with a brushless DC motor -as used in the 'leccy cars- would be around 80-85 % max, at low load. I fells significantly under that as the load increases. That's nowhere near "100%". Unless you have access to sparkling new alien tech from outher space.)
"the average fossil fuel power plant (In the states) is normally quoted in the 30-35% range." well that makes the max theoretical poxer efficiency of a 'leccy car down from 31 to 27%. Whithout the battery losses. Looks like buying a Prius actuall *kills* mother Earth, after all...
The huge energy saving from an electric car comes from regenerative braking.
In an open road, where you almost don't have to brake, there isn't nay gain, but while driving in a city, you will get a big gain when braking for all those semaphore lights.
In an ICE, the kinetic energy will be just dissipated as heat.
In an ICE, the engine will consume power while at the red light.
Also there is a far better way to storing power : flywheel. Just isn't as cool and adaptable as batteries. You have to design the car around the flywheel, and not the other way. There are other difficulties with a flywheel, but are all solvable with the current technology and some cunning.
The only problem is that you need a 1'8m wide, 500kg flywheel at 15.000 rpm to store a fuel tank of energy. I made the numbers.
algal fuel generation is another pointless distraction. we can't possibly grow enough of the stuff to be a significant contribution.
"In a sunny spot in America, in ponds fed with concentrated CO2 (concentrated to 10%), Ron Putt of Auburn University says that algae can grow at 30 g per square metre per day, producing 0.01 litres of biodiesel per square metre per day. This corresponds to a power per unit pond area of 4 W/m2 – similar to the Bavaria photovoltaic farm. If you wanted to drive a typical car (doing 12 km per litre) a distance of 50 km per day, then you’d need 420 square metres of algae-ponds just to power your car; for comparison, the area of the UK per person is 4000 square metres, of which 69 m2 is water (figure 6.8). Please don’t forget that it’s essential to feed these ponds with concentrated carbon dioxide. [...] And without the concentrated CO2, the productivity of algae drops 100-fold."
can you really see us covering over 10% of the countryside with slime? ridiculous.
Coal: The vast majority of Prius cars are not of the plug-in variety and all their electricity ultimately comes from whatever is in the fuel tank. Coal has sweet FA to do with it.
"However, the Prius does have huge batteries+a gas tank+2 engines instead of one, which makes it 50% heavier than an equivalent gas-powered car. Guess what it does to you power consumption in the traffic..."
Actually, the Prius has one petrol engine and two electric motors/generators - but one of these replaces the starter and alternator.
The Prius is a compact car (in US parlance) and weighs in at around 1300KG, slightly more than the 1.6 Toyota Auris but less than the 2.0 model. The battery pack weighs 53Kg.
Consumption in traffic is where the Prius scores highest, mainly because it can keep the petrol engine off for most of the time.
It has to be a good idea to investigate alternative fuels like algae, if only to have alternatives when the oil runs out.
'"So, is getting algae to produce hydrocarbons more efficient than just covering the same space in solar panels?"
I would bet so.'
you would bet wrong. domestic solar thermal heating - in Europe - delivers around 50 W/m^2. PV is between 2 and 5 W/m^2 (the former for cheap amorphous silicon panels - the latter for expensive panels or large-scale industrial facilities). Algal biofuel, as noted above delivers between 0.05 and 5 W/m^2 - the best alternative biofuel is sugar cane at 1.2 W/m^2 (but can't be grown in most countries) and the USA's darling corn weighs in at a whopping 0.02 W/m^2
I'm all for renewables/energy saving and all that jazz but has anyone carried out an impact assessment on dumping a load of algae in the costal seas?
I hate to be a doomsayer but until we can get a hold on fusion were a bit stiched up, so we need to strike the right balance between investing in new available fuel sources to slow the de-stabilisation of our planets ecosystem, whilst proportionately investing in end-stage clean fuel tech (whether that be safe efficient disposal of fission-unlikely, or god-like sun wielding glory)
...at which point we can go and spread our power hungry tentacles across the galaxy
"I mean, seriously, where do you think the 'leccy comes from?"
