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Old 18-03-2003, 07:08 PM
Tarzan
 
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Default Algea Power (repost)

Re-engineering Algae To Fuel The Hydrogen Economy.
Decline of the oil economy ?
-
Could this happen in Singapore ?
An algae based hydrogen producing tank on top of each HDB block !
-----------------
"This is low tech," says Mellis of California startup Mellis energy.
"It won't require fancy equipment or industrial facilities. A farmer
could do it."
The company is trying to patent a tubular bioreactor - a network of
sealed tubes
- for cultivating algae and extracting pure hydrogen.
-----------------
The coming hydrogen age promises guilt-free SUVs and factories that
belch steam instead of smog. But where will all that hydrogen come
from?
California startup Melis Energy thinks it has the answer: genetically
enhanced pond scum.

Traditional methods of extracting hydrogen from H2O take electricity,
which usually means torching fossil fuels. Alternatives exist, but
solar
cells are pricey, and windmills are limited to windy areas. Industrial
hydrogen producers get their supply by blasting natural gas (CH4)
with scalding steam, and fuel cells use a similar method to strip
hydrogen from gasoline, wood alcohol, or methane. In other words,
hydrogen production may be a big improvement over internal combustion,
but it still unleashes plenty of greenhouse gases. So what to do?


Use algae, says Tasios Melis. His breakthrough came in 1998 when,
as a UC Berkeley biochemist, he was tinkering with green algae, trying
to coax the plants to convert water into hydrogen. Algae have long
been
known to produce minuscule amounts of the gas. Trouble is, the enzyme
that propels the reaction (hydrogenase) stalls in the presence of
oxygen,
and - think back to high school bio - plants naturally produce oxygen
during photosynthesis.


Melis found he could reprogram photosynthesis and stifle internal
oxygen
flow by depriving the plant cells of sulfur. Under these conditions,
the algae
pumped out hydrogen for days at a time - lots of it. "We thought maybe
we'd get a little hydrogen," Melis says. "But it came out in bulk
amounts."

Recognizing the commercial possibilities, Melis and his colleagues
applied
for a patent and published their results in 2000. Last year, he
recruited
entrepreneur Steve Kurtzer as CEO and engineer James Candy as
director of engineering, and Melis Energy was born.

The startup's goal: license the technology to power generators, fuel
wholesalers, and hydrogen producers. Kurtzer is negotiating with
private investors for $10 million to cover R&D. If that comes through,
Melis and Kurtzer predict their algae will hit the market in two to
five years.

Melis sees widespread applications for his method. "This is low tech,"
he says.
"It won't require fancy equipment or industrial facilities. A farmer
could do it."
The company is trying to patent a tubular bioreactor - a network of
sealed tubes
- for cultivating algae and extracting pure hydrogen.

Each unit might hold 5,000 to 10,000 gallons. A megaplant could hold
as many as 1 million.

At the moment, Melis' method won't cut it in the marketplace.
The algae-hydrogen system generates electricity that costs about
31 cents a kilowatt-hour. Natural gas-fired juice runs a nickel or
less.
But a solution is in sight. Melis' team recently uncovered the key
bottleneck in its green biomachine: Hydrogenase is present in only
tiny amounts. By genetically engineering algae that express high
levels
of the enzyme, the team expects to double hydrogen output.

Still, if you thought solar power was fringe, try selling algae to the
big boys.
Algal fuel is certain to face skepticism and stiff competition.
Natural gas
isn't going anywhere, and cost-saving advances in solar, wind, and
biomass conversion are inevitable. "What Melis has done is the most
advanced to date in the biological area," says Seth Dunn, an energy
expert at the Worldwatch Institute. "I'd put it in the wild card
category.
" Then again, that's what they said about the horseless carriage.


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