Algae Bioethanol – next gen biofuel or niche market?

April 2, 2009

(Tsingtao “green” beer)

Ben Pavlik is a student at Keck Graduate Institute (

Last spring, Reid Snowden and I made concoction. Abhorrent to ingestion, we called our creation “algae beer.”  This was done as a independent research project under the guise of one of our professors, and was a great dual introduction to brewing and algal fermentation.

Bioethanol is currently being produced by fermentation of sugars found in plants such as sugarcane and corn. Many social concers have barred the adoption of their future use, so other feedstocks are being considered as substitutes. Algae are one of those feedstocks.

However, algae do not produce as much starch as corn, and do not have firm agricultural practices. However, there is reason to believe that algae will play a role in the future bioethanol market. Why is this so?

Algae are currently “all the rage” when it comes to liquid fuel and biodiesel. This fuel is derived from lipids, or fats within the algae. However, only one possible economically savvy model has been produced (see future post regarding – In order to lower the cost of producing this fuel, other products from algae will have to be processed and sold. Bioethanol is one of those products. Using everything that algae have to offer is the best route towards more favorable economic models for these low-value high-volume products.

Algenol Biofuels has bet that algal ethanol will be a next generation biofuel. They use genetically modified strains which secrete ethanol into their growth media. This fuel is distilled from the closed photobioreactor and concentrated.


7 Responses to “Algae Bioethanol – next gen biofuel or niche market?”

  1. Glenn W. Bedell, Ph.D. Says:

    I have been growing algae for research and food production for over 40 years. I was one of the first to promote geothermal energy for algal biomass production in light-energy rich Nevada.
    The use of genetically engineered algae to secrete oils is a good idea, because the oils can be skimmed daily from the surface of the growth medium. However, the production of ethanol (or any other water soluble organic) are likely to have the same problems associated with ethanol production by yeast. Usually, ethanol become inhibitory to the growth of the producing organisms at about 15%. To harvest, the cells must be removed and the ethanol(organics)distilled in order to concentrate it. This is very energy dependent; the very situation you are trying to avoid. If you are successful, I will be amazed. Please keep me informed.

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  3. Glenn W. Bedell, Ph.D. Says:

    Doug, Thanks for your update and for keeping me informed. One of the big problems with algal growth, at warm temperatures and roughly neutral pH’s, is maintaining axenic cultures. How is this being addressed regarding both oil- and ethanol-producing algae? If other products are to be harvested, monoalgal cultures will be essential.
    Another approach would be to use algae that grow at both temperature and pH extremes, such as high pH (10-14) and high temperatures > 37 oC. One alga, which is technically a bacteria, is Spirulina. As a bacterium it should be readily amenable to genetic engineering techniques. I have successfully grown it outdoors for years while maintaining its axenic status. In addition to adaptability to both high temp and high pH, it has the fail-safe of being high brine tolerant, as well. I hope that this is of help.
    Sincerely yours, Glenn W. Bedell, Ph.D.

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  5. Sanjay Kumar Says:

    Thanx for infrmation

  6. Charles Lee Says:

    I like the way you think! Let me know if you ever get something worth bottling



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