Would you believe a process simple as operating a swimming pool could make all the fuel America needs and in a few months? This is the story of Fuel Farm. Science tells us the first green plants responsible for all petroleum were virtually identical to modern aquatic algae. They are the fastest growing plants and double their mass in 12 hours with full sunlight and sufficient CO2. On dying they become a black gooey, stinky precursor to petroleum that created 50 times the petroleum we have recovered.
Paleogeologists say early Earth’s atmosphere was 12% CO2 and 8% oxygen initially. Marine algae consumed nearly all the CO2 in air leaving only a trace, 280 parts per million, but increased oxygen 125% while putting many gigatons of petroleum precursor under the sea beds. What we have taken from a few old sea beds is 2% of that deposited, but undersea recovery is not done. We spent all our science money on Man In Space! Nonetheless, we can use the same process to solve our fuel problem today.
The sun rising across America will bring thousands of one-acre Fuel Farm systems to life every morning. Zero-polluting Fuel Farms can produce all the motor and home heating fuel for America at lower real costs than ever. They sequester great amounts of carbon in accord with expected laws. 60% of their product is permanently captured. The motor and heating fuel sells for the equivalent of 25 cents per gallon in 1960’s money without government subsidies.
Start-up Considerations Fuel Farms are privately funded as each one is built on the same engineered plan hopefully validated by federal law for building in all states pending site approval and hitched to highway funds to avoid state and local bureau blocking and corruption. While a few large fuel farms will be owned by large corporations to make product for export most will be in the hands of small, local private investors operating independently to make product for the general public. They will have to abide by federal product standards, but establish their own prices based on local conditions to insure a free market for the product. Simple Process 5H2O + 4CO2 C4H4OH + 6O2 The general, overall or sum-of-the-process equation for the production for butanol from water and carbon dioxide could not be simpler. This accounts for 42% of what is happening in the fermentation “must.” While a gross over-simplification this equation is useful in engineering the system as it shows how much of the components will be needed when summed with: 6 H2O + 6CO2 -> C6H12O6 + 6CO2 Simultaneously, 58% of the captured carbon goes into solids in the sugar, starch, cellulose classes of photosynthetic products that will constitute animal food, soil amendment or material use in manufacturing. The latter two classes will permanently sequester the carbon. We grow one-celled algae with carbon dioxide supplementation, then ferment it with bacteria to produce butanol, chill the mixture to separate it, decant and filter finished fuel with no additional refining, pellet the solids for animal or fish food, fuel or further manufacturing. It can be used as soil amendment to improve barren lands with organic inclusions which produce soil borne carbon dioxide on decay in keeping with “plowing under” or “no till” practices designed to increase soil carbon dioxide. It has recently been discovered that Tilapia, the herbivorous African fish that is fast-growing and a low-cost protein source, produces proteins that are not good for humans when it is fed corn, but makes oil and proteins that are advantageous when fed algae. This may also be true for trout, which are another fish farm product often raised on maize. We may have to heat or microwave the solids to remove all butanol before feeding it to animals. Butanol As Fuel
Butanol works with 100 Octane qualities in every gasoline or Diesel engine without change. A little oil is added for Diesel. Diesels do not have to use long chain hydrocarbons. They burn anything, even powdered coal, but Diesel fuel must have lubrication for their high precision injectors. 1% oil is added for Diesel fuel to lubricate them. Butanol is fully compatible with the petroleum infrastructure. It has no water and does not attack seals or tubing of any kind. Regional Differences South of Saint Louis (38 N) fuel farms will produce every day of the year. On rainy or overcast days output is reduced for lack of sunlight. North of the 38th parallel the production season will be shortened by cold weather and overcast, but can be extended with heat and insulation. Fuel Farms may use solar heat and fermentation produced hydrogen and methane gas to heat the algae growing and fermentation tanks if heat is needed. Thus, every site in every location will be a unique engineering opportunity. We will develop computer software to deal with these variables. A shortened season and greater cost will justify higher product prices in the north to account for lower production, storage and facilities needed to insure year-round supplies or cover importing product which has to include cost of transport. Nonetheless, there should be a national market for butanol fuel with the price established competitively. Certainly, it will be cheaper in the south compared to the north.
As sunlight strikes the sealed growing tanks and solar collectors we hear creaks and groans of expanding metal and glass changing at different rates. Each growing cell is a one foot deep, eight foot wide, 200 foot long plastic trough formed in 20 foot sections. CO2 delivery tubes in the troughs come to life emitting floods of tiny bubbles recreating the atmosphere of 3.5 billion years ago. Motor driven screws stir the culture so all cells are well exposed. At the end of the day the top half of the culture is skimmed off to a fermentation vessel.
