Biofuels that come from corn, palm, sugar cane or soy are responsible for deforestation and an increase in food prices.
This is not the case of a biofuel that was first considered in the seventies, and is now getting much deserved attention: algae.
Algae transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day, and can generate 30 times more oil per hectare than other plant based biofuels. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.
Its production doesn’t require massive amounts of land like other plant based fuels.
On top of those advantages, algae grows better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas), and on contaminated water bodies. By collecting algae we could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems at the same time.
Various algae contain different levels of oil, and they can also be genetically modified to produce more oil. Most scientists argue that the algae found in pond scum is best suited for biodiesel.
Also, pressing algae creates a few more useful byproducts such as fertilizer and feedstock without depleting other food sources.
Once the oil’s extracted, it’s refined, mixed with an alcohol (such as methanol), and a few more steps will bring algae biodiesel fuel.
But the most exciting part of algae biodiesel is the great productivity at low cost (economic and environmental). Biodiesel makers claim they’ll be able to produce more than 800 gallons of algae oil per ha per year.
Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products such as palm or corn. For example, a 50 ha algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in a single year. Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum-based products each year. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies will only need about 40 million ha of land to build biodiesel plants, compared to billions of hectares for other biodiesel products. Since algae can be grown anywhere indoors, it’s a promising element in the race to produce a new fuel.
For now algae based biofuel is still in the R&D stage, but we’ll hopefully run our cars on this uber green fuel in our lifetime.
Some interesting Algae Biodiesel Start-ups: