Algae: Fuel Of The Future?

We live in a world where lifestyles and human activities consume an increasing amount of energy. How we obtain that energy is determined by many factors and the results are not always preferable in the end sum; it's the part of the equation people have been trying to solve and algae may be a huge step forward.

Oil, ethanol, methane and hydrogen are some examples of what can be produced from algae. Algae can be harvested more often (rapid growth rates), has a high per acre yield, is biodegradable / non-toxic and produces more oil than other biofuels . Some algae strains are even 50% oil. The fuel is already being tested in real-life applications and algae is being considered for other uses such as foam for windmill blades, fish and livestock feeds, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and antibacterial products.

One aspect of growing algae is that CO2 is required in the process. Power plants that burn fossil fuels can literally pipe the exhaust to an algae growth facility. Instead of releasing the CO2 into the air, it can be used to help create and cultivate a clean, green (literally) fuel. Using fossil fuels and algae together can help with the transition to a green energy economy and helps make fossil fuels more green. Factoring in carbon offsets / credits can help make algae more affordable as a fuel since carbon polluters would then invest in the technology and base cost of production.

Although the prospects of fuels from algae is high, the road to making it economically viable is a hard one. To produce the quantities necessary at a reasonable price could take some time. Cultivating algae in the ocean has been seen as a possible aid in the reduction of CO2 currently in the atmosphere and as a cheaper alternative to growing algae inland (freshwater bodies) and in photobioreactors . Although the ocean can be a violent and inhospitable place, some scientists think that it is a real possibility (conditions are mostly ideal and algae consumes a lot of water) and probably the most viable for large harvests, making algae products more affordable.

Perhaps it is the multiple uses of algae that will help reduce cost or as research continues, the new ideas and technology that come to fruition. One company, Origin Oil, has claimed a patent on the ability to continuously harvest oil from algae. The key was being able to extract or 'milk' the algae without destroying it, meaning more oil and less energy. Algae is also seeing an increase in use for treating waste water. Algae can grow in these environments leaving clean water behind. This helps lower the cost of waste water treatment and provides algae for fuel and other uses all at once.

There seems to be little doubt algae will make its way into our lives whether it's through a variety of industries or starting off as a fossil fuel additive. Regardless of where or how we get the energy that propels us into the future, increasing energy efficiency in products we use and reducing unnecessary consumption in our lives have no match. By living smarter, we need less.

Links of Interest:
Oilgae - the home of algae energy online / Algal Oil Yields
Algal Biomass Organization
A2BE Carbon Capture, LLC - algae@work
Engineers Strive To Make Algae Oil Production More Feasible
Interest In Algae's Oil Prospects Is Growing
New Technology Milks Algae For Oil
Could Cheap Algae Oil Power Our Energy Future?

Thanks for reading.

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