Clean Coal via algae? Bioenergy startups could transform China's coal industry in 20 years

October 30 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2018   Rating: 1

Carbon capitalism
China’s future depends on carbon. Sort of. Its economy is not powered by carbon, it is powered by the energy released with they break the bonds of carbon from hydrogen locked up in wood, coal, oil and natural gas. The cheapest way to get this energy is via coal fired power plant. This is of course a problem for ecosystems that are overwhelmed with massive amounts of carbon.

China’s demand to control its carbon cycles represents a tremendous opportunity for bioenergy solution startups emerging from the US and Europe. Recent announcements of US-China strategic partnerships could be a sign of positive things ahead as we transform carbon emissions into a resource.

Coming Algae Boom? Startups riding wave of Hype
The list of algae bioenergy companies is expanding, and forcing executives to seek international strategic partnerships. is reporting the formation of a new company (BioCentric Energy Algae Hong Kong Ltd) between BioCentric (California) and Zenxin (Wuhan, China). The first algae biofuels project will be located at a coal power plant emitting 40,000 tons of CO2 per year, in a steel-making region that releases 33,000,000 tons of CO2 per year.

This is the second pilot project between US and Chinese companies in the nascent algae biofuels market. Earlier this month Petrosun announced plans for an algae biofuels project in china.

Coal is the fastest growing source of energy in the world. It is cheap and abundant and present in China and US. We cannot run from coal’s future.

Cleaner Coal? Depends on Carbon’s choice Oxygen or Hydrogen

The problem with coal is that we release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere after it has been locked up in the ground for eons. But carbon has choices and the most profitable marriage it could have is with hydrogen.

Carbon loves to bind with other molecules. In most cases it is locked up in plants (as carbohydrates/sugars) or coal and oil (as hydrocarbons). When we burn coal the carbon binds with oxygen and ends up int he atmosphere. The alternative is to use biology to bind carbon with hydrogen. Algae and bacteria can use the power of sunlight to bind carbon with hydrogen from water. This process results in the creation of a valuable form of energy as hydrogen rich liquid fuels that can be converted into electricity onsite at the coal power plant or sold as transportation fuel.

The US is in a unique position to accelerate development of algae and bacteria based bioenergy systems that can be retrofitted on existing coal fire power plants.

Now that China is flush with US reserves, it might be willing to trade capital for advanced bioenergy technologies being built inside the US.

[List of algae biofuel companies]

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