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Arizona would be a perfect location to farm algae for biofuel, experts say

Dan Rees, president of Gilbert-based Rev Biofuels, poses with one of the biodiesel-powered vehicles that his company uses to pick up used oil from restaurant deep fryers. Rees’ company can produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel a year. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Tara Alatorre)

Dan Rees, president of Gilbert-based Rev Biofuels, poses with one of the biodiesel-powered vehicles that his company uses to pick up used oil from restaurant deep fryers. Rees’ company can produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel a year. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Tara Alatorre)

Arizona’s sunny, dry weather makes it the perfect location for farming algae to produce renewable fuels, an executive of a national biofuels group said Monday.

In addition, the state’s coal-fired power plants produce quantities of carbon dioxide that would allow for more efficient production of algae, said Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, which is holding a convention and exposition here this week.

“Arizona has a lot of carbon dioxide and a lot of sun,” he said.

However, Jobe and others at the conference said, technology that would allow for mass-production of algae is probably a decade away.

Biofuels are produced from plants and plant derivatives such as soybean oil used in deep fryers. Jobe called algae the future of biofuels because it has a higher yield from fewer resources and can be farmed on land that can’t be used to produce food crops, such as corn that goes into ethanol.

A 2009 study by the National Renewable Energy Lab rated Phoenix as the No. 1 potential place to produce algae biofuel in the United States.

The convention drew hundreds of people to attend sessions about the production, politics and marketing of renewable fuels, among other subjects. An exposition allowed companies to show off their technologies for producing biodiesel.

Dan Rees, president of Gilbert-based Rev Biofuels, brought two biofuel-powered vehicles that his company uses to pick up used oil from restaurant deep fryers. His firm converts it into biodiesel that’s sold to commercial diesel fleets and individuals with diesel vehicles.

“People want to be environmentally conscious,” Rees said.

His company started as a backyard operation and since has moved into a state-of-the-art facility capable of producing 10 million gallons of biodiesel a year.

Rees expects the industry to grow due to an Environmental Protection Agency mandate that the U.S. fuel supply include 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022. As he looks toward that day, he’s eager to move his company into converting algae into fuel, but he isn’t holding his breath.

“Algae is the future, but at best it is 10 years away,” Rees said.

Bruce Rittman, director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, said in a telephone interview that he thinks the technology needed to mass-produce algae probably is more like five years way. But the infrastructure required probably means the U.S. is 15-20 years away from algae being a major fuel source.

The center is focused on algae-based biofuel production, farming in tubes on the roof of two buildings on ASU’s Tempe and Polytechnic campuses.

When the nation is ready for algae as biofuel, Rittman said, Arizona is positioned well to reap the benefits.

“Absolutely there will be money flowing in,” he said.

National Biodiesel Board:

• Origins: Founded in 1992 by state soybean groups funding biofuel research.
• Mission: National trade association representing the biodiesel industry.
• Goal: Wants to replace 5 percent of the U.S. diesel demands with biodiesel by next year.

?Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, called algae the future of biofuels because it can be farmed on land that can’t be used for other crops. The group is holding a convention in Phoenix. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Tara Alatorre)

?Dan Rees, president of Gilbert-based Rev Biofuels, poses with one of the biodiesel-powered vehicles that his company uses to pick up used oil from restaurant deep fryers. Rees’ company can produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel a year. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Tara Alatorre)

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