Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Researchers Develop Methods of Creating Bio-Diesel from Algae

Utah State University researchers are using an innovative approach that takes oil from algae and converts it to bio-diesel fuel. USU is currently conducting research on algae and plans to produce an algae-bio-diesel that is cost-competitive by 2009. Algae, plainly referred to as pond scum, can produce up to 10,000 gallons of oil per acre and can be grown virtually anywhere.

The world today relies on fossil fuels to supply much of its energy, and there are currently 13 terawatts of energy used per year, a number that is expected to double by the middle of this century. Bio-diesel is a clean and carbon-dioxide-neutral fuel that is becoming more popular, but most of the current product comes from soybean and corn oil. As supply and demand grows, so does the price of soybeans and corn. People and animals rely on soybean and corn as a food commodity, eventually causing competition between commodities and growing enough product. Meeting this demand would require the world to use virtually all of its arable land.

Creating bio-diesel from algae would be a huge step forward toward a renewable energy source, and would greatly improve environmental output compared to today's petroleum-based gasoline engines. Algae grows just about everywhere (whether you want it to or not), so it would be readily available in many parts of the world, creating a more dispersed source of fuel than we have currently.

1 comment:

Ecacofonix said...

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

I co-ordinate Oilgae, 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