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"Old McDonald had an algae farm..." PetroAlgae grows algae in its specially designed "bioreactors" for later harvest and production into biodiesel.  (Source: PetroAlgae)

An aerial view of the PetroAlgae farm and processing facility. The company plans to mass produce biodiesel using the green water-crop.  (Source: PetroAlgae)
The majority of the Earth's surface is covered in water, thus it is perhaps unsurprising that the power source of the future may lie in the water

Gas costs are soaring, but adopting cheaper ethanol is sending food costs into the stratosphere as well.  What is the answer to this troubling predicament?  Some say the solution is old -- very old.  There is growing hope that one of the planet's most ancient organisms, algae, can be used to produce economically viable biofuel without the negative societal impact of ethanol.

While corn and sugar crops are blamed for deforestation, fertilizer runoff, and societal damage, algae promises to possibly provide a better solution.  Melbourne, Fla. based PetroAlgae is looking to test a commercial algae biofuel solution next year.  The company uses strains of the tiny organism developed by researchers at Arizona State University.  They are developing harvesting methods and bioreactors to take full advantage of the new fuel source, and allow it to be affordably mass produced.

Fred Tennant, PetroAlgae's vice president of business development, is among the leaders in the endeavor.  He is overseeing the development of a process in which algae is harvested from fresh-water ponds and then converted to oil and refined to biodiesel.  The byproducts are equally valuable, and can be used as a protein rich animal feed.

The plant may be able to strike deals with electricity utilities too, as the algae consume CO2, earning carbon credits.  Says Tennant, "The laws that are being debated right now will change a power company's life. They will have to have a lot more renewable energy and get rid of CO2.  Any power company in the world will be happy to pay us to take their CO2 away."

Other companies are also blazing ahead in the hot algae-based fuel market.  GreenFuels Technologies is on the verge of closing a major European commercial biofuel deal, after working on a multi-year project with the Arizona Public Service department.  Solayzme is working to develop fermentation based algae fuel production as an alternate method to photosynthesis driven approaches.  LiveFuels hopes to using its genetically engineered algae to produce 100 million gallons of fuel by 2010.

Why is algae so promising?  First it’s fast-growing.  Secondly, it removes carbon dioxide from the air.  Finally, it's a non-food crop and will have less impact on food prices.  Algae has more energy density than soybeans, a typical high-energy land crop.  This means less surface area will be needed to produce the fuel as well.

Michael Weaver, the CEO and co-founder of Seattle-area algae start-up Bionavitas states, "What's happening is there has been more focus recently on the food-versus-fuel debate, more focus on the price of feedstock, and more understanding that using an agricultural-based crop as a fuel is not sustainable.  We're seeing that reflected in the marketplace."

While algae is more energy rich than other biofuel alternatives such as wood chips, grasses, or agricultural waste, the biggest obstacle is that growing it is not cheap.  Tennant from PetroAlgae states, "Anybody can grow algae if cost is no object. Lots of algae companies have done a great job, but the system doesn't look like a massively scalable system."

PetroAlgae says geography is extremely important.  Sunny hot places speed up the drying process, a lengthy production step, given that algae is 98 percent water.  Ideally the plants would be located on 1 to 10 acre carbon generating locations, such as power plant grounds, the company says.

Technical difficulties exist as well too.  During the GreenFuel's Arizona Power pilot program it experienced the surprising problem of growing too much algae, making it too expensive to harvest.  Water recycling has been another key issue.  Weaver of Bionavitas says another important problem is bioreactors (typically bags or tubes) limiting light and thus hindering photosynthesis.

He states, "If you have a series of tubes or plastic bags on the desert floor or wherever, you are still limited by the amount of photons that get in from the sun to create more algae. When the algae gets slightly dense, it starts blocking its own light."

Despite the problems interest in algae production both as a food oil alternative and as a commercial gas and ethanol alternative continues to mount as research, enterprise, and capital vested grows.

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One True Test
By dever on 5/2/2008 2:42:04 PM , Rating: 4
There's only one true and accurate test as to whether this is a viable alternative. Subject this and all other energy sources to individual choices in a free market. Nothing else will do.

RE: One True Test
By MrBungle123 on 5/2/2008 3:01:46 PM , Rating: 5
I agree.

They need to do this with ethanol... If it really is a viable fuel then let it be tested unsubsizided on the open market. If it stands then so be it, if not, let it go the way of the dodo.

RE: One True Test
By mcnabney on 5/2/2008 3:27:04 PM , Rating: 2
Ethanol, without the subsidy, would cost about the same as regular unleaded gasoline. Except that if you fill your car with E85 you will get much worse gas mileage. So ethanol without subsidy gets a great big FAIL in an economic sense.

Then there is the whole moral dilemma of turning food into fuel in a hungry world...

RE: One True Test
By puckalicious on 5/2/2008 3:40:03 PM , Rating: 5
What about comparing the unsubsidized cost of ethanol to the unsubsidized cost of gasoline? Why does everybody ignore the fact that Big Oil receives massive tax breaks?

Please get it through your head: There is no such thing as a free market. Just like physics homework problems with "frictionless surfaces". It just doesn't exist in the real world.

RE: One True Test
By daftrok on 5/2/2008 4:12:20 PM , Rating: 5
What about the Tesla car?

We can seriously utilize that engine's technology and spend our resources advancing THAT. I mean there are numerous clean ways for electricity and coincidentally enough is the based on the four elements of life:

1) Fire. Solar Energy
2) Air. Wind Mills
3) Water. Hydroelectric Engines
4) Earth. Geothermal Plants

I feel that instead of trying to go with fuel substitutes, we should try to push away from that and more towards advancing electrical engines and the elements of life to power it.

RE: One True Test
By icrf on 5/2/2008 4:57:40 PM , Rating: 1
You do know geothermal isn't any more renewable than oil, right? There's a lot of heat in the earth, but there's a lot of oil there, too. We can pull heat out much faster than can put be put back it in (again, like oil). If we adopt that widespread, I've no doubt 50-100 years later we'd have an "earth cooling" debate at least as ferocious as the current "global warming" one.

RE: One True Test
By BansheeX on 5/2/2008 5:33:21 PM , Rating: 2
Hopefully, he means those renewables in the self-sufficient sense, installed in homes and such, while the infrastructure itself is largely nuclear. Now that is a practical and desirable goal.

RE: One True Test
By Master Kenobi on 5/3/2008 11:42:09 AM , Rating: 4
I agree. We need a better electrical generation system (Most likely nuclear driven) to handle the increased demand that electric cards and other electric devices are demanding from the grid.

RE: One True Test
By JustTom on 5/3/2008 12:09:40 PM , Rating: 2
It goes beyond the just the generating of electricity. The distribution system at present would be incapable of handling mass adoption of electric cars.

RE: One True Test
By daftrok on 5/6/2008 11:27:11 AM , Rating: 2
They would if they can make a four down sedan with 150 hp and a 300 mile range for $30,000.

RE: One True Test
By MicahK on 5/20/2008 11:35:03 AM , Rating: 2
Why not have electric cars like the one put out by Tesla. It has looks, it has enough guts, and a good enough range for most people's commute.

You could put a small solar panel on your roof, that charges a spare battery while your at work. Swap out the batteries and your good to go. Now if swapping batteries can't be done (current electric cars would have to be redesigned), then you could just charge a big battery in your garage, and then plug your car into this when you got home to charge it...

Just an idea...

Oh yah, and geothermal sounds like a good idea, but is really only effective large scale. Not a good solution for an individual, we looked into it, and decided on solar thermal for heating....

RE: One True Test
By FITCamaro on 5/2/2008 7:05:33 PM , Rating: 3
I sincerely doubt we could ever "cool" the earth using geothermal power. You're talking about a comparative handful of plants vs. the surface of the earth?

RE: One True Test
By mcmilljb on 5/2/2008 8:09:15 PM , Rating: 5
Hippies will find a way. They always do.

RE: One True Test
By jtemplin on 5/3/2008 1:43:52 AM , Rating: 3
I did some calculations and estimated the total earth geothermal energy output to be 15.3x10^(9) watts over the entire earths surface. So a whole year of geothermal output is 4.83 × 10^17(*) watt-years (not sure of the correct notation..).

Its late so I'm not going to run the numbers on petroleum as it seems daunting but .483 exawatts (4.83 quintillion) yearly output seems...tough to beat. I'm with FIT on this one. No way petroleum energy exceeds the energy of the earth...wheres the BS flag on this site?

*-Real no.: 4.82889131 × 1017

RE: One True Test
By JustTom on 5/3/2008 12:12:45 PM , Rating: 2
How did you do these calculations?

What matters is not how much energy can be theoretically captured from any particular energy source what matters is the cost involved in capturing that energy. Petroleum is still the cheapest method of producing massive quanties of energy and probably will remains so, despite current prices, for quite some time.

RE: One True Test
By Pezman37 on 5/3/2008 2:49:51 AM , Rating: 2
Do you have any idea about how geothermal energy is generated? AS far as I know, it's not viable right now for logistical reasons, the weight of the earth's surface isn't gonna just get lighter, no matter how high you or the hippies get.

RE: One True Test
By icrf on 5/3/2008 9:30:26 PM , Rating: 1
Alright, so I was off an order of magnitude or two in my time frame. The rest of it still stands, though.

I'm mostly just trying to think of the extremist arguments that come up with these things. Wind power kills lots of poor birds. Hydro disrupts natural water flow and all manner of living creatures. Nuclear has radioactive waste. Coal and gas have combusion emissions. I'm not sure how to call out solar aside from cost and efficiency, which seems kind of a cop-out and doesn't have the hippie spin of the rest.

RE: One True Test
By BansheeX on 5/2/2008 5:30:36 PM , Rating: 2
If I was going to point to an electric car, I wouldn't point to the tesla. I don't see what the big hubbub is with it. It's extremely expensive, large, nothing very radical about the design to minimize drag and increase mileage.

I'm much more interested in the Aptera. $27k, electric and hybrid versions. Very nice.

RE: One True Test
By daftrok on 5/2/2008 6:35:30 PM , Rating: 3
1) Actually looks like a car
2) 0 to 60 in 4 seconds
3) 200+ mile range

And they have plans to make 4 door sedan versions of it. On top of that, you can buy a solar panel setup (roughly $10 grand) that can refuel your car AND cut down your electricity bill. And just in case you absolutely need power and its a cloudy day, you can get it from whatever electric company your area is in and then when its sunny again, the solar panel will put that power back to the company. And also you have to realize that you don't have to pay it all at once.

RE: One True Test
By Xirj on 5/2/2008 8:04:39 PM , Rating: 2
Aptera won't pass any safety regulatoins.

The Tesla roadster is tiny, if you've ever seen an Elise.

Some of us still want very potent cars while being better for the environment. Not all of us just drive to get from point A to point B, it is actually possible to enjoy driving.

RE: One True Test
By freaqie on 5/5/2008 6:07:21 AM , Rating: 2
the problem with the aptera is that it is too different.
the designers wanted to make something different.
and in result the car is impractical.
( leaves no storage room) why abandon the design of the car.
we have experimented with car designs for over a 100 years now.

what is so different for an elecric car that it needs a totally impractical futuristic design. the car of today is pretty streamlined, light and safe, and combines it with practicality. this car does not. that is why it wil fail

the tesla however is a good alternative, it is built like a normal car is somewhat practical and is a roadster so it is "fun" so as a fashion statement ( which most cars are... why buy a bmw/merc/porche whe a toyota would do fine)it works. it looks good, has good specs is light, fun to drive, and is green... that i why the roadster will succeed and the aptera won't

RE: One True Test
By knowom on 5/2/2008 6:02:47 PM , Rating: 5

RE: One True Test
RE: One True Test
By mcmilljb on 5/2/2008 8:18:40 PM , Rating: 5
Alright Captain Hippie Planet.

1. Solar Energy is not fire! Fire is when you burn something, not nuclear fusion on the sun releasing intense amount of visible energy.

2. What do you do on a calm day? Maybe you can invent a tornado catcher!

3. Hydroelectric plants do scale well and are harmful to ecosystems around them. Real Hippies hate them just as much as nuclear power plants.

4. Geothermal plants are only available in certain places. Too bad no one is going let them pull in Yellowstone...

5. Where is the heart element? Maybe we can get a lot of animals running in hamster wheels.

Did you not read the article? It's talking about ALGAE! It's a living organism. You're an awful hippie. Electrical engines are not the limiting factor is your desire for an electrical car. It's the storage of the electricity to power it. How about we research batteries instead of wasting time on motors since that is a bigger set back.

RE: One True Test
By gilboa on 5/3/2008 6:34:18 PM , Rating: 2

1) Fire. Solar Energy
2) Air. Wind Mills
3) Water. Hydroelectric Engines
4) Earth. Geothermal Plants
... four elements of life:

OK. Assuming that you -are- serious (and God I hope you're trying to be funny). Even though I far from being an expert in chemistry and physics, your post is.... err... weird. (And I'm being polite)

Fire has -nothing- to do with Solar energy. One is a chemical reaction while the other is a nuclear reaction; and no, you don't burn wood inside a nuclear reactor. (in-case you were wondering)

If you're looking for a connection (between different energy sources), 99.9....9% of our energy is generated, either directly (solar panels, wind, tidal power generators) indirectly (bio-diesel, hydro-electric, food) and very indirectly (oil, natural gas) by our Sun.
So yeah, feel free to call the Sun and element of life. (Quite literally -the- element of life)

I feel that instead of trying to go with fuel substitutes, we should try to push away from that and more towards advancing electrical engines and the elements of life to power it.

In general, having electrical cars is very nice. However:

A. You'll need to produce far more electricity (And I'd venture and guess that you're not very fond of Nuclear energy). It's not my field of expertise, but I'm guessing that burning billions of tons of coal won't bode well for the Earth's atmosphere... Oh, and building new power plants is -very- expensive and takes a lot of time.

