Arizona Project Uses Algae to Turn Coal Pollution Into Biofuel

 

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Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electricity provider, has secured $70.5 million in stimulus funds to expand an innovative project that turns carbon dioxide emissions from a coal power plant into biofuel using algae. While part of the funds will be used to scale up the algae processing portion, some of the funds will also be used to investigate the potential benefits of turning the coal into a gas prior to burning it for power.

The concept of creating two products — electricity and fuel — from the same process is known as cogeneration. In this case, the cogeneration also helps to reduce environmental pollution. It’s an idea that has been gathering support as a way to make coal less polluting while finding an additional revenue source to pay for the pollution control itself. In fact, a while back I reported on a similar pilot project in Oregon.





Apparently, Arizona Public Service was able to convince the government that by combining the pollution-to-algae-fuel and coal-gasification research into one project, it was worthy of receiving such a large grant. It’s only the second stimulus research grant that has gone towards a carbon capture project, with the first being a project that compresses carbon dioxide for storage underground.

The project is being hosted at the 995-megawatt Cholla Power Plant in northeastern Arizona. Early results indicate that the algae are able to capture 70 metric tons of carbon dioxide per pond acre per year.

Personally I think we should wean ourselves off coal completely, but given that the US has huge reserves of the stuff and the political heirarchy is probably unwilling to go that route, we’re likely stuck with using coal for quite some time. So, if you can’t beat ’em, make ’em pollute less, right? While projects like this ultimately represent a crutch and a band-aid, they are still necessary to fix the climate crisis if we refuse to get off fossil fuels entirely.

Source: Press Release (Via Green Car Congress)

Image Credit: Cholla Power Plant from nep‘s Flickr photostream. Used under a Creative Commons License.






About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.
  • Wait a minute. When we burn the algae, doesn’t that release the carbon that the algae had previously captured?

  • Wait a minute. When we burn the algae, doesn’t that release the carbon that the algae had previously captured?

  • John

    @J Brad Hicks:

    Yes, but the advantage is that the net CO2 released is less than if you burned coal for electricity and oil for transportation. This way, the oil doesn’t get burned, and the CO2 gets “used” twice. Two birds, one stone.

  • John

    @J Brad Hicks:

    Yes, but the advantage is that the net CO2 released is less than if you burned coal for electricity and oil for transportation. This way, the oil doesn’t get burned, and the CO2 gets “used” twice. Two birds, one stone.

  • Amanda M.

    An interesting idea, but I cannot get excited about any project using coal. Even if the combustion process becomes totally “clean,” it doesn’t make the extraction of coal any cleaner or safer.

  • Amanda M.

    An interesting idea, but I cannot get excited about any project using coal. Even if the combustion process becomes totally “clean,” it doesn’t make the extraction of coal any cleaner or safer.

  • Mike Overturf

    More lipstick on the pig. Bottom line is, you’re releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere, albeit deferred, and recycled, but in the end: released. There is no good solution with coal, no matter how much algae you smear over it, unless you are able to take all the carbon, mercury, sulphur, and arsenide and put it back where you found it. Instead of burning the algae, they need to pump it back into deep wells (3km +).

  • Mike Overturf

    More lipstick on the pig. Bottom line is, you’re releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere, albeit deferred, and recycled, but in the end: released. There is no good solution with coal, no matter how much algae you smear over it, unless you are able to take all the carbon, mercury, sulphur, and arsenide and put it back where you found it. Instead of burning the algae, they need to pump it back into deep wells (3km +).

  • Mr. Sinister

    People seem to be missing the real benefit here … yes, the coal plant’s emissions are being used as a convenient source of CO2 for the algae cultures, but the project is about more than reducing emissions related to coal power plants. It’s about advancing and refining algae-to-energy technologies in order to bring down costs and to ready them for commercial scale. Algae are widely regarded as one of the most promising renewable resources of the future. They can be used to produce biofuels, biomass for animal feedstock, and a host of high-value chemicals for use in other industrial processes. Projects like this are not a solution to coal … they are a means of advancing the science of algae.

  • Mr. Sinister

    People seem to be missing the real benefit here … yes, the coal plant’s emissions are being used as a convenient source of CO2 for the algae cultures, but the project is about more than reducing emissions related to coal power plants. It’s about advancing and refining algae-to-energy technologies in order to bring down costs and to ready them for commercial scale. Algae are widely regarded as one of the most promising renewable resources of the future. They can be used to produce biofuels, biomass for animal feedstock, and a host of high-value chemicals for use in other industrial processes. Projects like this are not a solution to coal … they are a means of advancing the science of algae.

  • Don Pellinen

    The significance of a program like this is it demonstrates converting CO2 to algae and hopefully that to biodiesel, animal feed and fuel for a power plant. Any project starts with a prototype and initial techniques. From the experience gained these techniques are improved and made more efficient. This is similar to a baby’s first steps eventually taking him to being a champion runner. The plants we have in the US desert states have the advantage of having a lot of land available and ample sunshine. Potentially biofuels from these plants could eliminate our need for foreign oils and the loss of foreign exchange from overseas purchases.

