triples in volume every day
         (unlike corn / 1 crop per year)
ALGAE converts CO2 to O2
ALGAE - some over 50% Oil

converts easily to Bio-Fuel

The podcast transcript explains an exciting ALGAE technology ready now.      

Pond Scum or Planet Savers? Real Player MP3
Pond scum just might be the answer to solving the CO2 woes of the Industrial Age. Host Bruce Gellerman visits with Dr. Isaac Berzin, founder of GreenFuel Technologies Corporation. Berzin is working on a prototype that uses algae to convert power plant emissions into biofuels. (5:15) 

Pond Algae Podcast:

   ▼ Transcript:

Pond Scum or Planet Savers?

GELLERMAN: A few years ago, Isaac Berzin traveled from Israel to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with two goals in mind--to get his post doc in chemical engineering and save the world.

Smokestack emissions bubble through algae-filled tubes at MIT's Cogen plant. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)


Well, he got his degree and now he's closing in on the other goal: saving the world from global warming by using one of the most primitive forms of life: know, the yucky stuff that grows on the side of fish tanks and swimming pools...pond scum...just don't call it that in front of Berzin.

BERZIN: Okay, they're not pond scum, they're great. So, I want you to think differently. They're not ugly or whatever. They're the sweetest creatures.

GELLERMAN: Clearly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But according to Berzin, algae-- primitive one cell plants--are the world's champs at photosynthesis, capturing the suns rays and converting it to chemical energy. That makes the microscopic plants very special, and potentially very useful, in reducing greenhouse gases. On his laptop, Berzin shows me a video of the algae up close and personal.

BERZIN: So, what you're going to see on the screen now is a microscopic view of the algae. Belly dancing around, they have a little mustache. They touch each other with the mustaches.

GELLERMAN: So, this is a plant? It's a one-celled plant?

BERZIN: Algae are the fastest growing plants on Earth. Their doubling time is measured in hours. My kids ask me, 'oh Daddy it's so cute. It's like pets. So, what do you do with them in the end?' I say, 'uh oh, I burn them.'

GELLERMAN: Berzin grows algae because they're super rich in oil. In some species, oil accounts for half the little creature's body mass. In fact, algae synthesize 30 times more vegetable oil per acre than plants like sunflowers or rapeseed. The algae biodiesel can be used to run engines, or converted into methane or fermented into alcohol. And here's the best part: algae eat carbon dioxide for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And one thing the global warming world has too much of is CO2 from fossil fuel burning power plants.


Bruce  Gellerman interviews Dr. Berzin (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)

GELLERMAN: Not far from his office, Berzin takes me to his algae laboratory. It's outside on the roof of MIT's 20 kilowatt power plant. A yellow brick smokestack towers overhead, and some of the power plant's exhaust is fed through a row of Plexiglas tubes. Inside, the gooey green algae feed on the CO2 and NOX, nitrogen oxide.

GELLERMAN: Can you describe what we are looking at? It looks like, I don't know, water gurgling through a bunch of tubes.

BERZIN: Actually, in professional terms it's called a bioreactor. It's nothing but three tubes connected together with some sea water and algae in them. And you can see the bubbles bubbling through the system. And you can kind of look at the bubble and follow it, and in the ten seconds or so that the bubbles are spending in the bioreactor 80 percent of the CO2 is moved and 85 percent of the NOX. And at the end of the day you harvest the algae, whatever was growing during the day, you take out of the system. It's like a cow you milk it and you make biofuels from the algae.

GELLERMAN: So, you're a farmer, you're a high-tech farmer.

BERZIN: Yeah, that's exactly the point. It's really, really a new age of farming.

GELLERMAN: Granted, this prototype is just small potatoes. But, theoretically, if you created an algae bioreactor twice the size of New Jersey, you could supply the entire petroleum needs of the U.S. The motto for Berzin's company is "waste not, profit more."

