Biofuel from Algae: Human Energy. Interview with Tamra Fakhoorian, algae scientist and algaepreneur by Willi Paul.
Biofuel from Algae: Human Energy. Interview with Tamra Fakhoorian, algae scientist and algaepreneur by Willi Paul.

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How many kinds of algae are there in the bio fuels arena? Is there bad algae?

Out of the tens of thousands of species in the world, currently thirteen are studied intensely for their ability to reproduce quickly and contain 20 - 60% of their body weight as lipids. Additionally, many more native strains are being scrutinized for their high carbohydrate biomass which can be used for the production of ethanol, methanol, and other fuels.

What is minimum cost to start up algae to oil refinery?

Rough estimate at this stage of the industry is approximately $1 million per acre, using photo-bioreactors. Going with open ponds, your costs drop considerably to around $30,000 per acre but then plan on a much lower production. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Neither one is as of this date, cost effective yet but I predict within the next year we'll see the tipping point.

Why is algae for fuel sustainable? What else can you do with this stuff?

My definition of a sustainable energy source is one that will keep on providing for future generations without depleting our natural resources or altering our ecosystem in the process. Algae fits this definition beautifully as it can be grown in water unfit for human or crop use. It doesn't need prime farmland to grow, just flat land, water, CO2 and trace nutrients that are recycled back into the earth. Open pond systems use far less water than traditional crops. Closed loop systems use much less than open ponds other than the initial filling of the system. Algae captures CO2 just like terrestrial crops only it captures it much faster. It's a net carbon zero energy source or a negative carbon if you use the biomass as a fertilizer and sequester it in earth.

Algae is well-known for its use in foods, medicines, and nutraceuticals. Now companies are looking past the lowest hanging energy fruit- biodiesel and turning out all kinds of biofuels and drop-in fuels. Also, I'm seeing algae now being utilized for bio plastics, fertilizers and water remediation. More to come as the uses for its carbohydrate and protein content are endless.

What the heck is a Personal Algae PhotoBioReactor?

I don't know but I want one!

[ Willi Note: Workshop Coming

It's the Personal PhotoBioReactor! We have built the first one and are testing it out. In the next workshop series, I'll teach about algae and algae farming in general, then about my experiences growing particular species, including spirulina in my home. If you like, go can home with everything to start growing live, fresh spirulina, harvesting it, and significantly supplement your diet with this superfood.

If you want to grow other species in your PPBRs, or if you have more room & want to grow on a larger scale, for food or fuel, we'll support that as well, and everyone will be encouraged to share their experiences, advice, and questions on ALGAELAB.ORG.

For those who live far from the Bay Area, there will be How-To's and instructional materials so you can build your own... The first workshop will be Sunday, January 31st, 11-6pm, in Berkeley, CA. -- Dr. Aaron Baum ]

Are you involved with the NAA algae production certification program?

Yes. I've been asked to lecture on the subject of open pond production. There has been a great response to the program. NAA director, Barry Cohen is heading it up and will be bringing in top experts from all aspects of algae production. Putting it simply, it's going to be a tremendous learning curve for those interested in the algae industry.

"In the beginning, there was algae, but there was no oil. Then, from algae came oil. Now, the algae is still there, but oil is fast depleting. In the future, there will be no oil, but there will still be algae. When oil prices are low, there seems to be no incentive to develop alternative fuels. How often is the US economy going to be held captive by the price of oil when we have access to alternative fuels now?" Well?

I expect that by the year 2020, we'll be using a wide range of alternative fuels, algae being the primary source of many of them. The price of oil will be inconsequential at that point. But here's a thought: Will we be held captive by the price of alternative fuels then as opposed to oil? Will the power of OPEC by replaced by the power of a few "Big Whoevers" who have bought up all the major alternative energy producers? Call me paranoid but I'm holding out for my personal algae photo-bioreactor.

Zero waste, zero energy. How doe algae play a role in these goals on your farm?

I fully expect to be growing algae on my farm within a couple of years, probably in open raceways as the cost of photo bioreactors is not in the budget. I've taken pond samples to my area limnologist for identification. No luck getting a high oil content strain locally, so that means I'll be utilizing the biomass itself. Once the industry works out the technology for harvesting and solar drying, I can adapt it for small scale production of animal feedstock, methane production and/or gasification for electricity. One acre of algae in my area can conservatively produce 15 tons of dry biomass per year. That's a lot of potential!

Tamra's Bio -

Tamra Fakhoorian is the president of the Mid-South Chapter of the National Algae Association, where she coordinates workshops and conferences related to the emerging algae industry. Due to her efforts in raising awareness of the potential of algae production in the South, a new cooperative has recently formed. Its purpose is to identify optimum production methods and educate and support farmers so that they may grow algae for food and fuel in a profitable manner.

Ms. Fakhoorian is the founder of start-up US Algae Supply, Inc. which will be selling equipment and production systems for algae biomass production in mid-spring. She does consulting work in the field of algae production and biomass sustainability.

Tamra formerly served as president and CFO of Vegan Metal Fabricators Corporation for twelve years and has been involved in several start-ups ranging from metal fabrication plants to restaurants. She is a writer for AIM, (Algae Industry Magazine) and speaks on algae production as well as residential and commercial sustainability practices.

Tamra lives on a 30 acre farm where she gardens organically and she looks forward to building a near-zero energy home later this year.

Connections -

Tamra Fakhoorian
Mid-South Chapter/NAA
tamraf.naa at wk dot net
PO Box 134
Sedalia, KY 42079
Office: 270-328-8314