Welcome to our FAQ'S
Please click a question to jump to the answer:
- What is photosynthesis?
- What are algae?
- What is a photobioreactor/bioreactor?
- How can algae help reduce green house gases such as CO2?
- How much CO2 will be consumed in a process of growing of 1 tonne of algae?
- How are fermentors different from photobioreactors?
- How much algae can be grown on 1 acre of land?
- If you want to grow more algae using sunlight, can’t you increase the volume of the growing system over the same area?
- When algae is used to remediate polluted water, what common pollutants can beremoved?
- Which method of algae for biofuels production (plastic bags, open ponds, tubular and flat panel bioreactors) is the most promising?
- Using bioreactors, can algae be grown in the dark?
- Is it possible to harvest wild algae for biofuels?
- Why use algae as a biofuel feedstock?
- How much oil can be made from 1 tonne of algae?
- What types of algae can be used for biofuels?
- What factors need to be considered in selecting algae for biofuels?
- Where does algae oil come from?
- What are the differences between petroleum diesel and biodiesel?
- Is biodiesel from algae the same as biodiesel from terrestrial plants?
- What are the advantages of using algae over terrestrial crops for biofuels?
- Do you need freshwater to grow algae?
- What are some of the useful products that can be made from algae?
- Can’t algae be harmful to our environment? If so why would we want to grow more of it?
- Can artificial lights be used to grow algae for biofuels?
- What types of algae can you grow in Bionavitas’ system?
- What does carbon neutral mean?
- Are biofuels bad for the environment? Does this include biofuels made from algae?
- Can biofuels be produced from algae economically?
- Is it true that farmed algae grown are often overtaken by "wild" algae after just a few days or weeks?
- Is Bionavitas a fuel company, an algae growing company or a service company – servicing other algae growers by supplying them the equipment to grow algae?
- It seems scientists have known the “promise” of algae for decades. Why now are algae the “next best thing?”
- Why do I need to concern myself with how to grow naturally occurring algae more efficiently? – Aren’t genetic engineers developing a “super algae” that will remedy all current technology worthless?
- Will using biodiesel in my car void its warranty?
- Can algae be utilized to make ethanol?
- What are lipids?
- What is photolimitation?
- What is photoinhibition?
- What is PAR?
- What is chlorophyll?
- How many species of algae are there?
- Is it true algae use oxygen at night? Don’t algae produce oxygen?
- What is phytoplankton?
- What is phycology?
1. What is photosynthesis?
- Photosynthesis is a biochemical process, during which certain organisms utilize solar energy to “fix” carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into carbohydrates and release oxygen (O2). CO2 + H20 → C6H12O6 + O2. These carbohydrates can then be utilized for energy or as the building blocks of biomass.
2. What are algae?
- Algae is a term which has no true taxonomic meaning, but is used to refer to a diverse group of aquatic, estuarine and marine plant-like organisms that are capable of photosynthesis and evolve oxygen. These organisms range in size from microscopic (microalgae) to many meters in lengths (macroalgae). Algae are primary producers and provide the basis of energy and fixed carbon in almost every ecosystem in which they are present.
3. What is a photobioreactor/bioreactor?
- A photobioreactor (bioreactor for short) is a closed or semi-closed system in which light and nutrients are supplied to the system in an attempt to maximize algal biomass. There are many types of photobioreators, including tubular, flat panel, airlift or even plastic bags. Light can be provided by direct sunlight, electric light or a combination of both.
4. How can algae help reduce green house gases such as CO2?
- Since algae are autotrophic organisms, meaning they utilize CO2 as a carbon source, they remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than they release, and they reduce the amount of CO2 (an important green house gas) in the atmosphere.
5. How much CO2 will be consumed in a process of growing of 1 tonne of algae?
- Estimates vary, depending on the types of algae considered, but based on the stoichiometry (the accounting, or math, behind chemistry) of photosynthesis, 1 tonne of algae will sequester about 1.5 tonnes of CO2.