Algae tubes stand alongside a smokestack. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)


BERZIN: We believe that if you want to make an environmental revolution it should not come as the law. Okay? It should come as a great business. And if it's a great business, it has life of its own. So, you don't come to the power industry and tell them, 'you guys are the worst polluters and I have to shut you down. I have to fine you for a carbon tax, whatever.' I think that's the wrong approach. I think the right approach would be, 'guys, you're throwing all this CO2 away? Are you crazy? Let's make more money.' And that's how the world will change. That's how it will become a reality.

GELLERMAN: So, I was taught, you know, if it sounds too good to be true it usually is. What am I missing?

BERZIN: I'll tell you what the problem is. You have to produce algae in a cost that will be cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels. Then you think, 'wait a minute, what does this technology need?' It needs land, and you need water, and you need CO2. So, CO2 is not an issue. You're located next to a CO2 generating facility. Water, you get to use any quality of water. Treated sewage water, brackish water, ocean water, any water available. The third thing is, the land, usually near these big power plants, no one wants to live. It's non-fertile land. Nothing grows there even. So, you don't really compete with agriculture. So, how realistic this is? We believe it is realistic.

GELLERMAN: Isaac Berzin...founder and chief technology officer of Greenfuel Technologies Corp. You can see for yourself if algae are pond scum or planet savers; check out our web site: loe dot org.

Related link:
GreenFuel Technologies
Click here to download
GreenFuel File1 and File 2


Corn = net 81 gallons bio-diesel / acre 
    vs.  Soy = net 41 gallons / acre
      vs.  ALGAE = up to 15,000 gallons / acre

R-Squared Energy Blog: 

Biodiesel can be produced from crops, such as soybeans. The reported EROI for biodiesel from soybeans is 3.2(2). Note that this is over double the EROI for ethanol, and that doesnít even account for the higher efficiency of the diesel engine. Soybeans yield about 40 bushels per acre, which translates into around 60 gallons of biodiesel per acre. This is far short of the 350 gallons or more of ethanol that can be produced from an acre of corn, but we have to take into account the net energy produced. Given that the real energy return of grain ethanol is around 1.3, it took the energy equivalent of around 350/1.3, or 269 gallons of ethanol to make the 350. We netted out 81 gallons. For the soybeans, it took 60/3.2, or 19 gallons of biodiesel equivalent to produce the biodiesel, for a net of 41. But recall that 1 gallon of biodiesel is worth 2.25 gallons of ethanol when both are used in their respective engines, so the biodiesel yield is "worth" 2.25*41, or 92 gallons of ethanol. (Please note that these calculations are approximate. If I were going to try to publish this somewhere, I would convert everything into BTUs to calculate the net yields.)

However, I do not wish to make the argument that we should be making biodiesel from crops, unless we are doing so from by-products left over from food production. Production of biodiesel (or ethanol) from crops canít make a significant dent in our current usage of motor fuels. Fortunately, there may be a better way. A couple of years ago, I ran across an article that really caught my attention. It was my Reference 1 
(, a report by Michael Briggs at The University of New Hampshire. Briggs explained that biodiesel can be produced from algae, at yields as high as 15,000 gallons per acre! Briggs did a number of calculations of the feasibility and cost of replacing the entire motor fuel supply of the U.S. with biodiesel. I checked his calculations and read his references, and his analysis - based on experiments conducted by NREL - appeared to me to be spot on. In his own words, regarding the acreage that would be required:

In the previous section, we found that to replace all transportation fuels in the US, we would need 140.8 billion gallons of biodiesel, or roughly 19 quads (one quad is roughly 7.5 billion gallons of biodiesel). To produce that amount would require a land mass of almost 15,000 square miles. To put that in perspective, consider that the Sonora desert in the southwestern US comprises 120,000 square miles. Enough biodiesel to replace all petroleum transportation fuels could be grown in 15,000 square miles, or roughly 12.5 percent of the area of the Sonora desert (note for clarification - I am not advocating putting 15,000 square miles of algae ponds in the Sonora desert. This hypothetical example is used strictly for the purpose of showing the scale of land required). That 15,000 square miles works out to roughly 9.5 million acres - far less than the 450 million acres currently used for crop farming in the US, and the over 500 million acres used as grazing land for farm animals.