  • Don Pellinen

    The significance of a program like this is it demonstrates converting CO2 to algae and hopefully that to biodiesel, animal feed and fuel for a power plant. Any project starts with a prototype and initial techniques. From the experience gained these techniques are improved and made more efficient. This is similar to a baby’s first steps eventually taking him to being a champion runner. The plants we have in the US desert states have the advantage of having a lot of land available and ample sunshine. Potentially biofuels from these plants could eliminate our need for foreign oils and the loss of foreign exchange from overseas purchases.

  • I SAY GO FOR IT! THE PROSPECT OF HAVING TO DRIVE A PRIUS AROUND IS QUITE UGLY!!!!

    DWANE HEMPHILL

  • Raymond Jones

    America has lots of coal. We need to be able to use it. We should switch to nuclear power for electricity generation as much as possible. But we should use our Coal.

    If it makes sense to capture CO2 then do it. But Global Warming aka Climate Change is a hoax. The planet is warming from a natural solar cycle and the warming is releasing much more CO2 from the oceans than we can dream about. Our contribution is totally insignificant and inconsequential.

    Ice core samples show much more CO2 in the earths atmosphere long ago than we have now … and the earth survived. Ancient forests discovered buried under melted glacial areas show a much warmer earth long ago.

    Anthropogenic Global Warming Climate Change is an inconvenient fantasy…. NOT an inconvenient truth.

  • Raymond Jones

    America has lots of coal. We need to be able to use it. We should switch to nuclear power for electricity generation as much as possible. But we should use our Coal.

    If it makes sense to capture CO2 then do it. But Global Warming aka Climate Change is a hoax. The planet is warming from a natural solar cycle and the warming is releasing much more CO2 from the oceans than we can dream about. Our contribution is totally insignificant and inconsequential.

    Ice core samples show much more CO2 in the earths atmosphere long ago than we have now … and the earth survived. Ancient forests discovered buried under melted glacial areas show a much warmer earth long ago.

    Anthropogenic Global Warming Climate Change is an inconvenient fantasy…. NOT an inconvenient truth.

  • Royce R. Vines

    G’day, this shows that CO2 cannot be a pollutant. Without CO2, most of this planets life dies. It will, however, short cut the process that converts CO2 to C to coal or a hydrcarbon. Bring it on. I agree with the Prius comment too.

    Regards,

    Royce R. Vines

    “Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Royce R. Vines

    G’day, this shows that CO2 cannot be a pollutant. Without CO2, most of this planets life dies. It will, however, short cut the process that converts CO2 to C to coal or a hydrcarbon. Bring it on. I agree with the Prius comment too.

    Regards,

    Royce R. Vines

    “Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Royce R. Vines

    The should have been Hydro-carbon

  • Royce R. Vines

    The should have been Hydro-carbon

  • Royce R. Vines

    G’day Raymond, Anthropological Global Warming now being called Climate Change sounds to me to be suspiciously like an each-way-bet. After all, the temperature of the planet has fallen by 0.75 deg F in the last 10 years.

    Regards,

    Royce R. Vines

    Unintended consequences rule when busybodies get on their “high horses” – Emmet

  • Royce R. Vines

    G’day Raymond, Anthropological Global Warming now being called Climate Change sounds to me to be suspiciously like an each-way-bet. After all, the temperature of the planet has fallen by 0.75 deg F in the last 10 years.

    Regards,

    Royce R. Vines

    Unintended consequences rule when busybodies get on their “high horses” – Emmet

  • anonymous

    We have spent over $2.2 billion dollars on algae research for the last 35 years and nothing to show for it. Algae has been researched to death at universities for the last 50 years in the US. The problem is as long as the algae researchers can say we are 3-5 years away, its too expensive and they need more research they get the grant money. Nothing will ever get commercialized at the university level and the last thing we need is a federal contractor building algae plants on a cost plus contract.

    There are commercial algae plants being built today with private money without any federal money and federal grants. The question you need to be asking is ” Does the US really want to get off of foreign oil or do we want to continue to fund the algae researchers at the universities.”

    We need monies going into algae oil production and stop wasting money on research. Algae researchers are incapable of commercializing anything!

  • anonymous

    We have spent over $2.2 billion dollars on algae research for the last 35 years and nothing to show for it. Algae has been researched to death at universities for the last 50 years in the US. The problem is as long as the algae researchers can say we are 3-5 years away, its too expensive and they need more research they get the grant money. Nothing will ever get commercialized at the university level and the last thing we need is a federal contractor building algae plants on a cost plus contract.

    There are commercial algae plants being built today with private money without any federal money and federal grants. The question you need to be asking is ” Does the US really want to get off of foreign oil or do we want to continue to fund the algae researchers at the universities.”

    We need monies going into algae oil production and stop wasting money on research. Algae researchers are incapable of commercializing anything!

  • Liquifying coal? Can’t we just process the liquid coal and turn it into fuel for our cars? That might cut down on the fuel used to transport our fuel from around the world, since we get the coal from our own backyards, as well as decrease foreign dependence. I don’t like the idea of increasing nuclear power, because that just enlarges a whole different problem == how to dispose of nuclear waste.

  • Liquifying coal? Can’t we just process the liquid coal and turn it into fuel for our cars? That might cut down on the fuel used to transport our fuel from around the world, since we get the coal from our own backyards, as well as decrease foreign dependence. I don’t like the idea of increasing nuclear power, because that just enlarges a whole different problem == how to dispose of nuclear waste.