6. How are fermentors different from photobioreactors?
- Fermentors are similar to bioreactors in that they are closed or semi closed systems used for the production of biomass. However, fermentors utilize an organic source of carbon (e.g., sugar) as the source of energy and carbon instead of light and photosynthesis. Fermentors can usually achieve much higher biomass than a photobioreactor, but the cost per unit weight is usually much higher due to cost of supplying the fixed carbon source.
How much algae can be grown on 1 acre of land?
- The amount of algae that can be grown on a acre of land is limited by the amount of energy that area receives from the sun. Algae growth estimates range from 100 to 200 tonnes per acre per year. These estimates, however, are under optimal conditions and should be considered a theoretical maximum and unlikely to be achieved. More realistic values are 3-40 tonnes per acre per year.
If you want to grow more algae using sunlight, can’t you increase the volume of the growing system over the same area?
- It’s all about the light! A finite amount of light reaches any given area of the earth during the day. Any system using the sun as it energy source is limited by the amount of sunlight it receives. Simply increasing the volume of a system within a given area may not translate to more biomass production. It is possible to increase total production of the algae system by increasing the horizontal area it occupies but you cannot increase production per unit area beyond sunlight availability.
When algae is used to remediate polluted water, what common pollutants can be removed?
- Algae can be utilized to remove excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from agriculture run off (cattle, pigs, excess fertilizer) since the algae require these elements for growth. Algae can also take up other contaminants, such as selenium and some heavy metals, helping to concentrate them for easier removal.
10. Which method of algae for biofuels production (plastic bags, open ponds, tubular and flat panel bioreactors) is the most promising?
- All of these methods have been around for decades and are tried and true methods for the growth of algae for scientific purposes and high value products, such as nutraceuticals. However, they are all limited in their ability to grow the quantities of biomass needed for cost-effective production of a low value product such as biofuels.
Using bioreactors, can algae be grown in the dark?
- It is possible to grow certain types of algae in the dark. However, to do this, you need to supply the algae with a carbon and energy source. Most often it is in the form of sugar. Think of it this way, for a gram of algal biomass you produce, you need to add at least 1 gram of sugar. It will actually be more since some of the sugar will be used for energy and given off as heat. So you will always have the cost of sugar, along with other nutrients. From an ecosystem perspective, this is very inefficient, since you are relying on some other plant to fix carbon and then transporting it to your system. It is unlikely that the financial or ecological economics of this type of system will ever balance.
Is it possible to harvest wild algae for biofuels?
- It is possible to harvest macroalgae like kelp, and this done all over the world as a source of food and fertilizer. However, these ecosystems can be very fragile and serve as nursery grounds for many species of fish and shellfish. It is unclear if these types of algae could withstand large-scale commercial harvest for the production of biofuels. Harvesting of microalgae is also difficult due to the small mesh net and the large area of ocean or lake you would have to cover to get any significant quantities of algae. You would most likely burn much more oil (fuel) than you could ever produce. Not to mention the potential ecosystem impacts of removing large quantities of the very food that the entire ecosystem depends on. There is also an issue of the bycatch of larvae of fish and shellfish that may also be present, many of which could be endangered or threatened.
Why use algae as a biofuel feedstock?
The main benefits of utilizing algae as a biofuel feedstock are:
- Algae does not compete with food crops
- Algae can be grown on suboptimal land, such as deserts or near industrialized areas
- Algae produces orders of magnitude more oil per acre than any terrestrial crop
- Algae utilizes less water than terrestrial crops
- Algae can grow in fresh water, brackish water, salt water and even polluted water
- Algae will not drain the earth’s potable water supply
- Algae can help remediate polluted water from agricultural run-off and sewage treatment plants
- Algae can help reduce global warming by sequestering atmospheric CO2
How much oil can be made from 1 tonne of algae?
- Depending on the lipid content of the algae, 1 tonne of algae can produce about 100 gallons of oil.
What types of algae can be used for biofuels?