It would be preferable to spread the algae production around the country, to lessen the cost and energy used in transporting the feedstocks. Algae farms could also be constructed to use waste streams (either human waste or animal waste from animal farms) as a food source, which would provide a beautiful way of spreading algae production around the country. Nutrients can also be extracted from the algae for the production of a fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorous. By using waste streams (agricultural, farm animal waste, and human sewage) as the nutrient source, these farms essentially also provide a means of recycling nutrients from fertilizer to food to waste and back to fertilizer.

Regarding the costs, he writes:

In "The Controlled Eutrophication process: Using Microalgae for CO2 Utilization and Agircultural Fertilizer Recycling", the authors estimated a cost per hectare of $40,000 for algal ponds. In their model, the algal ponds would be built around the Salton Sea (in the Sonora desert) feeding off of the agircultural waste streams that normally pollute the Salton Sea with over 10,000 tons of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers each year. The estimate is based on fairly large ponds, 8 hectares in size each. To be conservative (since their estimate is fairly optimistic), we'll arbitrarily increase the cost per hectare by 100% as a margin of safety. That brings the cost per hectare to $80,000. Ponds equivalent to their design could be built around the country, using wastewater streams (human, animal, and agricultural) as feed sources. We found that at NREL's yield rates, 15,000 square miles (3.85 million hectares) of algae ponds would be needed to replace all petroleum transportation fuels with biodiesel. At the cost of $80,000 per hectare, that would work out to roughly $308 billion to build the farms.

The operating costs (including power consumption, labor, chemicals, and fixed capital costs (taxes, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and return on investment) worked out to $12,000 per hectare. That would equate to $46.2 billion per year for all the algae farms, to yield all the oil feedstock necessary for the entire country. Compare that to the $100-150 billion the US spends each year just on purchasing crude oil from foreign countries, with all of that money leaving the US economy.

I spent a lot of time reading through his references (some are very long reports), and I could not understand why we werenít massively funding this research. It turns out that NREL stopped funding the program in 1996. The reason remains unclear to me, but this concept had given me hope that there might be a viable alternative out there after all that didnít require us to turn all our forests into farmland. I spent a lot of time wondering just how I could involve myself in this area and contribute. I did e-mail Michael Briggs and we had a nice discussion, and I came away convinced that he knew what he was talking about. So why on earth werenít we all over this? Frankly, I still donít know the answer to that.

Biodiesel Plus Carbon Dioxide Recycle

Fast forward to 2006, and newspapers across the country picked up the story that Isaac Berzin, of MIT, is using algae to quickly recycle carbon in carbon dioxide rich exhaust stacks from power plants (3). What a brilliant, brilliant idea! Why didnít I think of that? By doing this, he is able to double up on the benefits. First, the carbon dioxide gets converted back into plant material instead of going directly into the atmosphere. This would be a way of sequestering the carbon, provided the algae was properly disposed of. The story reports:

Fed a generous helping of CO2-laden emissions, courtesy of the power plant's exhaust stack, the algae grow quickly even in the wan rays of a New England sun. The cleansed exhaust bubbles skyward, but with 40 percent less CO2 (a larger cut than the Kyoto treaty mandates) and another bonus: 86 percent less nitrous oxide.

That alone is incredible. But that isnít all:

After the CO2 is soaked up like a sponge, the algae is harvested daily. From that harvest, a combustible vegetable oil is squeezed out: biodiesel for automobiles. Berzin hands a visitor two vials - one with algal biodiesel, a clear, slightly yellowish liquid, the other with the dried green flakes that remained. Even that dried remnant can be further reprocessed to create ethanol, also used for transportation.

One key is selecting an algae with a high oil density - about 50 percent of its weight. Because this kind of algae also grows so fast, it can produce 15,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre. Just 60 gallons are produced from soybeans, which along with corn are the major biodiesel crops today.

Now thatís ethanol I can live with. Finally:

For his part, Berzin calculates that just one 1,000 megawatt power plant using his system could produce more than 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. That would require a 2,000-acre "farm" of algae-filled tubes near the power plant. There are nearly 1,000 power plants nationwide with enough space nearby for a few hundred to a few thousand acres to grow algae and make a good profit, he says.

