That is pretty cool, in the context of a utopian future where everyone lives on some form of soylent. Although feeding 4 billion people from one facility is not a wise idea. One natural disaster and half the world starves. Since the operation is fully scaleable, they can use a regional production model with only marginal loss in efficiency.
Edit: I want my own bioreactor, if for no reason other than to say I own a bioreactor. Then I’ll send pics to secretsoflongevity and taunt “I’m more bioelectric than you! neener neener”
The article isn’t clear: Are they talking about a 100,000 sq ft facility just to store the product could feed 4 million people? If so, that seems a bit unfair to compare that to farms as farms aren’t merely a storing warehouse. Where are they going to get all that brown rice from?
Okay, that gives us hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Maaaaybe if the algae is as “super” as they say then it can get a bit of sulfur too…but we need a lot more than that to create Soylent. We gotta feed other components into the bioreactors to supply calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, etc. So it’ll take a lot more than that one facility to “feed 4 million people”.
It would probably be a huge improvement over traditional food sources, but the article is pretty misleading about what this idea really entails. You can’t build Soylent out of air and water.
I re-read it and see where my mistake was. I thought they were talking about warehouses with algae mixed in, but not completely algae. It does make me wonder how they can estimate these kinds of things when they don’t even really know how to do this. How do they know it would be 100,000 sq. ft. and not 50,000 or 150,000? It’s meaningless until we know more about how to to do this.
The size they chose was arbitrary, just to give people an example. “If it’s x big, it can feed y people” is basically the same as saying “c square feet of bioreactors can produce enough food to feed d people”, but the former sounds more impressive. The size of the entire facility can be anything.
But you’re right that they don’t really know how much food such a facility could produce. They’re probably extrapolating based on data from Solazyme’s production facilities, which are much simpler because each strain of algae they grow is specialized to produce a specific ingredient, like protein. But what RL is talking about is an algae that produces complete Soylent, rather than just one component of it, so I would assume the output to be quite different.
I suppose it’s meaningless to you and me since we have no financial stake in the company, but certainly to the shareholders it means something. They’re able to do this calculation because a lot of people working at (and with) Soylent are probably engineers, and engineers tend to make estimations about things they can’t yet build. It would be irresponsible not to think ahead.
The author is talking about a hypothetical facility filled with hypothetical algae. Would be cool if/when such a facility and algae are ever made.
What puzzles me a little about these bioreactors is why are they feeding the algae sugar and not sunlight or artificial sunlight? The only thing I can think of is they are purposely trying to prevent photosynthesis for some reason.
It all depends what your goal is. If you’re trying to create (food) oil, and you can cheaply provide food sugar/starch, and there is a microorganism that’s effecient at that, it can create pure oil cheaply for you. It may or may not also need light, given that it has an energy supply (sugars.)
Light exposure - especially high light exposure - requires lots of tubes or sheets which are expensive, a lot of sun which is unreliable, and limits you to one layer per light source. If you produce artficial lighting, it’s even more expensive. If you have thick growth of green algae, you don’t get strong lighter deeper than the top inch or two, so you need to keep the stuff moving - there are definite limits to how much light and CO2 you can get into it.
If you have an algae that does the job without require much (or any) light, then you can do the whole thing in a big vat, no lighting issues. It’s dramatically less complex and less expensive and less prone to fouling.
Here’s a cool article about a German experimental system that uses light and is very high-efficiency:
Meanwhile, here’s an active hetertrophic large-vat system running in the USA:
Note: autotrophic algae use light and can self-sustain in a closed loop, they produce CO2 and Oxygen, depending on what they do, and can stay in balance or cycle back and forth. Hetertrophic algae grow without light, if given an energy source (feed stock) and supply of oxygen.