The Bacteria Clostridium tyrobutyricum and Clostridium acetobutylicum bacteria are the active fermenting agents. Under a 100X microscope they look like tiny snare drum sticks with two bulbous ends. The mixture is warmed by sunlight and heat exchangers from pumps cooling a batch in the separation tank deep in the ground. After several days of fermenting 35% to 45% of the mass will be butanols, the four carbon alcohols with the remainder of cellulosic solid with 55% to 65% of the carbon bound to become a food or industrial source or a soil amendment in perpetuity.
History of the fermentation In 1916, Chaim Weizmann, a disciple of Louis Pasteur who would later be the first President of Israel, discovered Clostridium acetobutylicum converted waste products to acetone and butanol. The process was used during World War I to make acetone for Cordite gunpowder production. Later it was seen that two bacilli from the genus in combination did a better job of making butanol. But, the process fell into disuse when butanol could be made from petroleum much cheaper when crude was $2 per barrel.
Collecting the Species To start the process is it possible to purchase both algae and bacteria cultures. But, the best way is to find local varieties as they are adapted to prevailing conditions and pathogens. Capture only requires leaving the tops off the growing tanks for a few days allowing algae spores in the air to find water. Several varieties will appear and they should be grown as a group. It has recently been observed that simple organisms do better in communities than in pure cultures. The bacteria are common in the soil, but must be isolated by a bacteriologist who can identify and purify the culture to the two species wanted. Many high school biology teachers can do this work and we will have a manual for those unprepared in bacteriology, but conversant with physical and biological science. Nonetheless, commercial cultures may be purchased. The Science Biologists recently discovered plants do better growing with other species in communities. The reason is not known, but it simplifies Fuel Farm management as there is no imperative to maintain a pure algae culture. And, makes ongoing research imperative. Clostridinium bacteria are common in soil. The bacteriologist has to isolate the two we need to produce butanol as other varieties make unwanted substances. Nonetheless, what is found locally will already be adapted to regional conditions and better than anything that comes from a lab many miles away. Local high school biology teachers with a bacteriology course will be able to culture and purify Clostridium tyrobutyricum and Clostridium acetobutylicum bacteria as well as manage a development program. We can use commercial cultures if needed.
It is imperative to have an ongoing program of developing both the algae and bacteria as output will decline left undirected. Ten one gallon containers can handle algae cultures. In each cycle the most vigorous sample is used to seed the next round by dumping nine and dividing the best culture between the vessels. The same procedure will work for the bacteria and in both cases culture vigor can be estimated by amounts of gas produced in the growing or fermentation processes. When fermentation is complete the must is filtered into a cooling tank deep in the ground where it chills to earth temperature of 10 Celsius due to the surroundings and heat conducting rods hammered into the earth when the tank was built. The cooling side of a heat pump chills the fermentate, or “must,” to 0 Celsius without freezing any water and 93% of the butanol separates to float to the top where it can be decanted and filtered as finished product with no further refining required.
Ice could be used for the final cooling step. Where heat lost is equal to heat gained and ice requires known amounts of heat to melt the amount needed to achieve separation can be calculated. This would only happen in a very special circumstance for small home unit or a “sci-fi” movie script than any known location as ice cutting and storage is a lost art. Thus, we will not bother with the calculation. The amount of ice would be substantial for nearly 30,000 gallons of must. The butanol to be used in Diesels or jet turbines will need a quart of vegetable or petroleum oil for every 25 gallons of fuel. This is a Diesel fuel that has no sulfur and burns completely to be pollution free. Ideal Example The ideal circumstance for the Fuel Farm is in Arizona where there is little overcast and abundant “gray water” from municipal sewage plants. Algae loves this stuff. In a perfect case we would grow algae in the day, ferment it overnight and separate fuel the next day while the algae produces the next batch. With one acre of growing area for each inch of algae we would skim at the end of each day we would get 3630 cubic feet of algae and water that would contain 226,875 pounds of material, or 28,359 gallons, which would contain about 22,687 pounds of solids as algae is 90% water.
