Algae Biofuel Updates

Keep up to date with advanced biofuels research from the Omaha Biofuels Coop, and other organizations.

NABCE13 Presentation

Slides and a video of my presentation will be posted here shortly after the conference.

Wet Algae Biomass Separation for Biofuel Production
Scott H. Williams PhD

National Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo 2013
Thursday, Sept 12, 2013
CenturyLink Center
Omaha, NE

(Content is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Speaking at the National Advanced Biofuels Conference, in Omaha, NE

I will be speaking at a biofuels conference next week, conveniently hosted in my hometown of Omaha, NE

National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo
CenturyLink Center Omaha

Scroll down the page a bit on the above linked page and find my talk listed during the panel discussion about algae.

Track 2: Inputs & Supply Chains
Thursday, Sept 12
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Algae Biofuels: Updates and Progress from Leading Regional and National Researchers
The momentum in the algae biofuels segment is hard to deny. Once relegated to lab and bench scale volumes, the industry is now delivering real gallons for test flights, and more than a few producers are well into their commercialization plans. Still, algae research abounds as researchers work to perfect cultivation, harvest and conversion approaches. Featuring a strong representation from the Midwest, this panel digs into the compelling research being done to continue to drive algae’s incredible potential forward.

Scott Williams, Postdoctoral Fellow, Advanced Algae Biofuels, Johns Hopkins University
Wet Algae Biomass Separation for Biofuel Production

Algae clean pollution, creating clean energy and fish food

ScienceDaily is ran a story featuring Johns Hopkins University (JHU) graduate students studying integrated systems to mitigate agricultural waste and produce algae biofuels.

Turning Algae Into Clean Energy and Fish Food; Helping Africans to Irrigate Crops
Apr. 16, 2013
Could algae that feast on wastewater produce clean bio-fuels and a healthful supply of fish food? Can impoverished African community gardeners learn to use and maintain a simple centuries-old, non-electric water pump to grow more

The article discusses the 2013 National Sustainable Design Expo, occuring this week, on the National Mall in D.C, sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The expo is part of a competition for follow-up grants to teams through a program entitled P3: People, Prosperity and Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability.

One of the JHU teams, named AlgaFuture, developed a project to use algae in wastewater treatment facilities to remove agricultural run-off pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus. As the algae grow, they can reduce the level of polutants. The biomass can then be used to produce renewable biofuels.

Disclosure: The author (S. H. Williams) does work in collaboration with the students featured in this story.

Algae: The Next Green Biofuel - Scott Williams, PhD #IB12

I was recently invited to talk about my research, and algae biofuels in general, at Ignite Baltimore 12.
The condensed Ignite format (5 minutes total; 20 slides x 15 sec each, auto-advance) led to a talk tailored for a general audience.
A recording of the talk is available for anyone interested to learn about algae biofuels.


Researchers in Baltimore lead a revolution in biofuels, produced from a tiny biological powerhouse. We lead energy intense lives. Fossil fuel sources are dwindling. Their use changes our climate. Foreign imports are used to meet rising demand. Biofuels are renewable, carbon-neutral, and grown domestically. One promising biofuel source is algae, which grows at a very high rate; 1 pound of algae grows to 50 lbs in only 7 days. Bio-oil makes up 30% of the weight of algae, which is extracted to make biofuels to supplement or replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Crops need fertile soil to grow. Algae can grow on non-arable land to avoid the "Food-or-Fuel" conflict of biofuels like corn ethanol or soy biodiesel. As research improves efficiency in algae biofuels, prices continue to drop. In our lifetime, algae will be farmed as a crop the way corn is today, and cars, trucks, planes and trains will use a truly green fuel. Presented for all with a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA).

The Creative Commons license applies to the talk, the video, the slides, and all of the content.
If you like, you can download the video from our Vimeo page:

The slides are available here:

{open office version}

Here are the slides in a ppt version for anyone who hasn't yet started adopting open document formats


Algae-to-Fuel, U.S. DOE

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) recently featured algae as a fuel source in their video series Energy 101. The video is a good general overview of the most basic fundamental ideas of algae biofuels, a great place to start for anyone who is just beginning to learn about this topic, or for classrooms discussion energy.

How Energy Department scientists and researchers produce clean, renewable fuel -- from algae


Algae fuel in Nebraska on NET

I recently found a nice piece put together by NET about algae as a fuel source, featuring local research and commercial efforts right in Nebraska.

Quest Nebraska: Algae for Fuel
NET: Nebraska’s PBS & NPR Stations
Friday, July 22, 2011 - 16:53
Finding new forms of energy using algae for fuel.

The same clip seems to have been featured in a more recent episode of QUEST Nebraska.

QUEST Nebraska
NET: Nebraska’s PBS & NPR Stations
Sunday, August 26, 2012 - 15:30
This episode includes stories about hidden waters of the Sandhills, a methane digester that converts hog waste into electricity, how UNL helps researchers in California and New Mexico turn algae into fuel, and attempts to save endangered Tiger Beetles.

You can also find the clip on YouTube, posted by NETnebraska

Algae for Fuel - a QUEST Nebraska Feature
With growing pressure on the word's gas supply, University of Nebraska biologist George Oyler is working with researchers in California and New Mexico on a fuel alternative -- algae for fuel. Microscopic algae is grown in labs, then cultivated like a farm crop in ponds in New Mexico to turn the oil within aquatic algae into "green crude" -- which can be refined just like crude oil...into gas for cars, trucks, and planes. For more information, visit

Disclosure: The author of this post, Dr. Scott Williams, is involved in collaborative research efforts with a research group at UNL including Dr. George Oyler, featured in this clip, as well as Synaptic Research, a start-up ventured near Baltimore, MD, headed by Dr. Oyler.


