Entrepreneurs go wild for algae

Energy Matters0

Algae-based technologies could provide a key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and other carbon intensive industrial processes.

Driven by escalating global climate change concerns and the rising cost of petroleumbased energy, companies are now starting to examine using certain forms of algae to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, generate renewable transportation fuels, and produce feed for fish and livestock.

Using an intricate photosynthetic process, trendsetters have developed biodiesel and ethanol from an unlikely source – algae – that, given optimal conditions, can double its volume overnight. Up to 50 percent of an alga’s body weight is comprised of oil, whereas oil-palm trees – currently the largest producer of oil to make biofuels – yield just about 20 percent of their weight in oil.

Soy produces some 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; canola, 150 gallons; and palm, 650 gallons. But algae are expected to produce 10,000 gallons per acre per year, and eventually even more.

Algae are the fastest-growing plants in the world. But if it were easy to extract the fuel,
most of the world’s biodiesel would already be made from microalgae grown on nonagricultural
land, close to coal-fired power plants. It’s critical to understand how to select the right algae species, create an optimal photobiological formula for each species, and build a cost-effective photobioreactor that can precisely deliver the formula to each individual algae cell, no matter the size of the facility, or its geographical location.

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