Algae flavor of the week

Algae is hot these days, and Green Inc. covers the latest apparent innovation:
A California start-up, Aurora Biofuels, says it has cultivated algae that doubles production of biodiesel by absorbing more than twice as much carbon dioxide as conventional strains.

According to Robert Walsh, the chief executive of the company, Aurora’s breakthrough was to develop algae mutations that can ingest carbon dioxide regardless of the intensity of sunlight.

“Algae have a built-in mechanism to be effective at low light and as it gets brighter during the day their uptake of carbon dioxide levels off,” said Mr. Walsh. “We’ve been able to go in and alter strains by natural mutation to cause the algae to deal with light across the whole spectrum. The algae continue to uptake CO2 through brighter light and are more productive.”

He said Aurora has built a pilot facility “between a 7-Eleven and the beach” near Melbourne, Fla., and that for the past several months the new algae strains have been producing a gallon of biodiesel a day in an Olympic pool-sized pond.
I'm not trying to be overly harsh, but that doesn't sound like a very good yield. There are about 42 gallons in a barrel, which means this technology would appear to need 40 Olympic pool-sized ponds to produce 1 barrel of biodiesel per day.
The company plans to have a demonstration plant capable of producing 1,000 gallons of fuel a day in operation by the second quarter of 2010. A full-scale production facility is to follow in 2011.
By the same math, this demonstration plant will produce <25 barrels per day. By comparison, world petroleum production is 85 million barrels per day, of which the U.S. consumes in the neighborhood of one quarter, or about one million times the size of the output of the demo plant. (To be fair, not all of these petroleum products are diesel but that's the order of magnitude.) So let me know if my back-of-the-envelope is off, but this "breakthrough" doesn't appear to get algae anywhere near where it needs to be to scale effectively.

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