Algae biofuels on Ars Technica

One of the websites that I frequently read is Ars Technica, so I thought I'd search back and see what they have written/posted about algae biofuels. Not a ton of results, and nothing too current. I guess that just means there is plenty of room for their writers to cover this field.

Here are the articles I found:

Algae biofuels could significantly reduce oil imports
How much energy might the US be able to obtain from biofuels made from algae? …
by John Timmer - Apr 14 2011, 4:44pm EDT

DOE grants $80 million to biofuel research
US Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that $80 million will be invested …
by Casey Johnston - Jan 14 2010, 12:51pm EST

Global potential for biodiesel is "enormous"
A study of the potential for biodiesel production reveals great potential in …
by John Timmer - Oct 22 2007, 11:02pm EDT

This one is in about a slightly different field of research. Technically, seaweed is "marcoalgae", as opposed to the green, single-cell "microalgae". Additionally, ethanol is the end result of a fuel production path that uses carbohydrates as the source, as opposed to lipids. Even with these differences, the potential for algae as a biofuel source through this pathway also shows promise.

Engineered E. coli produce biofuel from seaweed
Researchers engineer E. coli to produce ethanol from brown macroalgae, …
by Kyle Niemeyer - Feb 1 2012, 11:00am EST


Algae As Car Fuel, from NPR's Morning Edition

Algae biofuels are were covered in a piece on NPR's Morning Edition last week. Richard Harris highlighted the potential, such as fueling 10 cars per acre of algae, as well as the challenges in finding the necessary water, nutrients (N/P/K, CO2), and energy required for algae biofuels to move towards "its promise of making the world a better place as it displaces fossil fuels".

Algae As Car Fuel: Possible, But Not Sustainable?
by Richard Harris
NPR, Morning Edition
October 25, 2012

Growing algae as a source of fuel could consume vast amounts of water and fertilizer, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences. There's also a risk that the energy required to produce these fuels would make them impractical. These daunting technical problems need to be overcome if the nation wants to turn to algae fuels as a substitute for gasoline.

Listen to the whole story here:

As a bit of a critique, the title (specifically the phrase "But Not Sustainable") doesn't actually reflect the content of the article, much less the actual state of science research regarding algae as a fuel source.

As Eric Williams pointed out, the story specifically addresses the issue of "energy balance", a concept which Mr. Harris succinctly describes as

"... how much energy it takes to make these fuels. Obviously you don't want to consume more energy than you're going to get back in the form of fuel."

Keep following progress in algae biofuels right here with the Omaha Biofuels Coop. I'll continue to add further supporting articles, both scientific and journalistic, to back up the claim that this field is further along than Mr. Harris's title might suggest, and moving forward in leaps and bounds.


Algae in the Omaha news

Algae has been in the Omaha news recently, although not in the most positive light.

Big bid, little interest in Gene Leahy Mall renovation
By Juan Perez Jr.
Published Monday, October 22, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 6:57 am

Early this month, the city received only one bid from a firm willing to dredge and deepen the park's algae-infested lagoon...

The article was followed up the next day in Jeff Koterba's cartoon on 2012-10-23
(shame that Mr. Koterba doesn't apply a Creative Commons license to his work, then I would have been able to reproduce it here)

At first, I thought this case might be similar to the recent incident involving the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
After a massive two-year renovation, as soon as the pool was filled it quickly filled with green algae.

Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool is drained to remove algae
By Candace Wheeler, Published: October 3

Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman with the National Park Service, said officials had made attempts in the past week to remove the algae, which began showing up in the pool about a week after its reopening. Johnson had said earlier that the Park Service expected a “break-in period” for the pool, but no one had anticipated the amount of algae that appeared.

However, a quick search through the less-than-user-friendly archive on showed an article this past spring about the Gene Leahy Mall renovation project. That article also parroted the phrase "algae-invested lagoon".

Lagoon, trails to get $1.3 million renovation
Date: May 16, 2012
Publication: Omaha World-Herald (NE)
Edition: Metro;Nebraska;Sunrise
Section: News Page: 01B

... grant money from the Nebraska Environmental Trust will be spent to dredge and deepen the park's algae-infested lagoon...

Apparently the green algae present in Central Park Mall isn't exactly a sudden occurrence, as it was in the nation's capital. There is a more general dislike for the "green slime" present in the water.
I am not trying to say that the particular algae in the water in Central Park Mall is particularly beneficial. As my mother taught me when I was young, "A weed is any plant growing in a place where it isn't wanted. Even a rose is a weed if it's growing in the middle of the lawn"

Hopefully, news stories about the positive potential of algae as a source for biofuel will start showing up in the news soon. Then the mental association between "algae" and "ewwww" might start to shift. Keep your eyes open, those stories might even start to involve yours truly.


Omaha Algae

Woah! Only 6 days after my initial post with Algae Biofuel News, this page is already the 5th result in a Google search for the terms " Omaha algae ".

Watch this space, I'll keep adding content, and no doubt we'll be having more visitors soon!


Algae Biofuel News Stories

Algae fuels have been getting some pretty good buzz lately. Here are several recent examples:

Will Algae Biofuels Hit the Highway?
Ken Silverstein, Contributor, Energy Central Editor for Forbes

This Little Green Plant Could Be The Biofuel Of The Future
Shlomo Sprung

Grow Your Own Energy
A NASA-backed experiment harvests algae for oil, releases fresh water.
Jonathan Trent

Arizona Wins America’s Next Top Algae Biofuel Research Facility… For Now
Tina Casey

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