February 08, 2009
Solix Aims To Cut Biodiesel Costs

Michael Kanellos takes a look at the high cost of liquid biodiesel fuels from algae and the prospects for lowering their costs.

Algae biofuel startup Solix, for instance, can produce biofuel from algae right now, but it costs about $32.81 a gallon, said Bryan Wilson, a co-founder of the company and a professor at Colorado State University.

But by using waste heat (e.g. from electric power generator plants) Solix claims it can get costs down to $5.50 per gallon. The article reports that cost is equivalent to sustained $150 per barrel oil.

By exploiting waste heat at adjacent utilities (one of our favorite forms of energy around here), the price can probably be brought down to $5.50 a gallon (see Will Waste Heat Be Bigger Than Solar?). By selling the proteins and other byproducts from the algae for pet food, the price can be brought to $3.50 a gallon in the near term.

Beyond that Solix claims to have ways to get the cost down to below the equivalent of $80 per barrel oil. But suppose they can just get it down to $150 per barrel. That would be great news for the post-Peak Oil era since it'd put a long term ceiling on the price of liquid fuel that would allow a functioning industrial civilization not much different than what we currently have.

During our current deepening recession these prices all sound high. But the big drop in oil prices has been caused by a sharp decline in demand. Economic recovery (whenever that comes) will drive prices back up again. So if Solix can survive long enough to get its costs down it could have bright prospects.

The February issue of Biodiesel Magazine reports on a number of recent funding successes for biodiesel players including $10.5 million for Solix. Kinda surprising given the recession and low oil prices. Investors must see higher oil prices and brighter prospects in the longer term.

Fort Collins, Colo.-based Solix Biofuels, a technology partner of Colorado State University, raised $10.5 million in a Series A round of outside financing and reached an agreement with its investors for an additional $5 million to support the construction of a pilot-scale algae oil production plant in Durango, Colo. The oil produced at the facility will be used by biodiesel producers and the chemical industry, according to Chief Executive Officer Doug Henston. I2BF Venture Capital and Bohemian Investments led the Series A round. Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC, Valero Energy Corp. and Infield Capital also participated.

As long time readers know, I see crop-based biomass energy as a bad idea. But algae holds out the prospect of a much smaller land footprint, less impact on the environment, and less susceptibility to weather and other environmental factors.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 08 06:03 PM  Energy Biomass

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