August 04, 2008


In the great race to fix our energy systems, industrial scale algae production of oil is one of the potential major big fixes. No need to change the distribution infrastructure or end use machines, just turn petroleum from something you extract from the ground to something you make industrially. Companies seem to have already cracked the genetic code to manufacture green petroleum so why aren't we popping the champagne corks and churning out millions of barrels of the stuff already? The problem is one of scale.

What we haven't solved is how to make industrial scale vessels that make the stuff in quantities that matter in a commercially efficient way. These vessels, called photobioreactors, expose enough individual bacteria to sunlight that you maximize production while minimizing unexposed volume. Another problem is vessel fouling which gets worse as you increase the surface area of the vessel.

For an amateur observer like me, that's interested in seeing secondary markers, the articles on photobioreactors generally don't even cover what the relevant units of progress are and how close any particular design is to the magic point where you can start popping starter cultures in them and prepping for oil production. That's an unfortunate sign of disorganization, though it's not clear if that's the fault of the scientists making these things or the journalists reporting on them.

Posted by TMLutas at August 4, 2008 07:15 AM