I think it is recovered from the wheels when braking, from the engine when there is spare power.
I certainly don't think it comes from the National Grid as your post seems to suggest and I ought to know - I own one.
It's not necessary to store the equivilant of a full tank of gas, just the kinetic energy from the last stop.
This is already being proposed for electrical storage.
So easy to grow, plenty of room. I read that fossel oil is mostly from algae, not Dino the dinosaur.
A yield per acre would be helpful. If grown in glass tubes, water losses would be limited to the water broken down to derive hydrogen.
Other oil crops:
The top seems to be palm trees (600+ pounds per acre) but requiring complex harvesting. Palm trees can be grown with salt water, and since palm oil is really unhealthy to eat, not too much competition with food chain. Palms are a perennial, and require non-productive years between planting and production. The leading annnual oil crop is cannabis (400+ pounds per acre.) This could be improved by breeding. Anybody that had an overlooked pot seed explode can attest to the energy content. An added benfit is that the hemp fiber provides economic value to the farmer and displaces petrolium based plastic rope and fabrics. A side benefit... smoking the leftover flowers would make people sit on the couch and watch TV, leading to an overall reduction in driving.
Turning off Air Conditioner:
In the city this pays off, in highway driving, the aerodynamic losses of open windows are more consumptive than running the AC. That said, I personally turn off the AC during hill climbing, and let gravity cool the car on the down side.
In every attempt to fix one problem, we need to consider unexpected side effects. Burning corn as ethanol, for example, led to food riots in Mexico and drove the price of a dozen eggs from $.50-$1 to $1.50-$2. The end of life on earth will probably be something as unexpected as all the mercury from those curly lightbulbs, or some bioengineered algae that escapes into the ocean and kills krill.
All those highly detailed posts talking about the numbers involved with energy usage of a Prius forget one significant factor. Electricity is distributed via a power grid, with minimal loss of energy. Petrol is distributed via a massive fleet of trucks and service stations.
I don't know about the UK or USA, but in Australia we have one refinery per major city, so fuel has to be transported up to 30km before it gets anywhere near your Prius's fuel tank. A fuel tanker will move about 30,000 litres of petrol (weighing just over 22t) in a rig weighing about 40t, and at 60l/100km consumption (that's conservative) and 50g/t-km CO2 emissions (also conservative) that means each litre of fuel you use has already caused 60kg of CO2 emissions. Add to that the running of the refinery and you have an apples vs apples comparison with measuring the emissions of an electric vehicle.
Paris because... hey does there have to be a reason?
"pounds per acre"? what an unfriendly unit. I assume this is something like a pound weight of oil-substitute per acre per year, right? a pound-weight of petrol is roughly 0.6 liters. So, roughly, your acre of palm oil will produce ~360 liters or petrol a year, or ~900 litres per hectare. (for comparison above, that's ~0.1 W/m^2)
the UK uses ~50 billion litres or fuel a year, requiring ~50 million hectares, or twice the area of the UK.
biofuels do not add up. we will never produce then in sufficient quantities to do anything other than make food more expensive.