I hope this guy is extremely successful and makes a billion dollars. He has the potential here to make a contribution to society that most of us only dream about. As he himself said "This is a big idea, a really powerful idea." I couldnít agree with those sentiments more.
There are some comments and more links at the end of his blog - so you might want to research those. 

And the blog author's email:


ALGAE = up to 15,000 gallons / acre


   Hydrogen = ZERO NET (at great danger & expense)         

ďHydrogen EconomyĒ a Boondoggle:

While the "hydrogen economy" receives much media attention, there are serious problems with hydrogen as transportation fuel. The first is hydrogen gas is extremely explosive. Hydrogen must be pressurized to 250 atmospheres for use as fuel, requiring corrosion-resistant tanks that don't rust, spring leaks, and explode.


Hydrogenís low energy density requires fuel tanks 14 times as large to yield the same driving range. To get a 1,000 mile range, a tractor trailer needs 168 gallons of diesel. Hydrogen vehicles would require 2,360 gallons of hydrogen, stored at 250 atmospheres. Dedicating that much space to fuel storage would drastically reduce how much trucks could carry, while the costs of high-pressure, corrosion-resistant storage tanks -- astronomical.


The two main options for producing hydrogen, generating from water and extracting from other fuels, both have energy efficiencies below 100%, (takes more energy to produce than you get). 


Hydrogen vehicles (currently $1 million each to produce) would need a widescale hydrogen fuel distribution system. With a single hydrogen fuel pump costing $1 million, installing six at each of the 176,000 fuel stations across the US is over $1 trillion - costs completely avoided with biofuels that use our current infrastructure.

Click Here for full:  ALGAE vs. Hydrogen info
        Special Thanks to Michael Briggs, University of New Hampshire
        Physics Department and Bio-Diesel Group, for the information!


According to 1994 data, algae ponds 5-times the size of Colorado would turn around global warming since algae multiplies so quickly and produces so much oxygen per square foot.  While the U.S. government has enormous information that a fraction of current U.S. farm land growing algae could easily replace foreign oil at a fraction of the cost, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) stopped funding research into this in 1996. Since then there's been almost NO U.S. government funding provided for what is probably our best chance to reverse global warming. The independent researchers in America are operating from private funds while inefficient options like corn and hydrogen are promoted. (Other countries' governments may be properly funding their algae research).

A network of researchers, each providing $9000 to be a part of the "algae" network, have created "International Network on Biofixation of Greenhouse Gases and CO2 Abatement with Microalgae."  Their website gives this history of commercial algae research:

"Microalgae cultures have been investigated as a source of renewable fuels for almost fifty years. The initial concept was to grow algae in municipal wastewaters, harvest the algal biomass and convert it to methane fuel. By the 1980's the R&D emphasis shifted to microalgae production in large-scale processes with fuels as the only outputs.

"In the mean-time, a microalgae food supplement production industry developed, starting in the 1960ís in Japan for the production of Chlorella, followed by development in the U.S., Taiwan, Australia, China and other countries of production processes for Spirulina, Dunaliella and recently, Haematococcus. At present, about 5 000 tons of food- and feed-grade microalgae biomass are produced annually in large open pond systems.

Microalgae production facility (Courtesy of Cyanotech Corp.)
Typical Commercial Microalgae Production Facility, Kona, Hawaii. (This one being 90 acres).
Note: green ponds culturing Spirulina and red ponds with Haematococcus pluvialis.
(Courtesy of Cyanotech Corp.)
"A plant in Hawaii is using the flue gas from a small power plant to supply the CO2, required in microalgae production. Microalgae ponds are also extensively used in many countries for wastewater treatment and at least one plant in California is using the methane obtained from the harvested algal biomass to produce electricity.
"The Microalgae Biofixation Network provides a structure and mechanism by which expertise can be shared, critical mass reached and research projects co-ordinated to help focus R&D efforts on the most promising approaches towards practical applications."

