Algae Fuel – Real Renewable Energy
Although opinions vary on the future of fossil fuels such as oil, there is little debate that there is a finite supply of oil and that, at some point, mass produced alternative forms of energy will need to become economically viable. One alternative that has gained a lot of momentum is algae fuel.
Algae fuel is exactly what it sounds like… fuel refined from farmed algae. The algae can be grown using fresh water, salt water, and even brackish water. It can also be grown on land that is not suitable for other types of crops so it does not compete for valuable farm land. Growth rates vary based on the type of algae and its environment, but it can grow 20 to 30 times faster than conventional crops such as corn and soybeans with a harvest cycle of as little as 10 days. The harvested algae is then processed into “green crude” oil.
Reports of oil yield per acre per year for green crude vary wildly from 5,000 to 150,000 gallons. One company, Valcent Products, claims that 150,000 gallons of green crude per acre is possible using a carefully controlled, closed loop system. Actual yields, though, currently top out at about 33,000 gallons per acre per year. Even by conservative estimates, it would take about 40,000 square miles of land to produce enough green crude oil to completely replace the United States’ consumption of conventional oil. That’s an area about the size of the state of Tennessee.
One of the most compelling things about Algae fuel is that it is a drop-in replacement for conventional gasoline. It can be used in conventional automobiles with absolutely no modifications to the engine. There is no need to develop a new distribution system for delivering algae fuel to consumers as the same trucks, gas stations, pumps, holding tanks, etc. can be leveraged. Logistically, algae fuel is as close to the corner gas station as any alternative to oil today. The US alone boasts over 30 companies researching, developing, and even producing algae fuel. One company, Sapphire Energy, launched a cross country tour of vehicles running on algae fuel on Sep 18, 2009.
Algae fuel is reported as being “environmentally neutral”. This means that it does not change the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere because it consumes just as much carbon dioxide during its cultivation as is released during combustion. This is in stark contrast to conventional gasoline which only adds carbon dioxide to the environment during production and consumption.
Algae fuel is definitely on of the most promising alternatives to reduce and even eliminate our dependence on conventional oil. The vast majority of research to improve its production is being funded by private enterprises that see the money making potential of the technology. The price of conventional crude oil is still at a level that does not compel consumers to move to a new form of energy that is not significantly cheaper, but the next time the price of gasoline spikes to double or triple today’s levels, algae fuel will be well positioned to move into the main stream.