Algae for Biodiesel

Dec. 27, 2006: CNET News—Want alternative energy? Try Pond Scum

Summary: "Mounting concern about U.S. dependence on foreign oil and about global warming is causing a surge of interest and investment in biomass, hydrogen, solar power and other alternative energy sources.

But bubbling beneath the surface of this wave–in more ways than one–is a technology that, while lacking an existing market or powerful lobby to advance its profile, may soon emerge as the most promising source of portable liquid fuels and that can offer unique environmental benefits to the electrical generation industry."

The implications are not just for utilities, but for automotive fuel as well. Algae doesn’t require as much energy input to grow as the corn used for ethanol, or even as much as the soybeans grown for biodiesel. Waste gas, such as that from landfill or dairy operations, could be enough for it to grow on. And grow it does. While soybeans can yield 50 or 60 gallons of oil per acre, algae could potentially provide up to 10,000 gallons. Of course, the same acreage probably couldn’t be used, as algae needs a slightly different growing environment than soybeans.

As with all new technologies, unforeseen problems could arise. But its major weakness right now seems to be lack of a powerful lobby—like the Midwestern corn growers who dominate politics by holding early presidential primary elections. Will the refiners decide to back them, remain neutral, or move toward algae as a source of raw material?

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  • Oilgae

    Thanks for the article…it is heartening to see algae getting a lot of publicity, something I feel they deserve.

    I co-ordinate ( ), a site that explores use of algae as a feedstock for biodiesel, and I can say with some amount of confidence based on my researches that algae appear to be one of the most qualified candidates for biodiesel production.

    While the math certainly appears to favor algae, there are a number of issues to be overcome. These have to do with (1) choosing optimal algal strains, (2) issues faced in cultivation and harvesting (believe me there are some serious bottlenecks here), and (3) cost-effective methods to extract oil and transform it into biodiesel.

    So yes, there is still a long way to go before it can be proven with certainty that algal biodiesel can be cost-effective on a large scale, but it is gratifying to see brilliant minds (not to forget VC money) getting into this field. And with institutes like MIT (Boston) getting into the act, I’m optimistic most of the above-mentioned issues will be overcome.

    Time will tell if algae are our future source of energy, but for now, they certainly appear to have many of the qualifications required for the same.

    Narsi from Oilgae – Oil from Algae @