Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Algae as an Alternative...

In today’s world, global climate change combined with unstable fuel prices due to the rising scarcity of oil has spurred a search for new and clean forms of energy. Plant derived fuels are an up and coming alternative energy source gaining attention. One such source is biodiesel generated by algae.

Algae are being analyzed as a source of biofuel for several reasons. With the potential of 65,000 different species being used for this type of process as well as the possibility of creating highly efficient genetically modified strains, research into this area of alternative energy should continue. Perhaps the biggest reason it is so appealing is the ease of growth combined with the amount of fuel produced per acre. Compared to corn, which produces 18 gallons per acre per year, algae can produce an astounding 10,000 gallons per acre per year. Recently Valcent, a biofuel company in Texas, estimates that it can produce 100,000 gallons/acre/year using their closed-system Vertigro. The Vertigro system is particularly appealing because it is scalable. By calculating how much fuel is used over the country we could create production plants to produce certain amounts of biodiesel according to location. By strategically locating new production plants we enable ourselves to decrease the costs of transportation and create new jobs around the country.

It may be argued that many in the United States are not using diesel engines currently but I argue that we should switch to diesel engines by slowly integrating more into our society. Diesel engines are more efficient and last longer than conventional engines. Europe has already begun integrating vehicles with diesel engines. To compensate for the lag in infrastructure in the U.S. biodiesel can be used into today's vehicles by using blends of regular diesel and biodiesel. The use of blends initially is appealing because over time we can slowly incorporate more biodiesel into the blends until we use pure biodiesel in our engines. Biodiesel derived from algae looks like a viable solution to our oil addiction. I do not think this is the only answer to our problems but it has potential to help us shift away from fossil fuel. Do you think biodiesel derived from algae is part of the answer?


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