Sunday, October 14, 2007

Algae as Fuel

This seems to make a lot of sense--using algae wouldn't take food out of the mouths of people.

Better Than Corn? Algae Set to Beat Out Other Biofuel Feedstocks
WorldChanging Team
Forget corn, sugar cane, and even switchgrass. Some experts believe that algae is set to eclipse all other biofuel feedstocks as the cheapest, easiest, and most environmentally friendly way to produce liquid fuel, reports Kiplinger's Biofuels Market Alert. "It is easy to get excited about algae," says Worldwatch Institute biofuels expert Raya Widenoja. "It looks like such a promising fuel source, especially if it's combined with advances in biodiesel processing."

The inputs for algae are simple: the single-celled organisms only need sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to grow. They can quadruple in biomass in just one day, and they help remove carbon from the air and nitrogen from wastewater, another environmental benefit. Some types of algae comprise more than 50 percent oil, and an average acre of algae grown today for pharmaceutical industries can produce 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of biodiesel each year. By comparison, an average acre of corn produces 420 gallons (1,600 liters) of ethanol per year, and an acre of soybeans yields just 70 gallons (265 liters) of biodiesel per year.

"Your bang for your buck is just bigger because you can really do this on a much smaller amount of land and yet yield much, much higher biomass," said Michael S. Atkins, CEO of San Francisco area-based Ocean Technology & Environmental Consulting (OTEC). Douglas Henston, CEO of Solix Biofuels, a company that grows algae for biofuels, has estimated that replacing all current U.S. diesel fuel use with algae biodiesel would require using only about one half of 1 percent of the farmland in production today. Algae can also grow on marginal lands, such as in desert areas where the groundwater is saline.

But creating an optimal environment for algae can be difficult--and costly.

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