There's much more info on Microalgae, and how much CO2 algae can "capture" at the: "International Network on Biofixation of Greenhouse Gases and CO2 Abatement with Microalgae"



According to Michael Briggs, to move the US from dependence on foreign oil, would take approximately $308 billion to build sufficient algae farms.  Thereafter, the operating costs (including power consumption, labor, chemicals, and fixed capital costs (taxes, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and return on investment) would equate to $46.2 billion per year for enough algae farms, to yield all the oil feedstock necessary for the entire country. Compare that to the $100-150 billion the US spends each year  purchasing crude oil from foreign countries, with all of that money leaving the US economy.

     Click here to see Michael Briggs article and cost comparison of Algae vs. Foreign Oil - including a table showing Algae payoff of open pond capital costs within 4 years, and saving US $75+ billion per year thereafter, etc., leading to this dilemma:


Organic vs. Pesticides/Genetic Modification

Photobioreactors: "Organic" Algae vs. Algae Open Ponds: Pesticides/Genetic Modification
(Note: less than one half of one percent of all US farmland is organic)

             In a series of emails with Michael Briggs:    

Mike: The cost estimates in my article were based on estimates to build open ponds. The biggest problem is takeover by low oil strains. The fundamental problem is that low oil strains always grow faster than high oil strains (takes more energy to make oil, which slows their growth), so they will always take over an open system.  You can do a hybrid photobioreactor-open pond system with nutrients limited in the open pond portion for part of the lifecycle, but if you do pure open ponds, the only way to make it work would be to engineer high oil algaes to be resistant to some poison that you would dump in the pond, i.e. Monsanto's "Round-up Ready" approach with land crops, something I'm not a fan of.

Tami: While I'm also not a fan of Monsanto GMO and poisons, it seems that if you use "poison" for foods in America, you could certainly use it for algae - since the algae would be used for fuel.

Mike: The algae wouldn't only be used for fuel. The economics are much better if you also use the protein from the algae as animal feed or fertilizer. That's why in my article I say that that's not really a viable option, and that we are instead focusing on photobioreactors - which need more development to bring down their capital costs, to make it viable.

Tami: I think our country should compare the cost of open ponds, using Monsanto approach with the only product a bio-fuel, to the photobioreactor approach where you get "organic" algae for bio-fuel and protein for animal feed/fertilizer. It seems we could start with open ponds in "normal" American farming approach, while continuing R & D on photobioreactors to make them both viable and competitive.


Get "ALGAE To Oil" Info Out!

ALGAE is probably the best way to reduce EXISTING CO2.      

In 1994, Daryl Kollman, founder of the blue-green algae company, Cell Tech, (see Algae Pond Project) said: "algae multiplies so quickly and produces so much oxygen per square foot that ponds with a total surface area five times the size of Colorado would be enough to start to reverse our growing CO2 problem."  His concept was to have algae ponds worldwide on farms, with the algae converting CO2 to O2, and continually plowing the algae into the soil for fertilizer (putting over 60-some elements into depleted topsoil). 

Enough biodiesel to replace all U.S. petroleum transportation fuels and our dependence on all foreign oil sources could be grown in 15,000 square miles / approximately 9.5 million acres.  Yet the U.S. government is pushing the very explosive, expensive and zero net energy Hydrogen and almost equally inefficient Corn options.

The U.S. government  needs to quit looking at hydrogen and corn and begin massive and wholesale funding and grants for algae. New state agri-business of algae farms?  Or grants for ocean farming? 

Algae farms 5 times in size of the state of Colorado would begin to turn around global warming. What about "algae farms" 10 times that size?  Converting CO2 into O2, reversing global warming, reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And the algae wouldn't only be used for fuel. Michael Briggs says the economics are much better if you also use the protein from the algae as animal feed or fertilizer. The profit motive alone gives us reason to move forward quickly. What a great opportunity

                                       --------------  and  --------------

Conservation/New Energy reduces "future" CO2
Algae reduces EXISTING CO2!

Pond Scum Planet Saver?  Yes, if we take action!

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