- When choosing an algal species for biofuels there are many factors to consider. The most important is for the algae to be grown in culture. There is no limit to the types of algae that can be grown for biofuels and it isn’t clear which algae will be best. It will likely depend on the locations of the facility and the type of water source that is available. The best algae may still be out there!
What factors need to be considered in selecting algae for biofuels?
- Key factors to consider when selecting algae for biofuel production are: lipid and carbohydrate content, growth rate and environmental conditions. Lipid and carbohydrate content, the foundation of biodiesel and ethanol production, must be balanced with growth rate (the amount of biomass produced in a given amount of time). Environmental conditions should be considered to determine which species would thrive in the algae system locations.
Where does algae oil come from?
- In the majority of algae species, the lipids that make the oil come from the various components of the cell, such as the cell membrane or the membrane around organelles. Some algae, such as diatoms, use lipids as energy storage compounds.
What are the differences between petroleum diesel and biodiesel?
To the end user there is no difference between petroleum diesel and biodiesel in terms of its use as a fuel. An engine that burns diesel can burn biodiesel. From and environmental perspective, however, the two fuels are vastly different. Biodiesel produces:
- 67% fewer unburned hydrocarbons than petroleum diesel
- 48% less CO than petroleum diesel
- 47% less particulate matter than petroleum diesel
- 80% less PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) than petroleum diesel
- 50% less O3 than petroleum diesel
- 90% less nPAH (nitrated PAH’s) than petroleum diesel
- 100% less Sulfates than petroleum diesel
In all fairness to petroleum diesel, biodiesel does produce 10% more NOx compounds than petroleum diesel. This, however, can be reduced by adjusting the engine timing.
19. Is biodiesel from algae the same as biodiesel from terrestrial plants?
- Yes, it is the same. However, with algae, it may be possible to select certain species with unique lipids to develop biodiesel with a lower gel point or even jet fuel.
20. What are the advantages of using algae over terrestrial crops for biofuels?
There are many advantages of using algae over terrestrial crops for biofuels. Some of the most significant are:
- Algae do not compete with food crops
- Algae utilize less water
- Algae require less land to produce an equivalent amount of biofuel.
21. Do you need freshwater to grow algae?
- Algae, depending on the species, grow in fresh or salt water. It is very important to note that fresh water algae does not need to be grown in potable water. This is a very important point because growing algae for fuel will not put added strain on the world’s potable water supply.
22. What are some of the useful products that can be made from algae?
- Besides lipids and carbohydrates for the production of biofuels, many species of algae can be gown to produce nutraceuticals, such as astaxanthin, food supplements, fish and cattle feed, and pharmaceuticals.
23. Canít algae be harmful to our environment? If so why would we want to grow more of it?
- While it is true there are some species of algae that are harmful. It is important to point out the majority are harmless and even beneficial.
24. Can artificial lights be used to grow algae for biofuels?
- Yes, but it does not make economic or environmental sense. The cost of electricity is too high to make it financially feasible.
25. What types of algae can you grow in Bionavitas’ system?
- The only requirement is that the species be culturable. Aside from that, there is no limit to the types of algae Bionavitas can grow in its system.
26. What does carbon neutral mean?
- A system is carbon neutral if the amount of carbon it releases into the atmosphere, during its fuel burning cycle, is equal to the amount of carbon that is consumed (sequestered) to produce that equivalent amount of fuel. The additional caveat is that the carbon released during burning was sequestered on the same time scale.
27. Are biofuels bad for the environment? Does this include biofuels made from algae?
- There is much debate and interest in the scientific and regulatory community on the direct and indirect impacts of biofuels produced from terrestrial crops due to land clearing, competition with food, increased use of fertilizers, high water demand, etc. None of these issues are currently associated with the production of algae for biofuels.
28. Can biofuels be produced from algae economically?
- It is possible to produce biofuels from algae economically. This, however, will require minimizing the cost of the system's as well as reducing input costs (nutrients, water etc.), while at the same time maximizing the systems energy efficiency as well as the growth rate of the algae. Bionavitas is well positioned to accomplish this.