Value of Product The 28,359 gallons of “must,” as such fermentates are called, will produce about 9075 gallons of product butanol. At $2.50 per gallon that will be $22,688 worth of product for each inch of algae skimmed and processed. Costs If the facility uses municipal water or “gray” water those costs vary from location to location, but on the order of pennies per hundred pounds for fresh water, zero for gray water or the facility may be paid for taking it. The only real cost will be in obtaining and handling carbon dioxide. The commercial price is on the order of $100 per ton, but with sequestration legislation soon this may turn out to be an income source. The EPA estimate is that the price paid would be $100 per ton to take it. For each inch of algae skimmed from the acre 27 tons of CO2 will have to come from somewhere. These is so little in the atmosphere it cannot be considered a source just as it is barely a source for green plants. Ten million cubic feet of air would have to be pumped into the algae culture to supply it. But, the atmosphere contains so much oxygen it would become a problem as oxygen kills algae in the high concentrations produced under pressure. 27 tons of CO2 could cost $2700, nothing or earn $2700 depending on legislation. But, where the product has a market value $22,687 the cost or not of CO2 is not a problem at 12% of the product value, worst case. And, especially when everything else is virtually free. Solids Residue The process leaves us with nearly 8000 gallons of soupy residue that can be dried and perhaps pressed into pellets to be fed to livestock, but it will contain a butanol residue that will have to be considered as it will be poisonous at some concentration. Although it may be intoxicating to cows. In all likelihood, animals will not find butanol residue bad or objectionable as it will be 6% of the material with some of that lost in the drying process due to volatility. Removing the butanol residue may prove too expensive or difficult to make the dried material usable as animal food, but it could be used as a solid pellet fuel or soil amendment. In any case the 16 tons of solid will have value of no less than $100 per ton or $1600 for each inch of algae culture we process per acre.
The fermentations have to be done in a sealed tank to keep oxygen out as it interferes with the process and keep CO2 and H2 in the tank. These gases should be drawn off and stored for use in the fermentation or as fuel if sufficient hydrogen is present for combustion. The literature indicates anything over seven percent hydrogen will burn. A 50 foot diameter tank, 15 feet tall is needed for the fermentation of each inch of skimmed algae, 28,360 gallons. If the environment is such that we need two days for each fermentation then we would need two fermenting tanks in order to be unloading from one tank every day. As we locate farther north we will have to add a fermentation tank for each additional day the fermentation requires. Each acre will produce 3,312,375 gallons of product per year. At $2.50 per gallon the gross would be $8,280,938 per acre/year. Fuel Farm Economics The economics of the Fuel Farm range from good to wonderful depending on three factors: (1) price/value perception (2) cost of materials, particularly CO2 and (3) cost of regulation. This concept will never be cornered, monopolized or shelved for the period of the patent and after 20 years will be in the public domain and many back yards. It is meant to held by as many entrepreneurs as possible because competition will reduce the price and we will never have serious competition from petroleum. Plus, there is nothing to prevent any back-yard amateur from setting up his own unit for personal use. We envision every small farmer building such a unit and as long as he does not sell any product there is no patent infringement. Price/Value Perception Inflation of the dollar has rendered it to value of a 1960 dime in 2008 based on a basket of items we have tracked since then. In that year the price of gasoline in the most competitive, best-served markets of the United States was 25 cents/gallon. Diesel fuel, home heating oil or “Jet A” was cheaper, but in butanol’s case these fuels will have to be a little higher as they require the addition of 1% oil for injectors. This would add two to three dollars to every 25 gallons. Thus we would add an additional dime per gallon for Diesel, home heating fuel or jet fuel. This four percent increase is still a bargain given the 10% efficiency gain of Diesel engines. The CO2 Question We may find that we can draw three inches of algae from the growing tanks every day but need 18 tons of carbon dioxide for every inch we draw. If sequestered CO2 is a glut on the market and we can charge for getting rid of it, then we are in a business comparable to that of selling homing pigeons. If we have to pay $100 a ton for CO2 then we are still in good shape as 27 tons of CO2 give us $22,687 worth of butanol fuel and at least $1,600 worth of solids for $24,287 for every inch of algae we skim, ferment and separate. Water Demand The “must” liquid cannot be returned to growing tanks as butanol residue poisons algae. With conversion of 28,360 gallons of water per day to butanol a well that produces eight gallons per minute is needed for a one acre Fuel Farm. Wells for single family homes routinely produce two times this so a Fuel Farm will not make excessive demands on local water tables. “Gray water” from a sewage plant is ideal as it contains nitrogen compounds that are excellent fertilizer for algae and taking that water can be another income stream.