"you would bet wrong. domestic solar thermal heating - in Europe - delivers around 50 W/m^2. PV is between 2 and 5 W/m^2 (the former for cheap amorphous silicon panels - the latter for expensive panels or large-scale industrial facilities). Algal biofuel, as noted above delivers between 0.05 and 5 W/m^2"
OK. Let's ignore the "domestic solar thermal heating" figure as it works by heating water, which is very efficient for -surprisingly- domestic heating but not so much for 'leccy production (getting electricity from lukewarm fluids is not unheard of, but not terribly efficient). PV pannels might be able to get up to 5 W/m2 in a sunny day, but I hear they are next to useless when the light dims. Actually I read somewhere that any large photovoltaic panel array would actually *eat* "leccy during the darkest month of the year in most of the "developped" areas because of the energy requirements for the monitoring and distributing equipment. Incidentally, these month are the very ones when people are most likely to heat their houses and be reluctant about commuting by bike or foot. Unfortunately I can't seem to find the source of this info now. Hardly surprising given the interests at stake. In any case, a culture of algae will continue it's growth even with minimal illumination (photosynthesis is *very* good at making the best of even the dimmest light sources, especially in marine microorganisms. Just so that you know, the current worldwide limit on the efficiency of plant photosynthesis is not the light but the CO2 available. You read it right: Photosynthesis efficiency would dramatically *benefit* from an increase of CO2 in the atmospere and in the superficial ocean waters). So as long as we're speaking of solar panels in "intertropical" deserts, PV panels might be more efficient. As soon as you're talking temperate zones, photosynthesis beats the best human engineers, flat. The only problem -overstated, thanks to the oil lobby- of biofuels is the need for good land and fresh water. Getting juice from marine unicellular algae does seem like a good idea in this context, even though photosynthetic bacteria would be much more efficient. Especially as you could easily select/transform them to produce octane directly... it would make the final "fuel-making" step easier, but genetically engeneered bacteria might be less PC -and the cultures might need more attention, too.
"Coal: The vast majority of Prius cars are not of the plug-in variety and all their electricity ultimately comes from whatever is in the fuel tank. Coal has sweet FA to do with it."
Way to shoot the Prius in the foot, mate. The only positive point for 'leccy car (as long as the juice comes from fossil fuels) is the overall better efficiency of large plants over small gas engines. If the 'leccy in the Prius comes from the gas-powered engine (I take your word for it), it means that you burn fuel with a 20% efficiency to rotary movement, then turn this into 'leccy through a small generator (I let you put the number on this step, I'm no Prius expert), then store the juice in a battery (someone here mentionned a 5% loss for this step) then finally turn the 'leccy back into rotary movement with 85% efficiency. That's *bound* to be a huge waste of energy.
That said, I'm no PR genius. These guys know more than I do. About selling cars.
Also, you say that the Prius is *only* 1300 kg, that's considerably less than I thought, which is good. The Seiciento I mentionned is 750 kg, thought (for the heavier models) and still *very* fun to drive. That's bound to save a lot of energy. But it's a Fiat, so it's a damn death trap in a crash, right? Well, not so apparently*. Anyway, 'leccy tech might be trendy now, but you still have to take the consequeces into account. Where does the juice come from? Where does this battery come from? Where is it going? CO2 is transcient, heavy metals are there forever (or so). Hybrid cars, even if they originate from a nice "save the planet" mentality (which I strongly doubt), do combine the worst drawbacks of 'leccy- and gas-powered- cars. A modern turbocharged diesel car with an exhaust filter is much less damaging for "Muda Earth" than a Prius. And damn less expensive, too. Now when (if?) someone comes up whith a non-polluting way of producing and storing electricity, we can talk. Until then, 'leccy cars, and especially hybrid cars, will fail to impress me.
* One of my friends headbutted an italian bus -on the one-way bus line, while on the phone, whithout the safety belt-, in that lil' car. The fun lil' car died, but the 5 chicks who populated it at the time are fine. Everyone in the bus was fine, too. One driving license magically disappeared, though.... And, surprisingly enough, this friend of mine does have two X chromosomes. Italian chicks are kinda ballsy, I guess.
"Electricity is distributed via a power grid, with minimal loss of energy. Petrol is distributed via a massive fleet of trucks and service stations."
Only moderately so. Fuel distribution to the power plants has a cost, too, and the power grid accounts for 5 to 10% loss. Also, laying cables to the stations does cost some serious money, and accounts for more losses. Numbers fail me when I try to quantify the loss in gas transportation, but, unlike 'leccy, liquid fuel tend to be stable in storage and transportation. Of course it would be fair to take into account the gas trucks' consumption. Unfortunately, the players in that field don't really want to be pitted against each other, so the numbers are scarce. Any data, anyone?