29. Is it true that farmed algae grown are often overtaken by "wild" algae after just a few days or weeks?
- Depending on the type of algae grown, the location and the system used, it is possible for wild algae to out compete the target species. However, if a large enough quantity of algae is used to inoculate the system and/or the system is closed or semi-closed, the target algae can be grown to sufficient quantities to prevent wild algae from taking over.
30. Is Bionavitas a fuel company, an algae growing company or a service company – servicing other algae growers by supplying them the equipment to grow algae?
- Bionavitas is all of the above. Using patent pending technology, Bionavitas can provide a range of services and products to meet the needs of various industries.
31. It seems scientists have known the “promise” of algae for decades. Why now are algae the “next best thing?”
- Scientists and societies have been studying and/or using algae for millennia. However, with the advent of new technologies, materials, and the rising cost of petroleum, it is now becoming feasible to use algae in other applications, such as biofuels, that were not possible even a decade ago.
32. Why do I need to concern myself with how to grow naturally occurring algae more efficiently? – Aren’t genetic engineers developing a “super algae” that will remedy all current technology worthless?
- No. While it may be possible to genetically engineer a species to produce more of a product or grow slightly more efficiently, all algal species will still be limited in growth by the amount of light or solar energy they can receive. If current algae grown for biofuel production contains 30% oils and we genetically modify the algae to produce twice as much oil to 60% then we can double the oil production per acre. If current algae production can produce 500 gallons per acre per year of oil (1,000 if genetically modified) and we can increase oil production to 4,000 gallons per acre per year (8,000 if genetically modified) we can have a much greater effect on production rates than by modifying the algae alone. We can also take advantage of any algae that have been modified for greater oil production in our systems.
33. Will using biodiesel in my car void its warranty?
- It is important to note that engine manufacturers warranty the materials and workmanship of their engines, not the type of fuel used. It is best to verify individual manufacturer's policies to determine if the use of biodiesel will void the materials and workmanship warranty.
34. Can algae be utilized to make ethanol?
- Yes. A significant portion of algal biomass is made of carbohydrates, which can be fermented into ethanol. It is possible to derive both lipids for oil and carbohydrates for ethanol from the same batch of algal biomass.
35. What are lipids?
- Lipids are organic compounds composed mostly of fatty acids and play an important role in biological structures. Lipids are the main structural component of membranes. Triglycerides are the type of lipids most commonly found in plants and animals and are classified as fats if they are solid or oils if they are liquid at room temperature.
36. What is photolimitation?
- Photolimitation means that not enough light is reaching an organism to allow the maximum rate of photosynthesis that could be achieved, given the amount of available nutrients and other environmental conditions.
37. What is photoinhibition?
- Photoinhibition is the reduction in the rate of photosynthesis due to an excess of light, which can lead to damage of the photosynthetic apparatus of the cell at higher respiration rates.
38. What is PAR?
- PAR stands for Photosynthetically Available Radiation or Photosynthetically Active Radiation. It is the portion of light between 400 to 700 nm that plants and algae are able to use for photosynthesis. Approximately 50% of the light that hits the Earth is in this range.
39. What is chlorophyll?
- Chlorophyll is a pigment that is the principle photoreceptor in photosynthesis. It is contained in an organelle called the chloroplast along with other components, which allow the conversion of sunlight energy into carbohydrates.
40. How many species of algae are there?
- No one really knows the exact answer to that question. Estimates range between several hundred thousand to several million different species. New types of algae are identified all of the time. Only a small portion of algal species (several thousand) can be kept alive in culture.
41. Is it true algae use oxygen at night? Don’t algae produce oxygen?
- It is true, algae use oxygen throughout the day. Just like all organisms, they must respire to create energy for cell maintenance, growth and reproduction. However, algae give off more oxygen than they use.
What is phytoplankton?
- The term phytoplankton is another word for small (often microscopic) algae that float freely in the waters of oceans and lakes. By definition, plankton is unable to move or swim faster than the currents.
43. What is phycology?
- Phycology is the study of algae.