Algae fuel set for take-off

WITH interest growing in the use of algae as a feedstock for fuels, three major aviation corporations are closely watching New Zealand biofuel developer Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation, which is working to create an environmentally friendly jet fuel.
Algae fuel set for take-off Algae fuel set for take-off Algae fuel set for take-off Algae fuel set for take-off Algae fuel set for take-off

New Zealand newspaper Marlborough Expressreported last week that Air New Zealand was undertaking a risk analysis of Aquaflow’s product and considering making an aircraft on the trans-Tasman run available to test the green fuel.

The airline would probably test the fuel on one engine while normal aviation fuel would drive the other engine.

Meanwhile, aircraft manufacturer Boeing and Virgin Fuels have also been linked to the New Zealand biofuels start-up.

Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation, formed in October 2005, began operating in May last year after it met a request from the local council to deal with excess algae on sewage ponds. Aquaflow created technology to harvest the sewage pond algae and chemically extract oils for fuel.

The company initially focused on biodiesel for cars, trucks, buses and boats. But Boeing reportedly visited Aquaflow earlier this year, according to The Marlborough Express, and has since said it believes algae biofuel is the aviation fuel of the future.

Boeing's Dave Daggett was reported this year as saying algae ponds totalling 34,000 square kilometres could produce enough fuel to reduce the net CO2 footprint for the entire aviation industry to zero.

Virgin Fuels announced in April it was working with Boeing to demonstrate biofuel in a 747-400. The focus is on testing algae-derived jet fuel, especially its freezing point.

One of the main criticisms leveled at biofuels is they require large areas of land to produce relatively small quantities of fuels.

It would take more than 400 million hectares of canola to produce enough transport fuel to replace the United States’ petroleum-based transport fuels. This is more than twice the cropland in the US.

But because of its ability to propagate prolifically in a small space, algae fuel farms would need just 39 million acres of land to replace US transport fuels. And this land need not be arable. These oil-rich organisms will grow in ponds, bags or tanks that can be just as easily set up in deserts as in farmland.

Another bonus is algae thrives on carbon dioxide. Siting algae farms adjacent to or near power plants would enable emissions reductions while also producing fuel. One US start-up, GreenFuel, which originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has already used CO2 from a power plant to grow its algae, according to US magazine Popular Science.

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