May 28, 2007
Live Fuels Oil from Algae

LiveFuels Inc. is proud to announce a national alliance of scientists focused on producing biocrude oil by the year 2010. Funded by LiveFuels, the scientific alliance will be led by Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory. The alliance is expected to sponsor dozens of labs and hundreds of scientists by the year 2010.

“We believe Sandia has the strengths needed to lead the alliance in its early growth phase,” said Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, chief executive officer at LiveFuels. “Sandia is a DOE laboratory managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and possesses expertise in process engineering, biocience and biotechnology. Sandia is also home to the DOE Combustion Research Facility, a unique science and engineering user facility which can test the combustion characteristics of the biocrude produced by the LiveFuels alliance.”

The LiveFuels alliance is the largest and most intensely focused group in the country commercializing technology that can make millions of barrels of biocrude oil per day. The initial focus of LiveFuels’ team will be algae-to-biocrude.

Algal oil is similar to soybean oil but can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops. Thriving on sunlight and CO2, algae can be grown in fresh or brackish water. This makes algae an ideal solution for farmers dealing with issues of agricultural run-off. Moreover, a shortage of vegetable oil has been predicted within 3 to 5 years in the United States, and algal oil could fill the gap for non-edible uses like biofuels.

In order to make biocrude for less than $60 a barrel, algae must be high in fats or oils. Commercially-grown algae like Spirulina are high in protein and starch but low in fat. A few high-fat species of algae like Haematococcus are promising, but the fats --- at prices around $1,200 a pound --- are too expensive to fuel America’s vehicles today.

“Fat algae” doesn’t sound like a biocrude oil feedstock, but the petroleum we use today is derived from prehistoric biomass (including algae). Nature’s biomass decomposition process occurred over millions of years under conditions of enormous heat and pressure. Much of the petroleum we use today began some 200 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period. The deposits of oil pumped from the North Sea, for example, consist partly of decomposed haptophyte algae called coccolithophorids.

The challenge facing LiveFuels’ scientists will be growing and transforming algae cheaply into biocrude within days rather than millennia. The entire United States’ supply of imported oil could potentially be grown on 20 to 40 million acres of marginal land, leaving the 450 million acres of fertile American soil that are presently farmland still available to feed the nation.

“LiveFuels will enable American farmers to replace imported oil with home-grown biocrude and supply it to the United States,” said Morgenthaler-Jones. “Other countries are ahead of the U.S. in biocrude research, but other countries were once ahead of us in the space race too. America put a man on the moon in eight years, and America can make its own biocrude in four.” Read