The issues arising in the production of renewable energy

In no case shall the minimum percentages established by Commission rules be lower than those required for compliance year in Schedule I, subsection a of this section. Each of the rules setting such minimum percentage shall be adopted at least 2 years prior to the minimum percentage being required. If the Commission concludes at this time that the schedule either needs to be accelerated or decelerated, it may also make recommendations to the General Assembly for legislative changes to the RPS.

The issues arising in the production of renewable energy

While development continues apace, first and second generation fuels based on terrestrial plants are controversial because they require cultivation resources that could otherwise be used for growing food.

What about the third generation? The third generation of biofuels is both promising and different: These micro-algae do not need soil and land, and because many of them thrive in water that is salty, brackish or just plain dirty — wastewater or agricultural run-off, for example — they need not compete for scarce fresh water resources either.

Also important, they are far more productive than terrestrial fuel crops. Given plenty of sunlight, these organisms can photosynthesise enough organic matter, from carbon dioxide CO2 and organic nutrients present in the water they are suspended in, to double their mass several times a day.

Depending on the species, up to half their mass is made up of lipids — natural oils. Strains of algae that produce more carbohydrate than oil can be fermented to make bioethanol and biobutanol.

Algae biofuels contain no sulphur, are non-toxic and are biodegradable. A number of strains produce fuel with energy densities comparable to those of conventional fossil fuels. They are made from a renewable resource that is carbon neutral: Small wonder that these miracle organisms are the subject of intense study.

Algae are familiar to the general public as pond scum and to oceanographers as the algal blooms that blossom over huge areas of ocean at certain times of year. The abundance of wild algae and the lipid nature of many of them have engendered high optimism about their potential as fossil fuel substitutes.

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But exploiting the potential of a technology that currently exists only at laboratory and pilot scale could prove a long and expensive undertaking.

For a start, isolating a couple of score that might make a viable basis for fuel production from the 30, or so existing algal strains represents a formidable challenge.

The issues arising in the production of renewable energy

Fortunately, much work has already been done in this area, notably by the US Department of Energy DoE with its Aquatic Species Program that ran for almost two decades, culminating in a final report in Algae can be grown on open settling ponds, but this approach is unlikely to provide the best yields.

Regrettably, the hardy strains that resist encroachment of viral, fungal and other algae borne in the atmosphere are not the most lipid-rich. Covering ponds with translucent membranes or the use of greenhouses overcomes this drawback, allowing the more productive strains to be grown free of atmospheric contamination.

Photo-bioreactor Even closed ponds may not be ideal, however, because the growth of a top scum layer tends to block the passage of light to algae lower down in the pond. This has prompted a number of pioneers to abandon ponds altogether, instead adopting fabricated enclosures termed photo-bioreactors PBRs that are more three-dimensional.

A variety of designs have evolved, all aimed at maximising photosynthesis by slowly circulating the algae, along with nutrients and CO2, in closed transparent structures that are exposed to light. US firm Valcent Productsfor instance, in a joint venture with Canadian company Global Green Solutionsis growing algae in long rows of suspended moving plastic bags in a patented system called VertiGro.

A pilot for the process has been assembled in a large high-density greenhouse near El Paso, Texas. Our moving system keeps the algae hanging just long enough to pick up the solar energy needed for photosynthesis.

Algae-culturalists using racked glass or polycarbonate PBR systems include Massachusetts-based GreenFuel Technologies Corporationwhich aims to utilise waste CO2 from flue gases, power stations, cement production facilities and other emitters as the source of carbon required by the algae.

GreenFuel argues that its solution helps to mitigate CO2 production at the same time as producing fuel. A2BE Carbon Capture LLCwhich similarly intends using PBRs and waste CO2, has patented a reactor that is ft long by 50 ft wide and consists of twin transparent plastic algal waterbeds — thus providing parallel redundancy in case a single bed has to be closed down.

Counter-rotating currents induced within the beds ensure maximum exposure of algae to the light as they pass through the phototropic zone. Internal temperature is controlled. For harvesting, a biological agent aggregates the algal cells into larger, more separable entities that can be extracted relatively easily.

Internal rollers operating in both directions serve to clean internal surfaces of the waterbed tubes and re-suspend algae.

The issues arising in the production of renewable energy

As Sears, who earlier helped launch another algae-to-oil venture, Solix Biofuelspoints out: Commentators caution, though, that investors should not be impatient for quick returns.

Business Development Coordinator Sam Jaffe is clear that the company is engaged in a commercial race to make algae-to-oil technology work on a large scale and at an affordable price. Another PBR exponent, the GreenShift Corporationheadquartered in New York, has produced a pilot-scale reactor with the intention of co-locating it with an ethanol producing facility so that it can utilise CO2 emissions from that plant.

Enclosed PBRs offer the possibility of achieving highly controlled and optimised growth conditions. But the associated infrastructure, along with that for harvesting the grown algae, has led to systems that, in the view of some experts, have become too complex and expensive.

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Furthermore, controlling temperature and other parameters, running harvesting machinery, introducing nutrients and capturing waste CO2 from a fossil fuel burning plant all consume energy. Some companies, such as New Zealand's Aquaflow Bionomics and US company LiveFuels Inctherefore, remain loyal to the open-pond approach, using alternative techniques to prevent invasion by unwanted competing organisms.

Tel Aviv-based Seambiotic Ltd similarly grows a high-yield, oil-rich algal strain in open ponds, using waste CO2 emissions. In a joint venture with Inventure Capital of Seattle, it is combining its technology with an advanced conversion process developed by Inventure, with the aim of producing biodiesel and ethanol at an intended commercial biofuel plant in Israel.Energy is a critical issue for Africa, where large number of people do not have access to energy.

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