Algea as fuel
algea latic

 

Pond scum ... it could be the future! There may be nothing greener than Algae bucause they are tiny biological factories that use photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day.

As part of the photosynthesis process algae produce oil and can generate 15 times more oil per acre than other plants used for biofuels, such as corn and switchgrass. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.

 

On top of those advantages, algae — at least in theory — should grow even better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) and organic material like sewage. If so, algae could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems.

Scientists are determine exactly how promising algae biofuel production can be by tweaking the inputs of carbon dioxide and organic matter to increase algae oil yields.

Scientific interest in producing fuel from algae has been around since the 1950s. The U.S. Department of Energy did pioneering research on it from 1978 to 1996. Most previous and current research on algae biofuel has used the algae in a manner similar to its natural state — essentially letting it grow in water with just the naturally occurring inputs of atmospheric carbon dioxide and sunlight. This approach results in a rather low yield of oil — about 1 percent by weight of the algae. 

The hypothesizes that feeding the algae more carbon dioxide and organic material could boost the oil yield to as much as 40 percent by weight. Proving that the algae can thrive with increased inputs of either carbon dioxide or untreated sewage solids will confirm its industrial ecology possibilities — to help with wastewater treatment, where dealing with solids is one of the most expensive challenges, or to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, such as coal power-plant flue gas, which contains about 10 to 30 times as much carbon dioxide as normal air.

"The main principle of industrial ecology is to try and use our waste products to produce something of value. Researcher Mark White, a professor at the McIntire School of Commerce, will help a team quantify the big-picture environmental and economic benefits of algae biofuel compared to soy-based biodiesel, under three different sets of assumptions.

White will examine the economic benefits of algae fuel if the nation instituted a carbon cap-and-trade system, which would increase the monetary value of algae's ability to dispose of carbon dioxide. He will also consider how algae fuel economics would be impacted if there were increased nitrogen regulations (since algae can also remove nitrogen from air or water), or if oil prices rise to a prohibitive level.

Who knows you could even start growing your own fuel!