June 30, 2008

Converting Smoke into Energy using Algae

Solena Group - an innovative international company whose mission is "committed to combating climate change by promoting renewable bio-energy to replace fossil fuel" - has projects deployed or under development for using plasma arc technology to cleanly gasify feedstock into syngas. Teamed with Rentech Technologies, they can convert the syngas into bio jet fuel. Otherwise they can use the syngas to produce clean, green electricity.

But what about emissions? Turns out they have an answer for that as well citing their development of air filtering technology at their Alicante, Spain research facility that take manufacturing fumes and, using algae to absorb the greenhouse gases, create new biomass that can be converted into bioenergy.

Here are some excerpts from a NY Times article that cited the company's carbon sequestering technology...

March 26, 2008
For Carbon Emissions, a Goal of Less Than Zero

Algae, which have a high energy value per pound and consume carbon dioxide, are being cultivated at a biofuel demonstration facility run by the Solena Group in Alicante, Spain.

IF the world is going to sharply reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by midcentury, then many businesses will have to go carbon neutral, bringing their net emissions of the greenhouse gas to zero.

But some could go even further by removing more CO2 than they produce. Instead of carbon neutral, how about carbon negative?

In academic and industrial labs worldwide, researchers are working on technologies to reach that goal. Success could create the ultimate green business — for example, one that produces fuel whose emissions are more than offset by carbon dioxide stored during production. The businesses would be successful if, as anticipated, Congress puts a tax on emissions or starts a trading plan that makes carbon credits valuable.

For some experts, it’s not a question of whether businesses will go carbon negative but when.

Carbon-negative technologies of some sort will be essential, said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The world is facing the certainty of massive emissions for decades to come from plants already running, he said, adding that atmospheric concentrations must be stabilized. “We’ve got such a carbon overshoot looming in the future that this is going to have to happen,” he said.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that an 80 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions was necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. But capturing the gas from coal plant smokestacks or switching to fuels that produce less of it when burned goes only so far.

“The great problem is actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Geir Vollsaeter, an environment expert and former general manager of carbon dioxide at Shell International, a subsidiary of the oil giant.

While much engineering work would have to be done to make a business carbon negative, the outlines are clear.

Take the concept of building a coal plant that captures and stores carbon dioxide. Such a plant could have zero emissions, because the coal would be turned into gas and processed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen, a pollution-free fuel, would be burned, and the CO2 pumped underground for permanent storage.

But Robert Williams, a research scientist at Princeton University, said that not only coal could be gasified; you could also make the same fuel by starting with plant matter or other biomass.

And then, he said, “if you put any CO2 underground that is derived from biomass, that’s negative CO2 emissions.” That is because plants or trees — the raw material for the fuel —pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, and the gasification and storage takes that carbon out of circulation.

Mr. Williams said the more likely route would be to gasify a mixture of coal and biomass to keep the process carbon neutral. But the balance depends on the cost of separation and storage versus what kind of tax or other fee Congress might put on emissions.

A Washington company, the Solena Group, also has a carbon-negative plan, which emerged from the decision by regulators in Kansas last year to turn down a permit for two new coal-burning power plants because of the millions of tons of carbon dioxide they would produce. The regulators insisted that the builder of the plants, an electric co-op called Sunflower, had to permanently remove the carbon from circulation. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Kansas State Legislature are still arguing over whether the plants should be built.

Solena says it can use the carbon. The company employs a high-temperature process to break up anything organic into a flammable gas. The organic material could be algae, which have an extremely high energy value per pound. And algae eat carbon dioxide.

Solena is in discussion with Sunflower to build a 40-megawatt power plant that would run on gasified algae; the algae would be grown in thousands of clear plastic cylinders, 3 feet wide by 10 feet tall, sitting in the Kansas sun and fertilized with sodium bicarbonate, made with carbon captured from Sunflower’s coal plant. For each 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide, the columns would yield a ton of algae.

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