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SPAIN: SCIENTISTS CLOSE TO MAKING BIOFUEL FROM ALGAE
[August 07, 2006]

SPAIN: SCIENTISTS CLOSE TO MAKING BIOFUEL FROM ALGAE


(English IPS News Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)
MADRID, Aug. 4, 2006 (IPS/GIN) -- Spanish researchers say they
have found a way to produce biofuel from marine algae, which
backers say could be operational by late 2007.

While the company has found a way to extract large amounts of
unrefined oil, it is still unable to refine this into a usable
fuel.

Bernard Stroiazzo-Mougin, president of Biofuel Systems SL (BFS),
the Spanish company developing the project, told IPS that "the
system will produce massive amounts of biopetroleum from
phytoplankton, in a limited space and at a very moderate cost."

He said that the photo-bioreactor to be produced by his company
is not the same as the biofuels being produced by other countries.

BFS, with the support of the University of Alicante, "has
designed a totally new system for producing biopetroleum -- not
biodiesel -- by means of an energy converter," he explained.

The new fuel will have all the advantages of petroleum,
including the possibility of extracting the usual oil derivatives,
"but without its disadvantages, because it will not contribute to
CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, but will in fact reduce them. It
will not emit SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and there will be hardly any
toxic by-products."

The raw material for the new fuel is phytoplankton -- tiny
oceanic plants -- that depend only on light and CO2 for their food.
Among them are diatoms, a group of unicellular algae, also found
in fresh water on land masses and on moist ground.

Phytoplankton produce 98 percent of the oxygen in the earth's
atmosphere.

According to Stroiazzo-Mougin, BFS's system will produce 400
times more oil than any other source of biofuel.

For example, he said, "a surface area of 52,000 square
kilometers can yield 95 million barrels of biopetroleum per day,
in other words an amount equivalent to the entire world production
of crude oil at present, and at a considerably lower price."

The system, he added, will ensure a permanent, inexhaustible
source of energy, which also uses up excess CO2, thus helping to
curb the greenhouse effect and global warming, of which CO2 is one
of the main causes.

In order to replace 40 percent of the world's present
consumption of petroleum with biodiesel from plant sources, the
area of land currently under cultivation would have to be
multiplied by three, which is "totally impossible and
counterproductive for the global economy," Stroiazzo-Mougin said.

BFS's new fuel will be similar to the fossil petroleum that was
formed "millions of years ago under immense pressure and
temperature and in the context of great seismic and volcanic
activity, starting from the same plant elements that we will be
using now (mainly phytoplankton)," he explained.

It was "biodegradation of certain plant organic compounds (fatty
acids and hydrocarbons) that gave rise to petroleum, and our system
will be similar to that process," the president of BFS added.

With respect to the surface areas needed to produce biofuels,
he indicated that soy produces 50 cubic meters per square kilometer
per year, colza (rape seed) produces 100 to 140 cubic meters,
mustard yields 130 and palm oil 610 cubic meters, while algae
produce 10,000 to 20,000 cubic meters of biofuel per square
kilometer per year.

BFS is also planning to develop technology to increase
production of algae per hectare, before completing construction of
its first factory, to be located on Spain's Mediterranean coast.
Production will occur in a closed circuit including vats on land,
although there are plans to develop processors offshore.

Asked whether BFS will be offering the formula and processing
system to other countries, whether they will forge alliances with
other companies, or sell the patent, or whether it will all be
free, Stroiazzo-Mougin replied that "all these aspects are being
carefully studied, from the point of view of the commercial
structure of the company."

"Because of the importance of the system, these are aspects that
must be analyzed in depth, and we do not have an answer as yet,"
he said.

Talking about the initiative, the coordinator of the
non-governmental organization Ecologists in Action, Luis Gonzlez
Reyes, told IPS that the situation "with regard to climate change
is extremely problematic, and we need to buy time to move towards
societies that consume much less energy, and where energy
consumption is environmentally friendly."

With regard to the BFS project in particular, "I am not fully
aware of the details," said the activist. "The CO2 emission rate
for the whole system should be evaluated -- that is to say, the
difference between the amount of CO2 fixed by the algae and the
amount released later on during extraction, processing and fuel
burning."

"The possible release of other toxic substances during burning
must also be investigated," he said.

In any case, the environmentalist said, "What's important, as
well as lowering energy consumption, is that new options should be
sought and investigated, as BFS and the University of Alicante seem
to be doing."

Stroiazzo-Mougin emphasized that the process would markedly
lower CO2 emissions and that no other toxic substances would be
released, as explained by the chemists and marine biologists who
participated in the research project.

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