No Water Included Unlike ethanol the butanols are not miscible with water. “Miscible” molecules are so compatible a water mixture with them has less volume than they do separately. 50 ml of ethanol and 50 ml of water make only 95 ml of solution due to miscibility. Water and ethanol are thus very hard to separate. Construction Details Fuel farms are built with growing and fermentation tanks cast in 20 foot concrete sections. The first step is to build an underground cooling and decanting tank with a volume of 30,000 gallons, a cube 31 feet on a side. It has large steel rods sunk five feet into the surrounding soil and jutting into the tank. They cool the content to earth temperature of 10 Celsius degrees. Then heat pumps reduce the temperature another 10 degrees to 0 Celsius, but with no freezing as butanol separates without it. Freezing requires enormous energy.
As an alternative we may be able to use a set of smaller, commercial septic tanks adapted to this purpose and ideal as local builders are familiar with them, their installation and maintenance.
Chill separation takes only 3% as much energy as does distillation to separate ethanol from a yeast fermentation. Each separation produces 9,075 gallons of motor fuel at a fully amortized cost of two cents per gallon over the cost of carbon dioxide which as a mandated sequestration product could be zero, or less. By “less” we mean getting paid to take CO2. To compete with gasoline of the 50’s and 60’s it should sell for $2.50 per gallon in this time and this leaves an enormous profit. Construction Costs Where the plant is one acre of concrete castings made on site it needs 800 cubic yards of concrete at $100 per yard, the forms and labor plus the pumps, gas and other equipment and two steel service buildings. The deep tank will take 60 yards of concrete if it is blown in place like a swimming pool.
A rough guess is that a crew of five men working five or six months could build the fuel farm with a labor cost on the order of $100,000 as only one man need be highly skilled. We think $500,000 per fuel farm is possible and a $1 million budget would be very generous for a business with a very quick payback given the low cost of materials, water, CO2 gas and cultures. Once underway the material costs include water and carbon dioxide. “Gray water” from sewage plants or that unfit for humans from salt or alkali poison work well in algae culture. Seawater will work and floating farms have been designed as part of our SCAF patented systems.
Financing On a $1 million budget putting down $200,000 and borrowing $800,000 the monthly payments would be $4796 fully amortized over 30 years. Labor would include two unskilled clerks, a maintenance contract with an industrial plumber, annual taxes and so on. The facility should have a part-time science staff including perhaps a high school biology teacher with bacteriology and algae preparation or the interest to study these two areas as needed skills are simple and straight-forward for any lab-science trained person. We will prepare a training course and test to certify fuel farm operators. Operation We should have several storage tanks, but the product may be picked up every day for distribution as it will be sold every day. Reserve storage should be at hand in order that production can continue without interruption. This is a profitable venture with an immediate return on investment and ongoing revenue stream that is very attractive.
An ongoing algae and bacteria development system can be done with simple equipment to keep the culture on track and develop several species of algae and bacteria adapted to the locale. Where bacteria reproduce in hours this work can produce optimized organisms very quickly when the process is well managed and the best version is selected. Having a stock of cultures insures against a disaster if the bacteria are ever attacked by local organism. Liquid Solar Energy? Butanol is solar energy that is here now and storable. It works “24/7.”. It can be used in our existing motor and industrial infrastructure without a penny spent on change. It can operate on land or sea. The marine version could supply all the fuel needed by America in one giant array 14 miles on a side floating in the quiet waters of Baja California where the sun shines year-round. Backyard Butanol Could individuals have their own fuel farms? The equipment and operations are as simple as running a flush toilet or maintaining your own septic system or swimming pool. Where the above system produces 9,075 gallons of fuel quality butanol per day and large car uses 1,000 gallons per year we only need to make 2.73 gallons per large car per day if the system operates every day. Thus, the engineering reduction factor is 1:3324 in an ideal location. Thus, for growing tanks we need 13 square feet of growing tanks and some ten gallon fermentation tanks. With two courses of concrete block we could build tanks 2 by 8 feet, 12 inches deep from which we would skim nine gallons of algae per day, putting it into one of a bank of six fermentation tanks. Every six days dump one of these into an underground chilling tank. A small heat pump, room air conditioner size, would separate nearly 4 gallons of product daily, more than enough for an average family. We envision a Fuel Farm owners club with their own slick magazine or Internet publication discussing problems, selling cultures and gimmicks. America will be awash in liquid energy. This system spans time accessing antiquity for more tomorrows of virtually free, abundant, safer liquid solar energy than we have ever had. The Fuel Farm is simple, inexpensive and now.