B. You'll need to transfer far more electricity over the grid. (Time to build a new super-high-voltage-grids?) Building new grids takes a lot of time and, you guessed it, money.

C. Battery technology is still trailing behind your car's fuel tank: Long charge time, low(er) range, higher weight, etc. (Even-though this problem can be partially circumvented by using standard battery packs that can be replaced in "refueling stations")

D. Electric cars are (far?) heavier then their fuel driven counterparts. More weight per car == more weight per passenger == more energy per passenger / per mile == More CO2 is being emitted by a lot of new power-stations to transport the same amount of people == We lose.

Fuel cell based cars maybe the future - I don't know enough to doubt it; but in the mean time something must be done to keep us moving on one hand without sending earth into a runaway greenhouse effect on the other.

Having a clean power source (clean as in: Same amount of CO2 is taken and returned form/to Earth's atmosphere) is our best bet for the short term.

- Gilboa

RE: One True Test
By Hoser McMoose on 5/4/2008 4:01:34 AM , Rating: 2
You'll need to produce far more electricity

With a bit of intelligent charging this actually isn't that big of a problem. You need to build your electrical power generating capacity for peak demand. During off-peak times a lot of capacity is usually sitting unused.

The simple solution here is time of day pricing for electricity. Smart people will recognize that it costs them, for example, $3 to fill up their car by plugging it in at night vs. $10 to fill it during the day.

A more complex solution involves some smarts on the charging station to adjust according to demand, possibly even allowing electricity to flow back out of the car and onto the grid at peak times.

but I'm guessing that burning billions of tons of coal won't bode well for the Earth's atmosphere

Coal is pretty terrible for the atmosphere, but so is burning gasoline or diesel. From a CO2 perspective you're better off with electric vehicles even if 100% of your power comes from coal. From an air pollution standpoint you're about even if there are no scrubbers on the coal plant to MUCH better if they do have scrubbers. Coal plants without scrubbers should be criminal anyway, electric cars or no.

You'll need to transfer far more electricity over the grid.

Exact same story here as with the generating capacity but it's actually even easier as far as the lines go. Unless there is a near immediate switch to 100% electric vehicles this one is a non-issue (at least above and beyond the fact that the grid needs to be well maintained, electric cars or no).

Battery technology is still trailing behind your car's fuel tank:

HERE is the real key holding electric vehicles back, batteries. They're expensive, they're heavy, they're not as reliable as they should be (particular things like cold weather reliability), ohh, and did I mention that they're REALLY expensive? Like $40,000 in the case of the Tesla Roadster's 56kWh worth of batteries or $10,000 for the Chevy Volt's 16kWh worth.

The latest and greatest Li-Ion batteries available today are only JUST BARELY meeting the minimum requirements to make electric cars viable. Older technologies like the lead acid batteries or NiMH batteries found in the EV1 were not at all up to the task. Those two technologies also have serious environmental impacts, something that is greatly reduced in the case of Li-Ion batteries.

Still I think it will take at least one more major advancement in battery technology to make electric vehicles truly viable. The good news is that a lot of really smart people are working on this next technological leap. One technology that seems VERY optimistic is EEStor's capacitors:

I'm cautiously optimistic about the technology involved, though I'm holding final judgment until I see something a bit more concrete then some press releases.

For now though batteries are definitely a limiting factor. They are the reason why I see a LOT more potential in series hybrid designs, such as the Chevy Volt, as compared to a pure battery electric vehicle.

Electric cars are (far?) heavier then their fuel driven counterparts

This is due entirely to the battery issue mentioned above. The rest of the components are actually lighter in electric vehicles. Electric motors are much smaller and lighter and they can operate either without any transmission or, at most, with a very simple transmission. These components are very heavy on a conventional vehicle.

As an example, the Chevy Volt has an estimated curb weight of about 3100lbs, slightly less then the similarly sized Chevy Cobalt. And that is for a series hybrid with batteries, electric motors and a small ICE.

Fuel cell based cars maybe the future

Hydrogen fuel cells are a load of crap. They're just another battery technology, but a very heavy, expensive and inefficient one. Right now we're looking at a similar energy density to Li-Ion but charge efficiencies worse than old lead acid stuff costs that are astronomical. Even if we had the infrastructure in place to refill them hydrogen fuel cells would be a very poor choice.

RE: One True Test
By freaqie on 5/5/2008 6:18:09 AM , Rating: 2
Coal is pretty terrible for the atmosphere, but so is burning gasoline or diesel. From a CO2 perspective you're better off with electric vehicles even if 100% of your power comes from coal. From an air pollution standpoint you're about even if there are no scrubbers on the coal plant to MUCH better if they do have scrubbers. Coal plants without scrubbers should be criminal anyway, electric cars or no.

the problem is that burning gasonline happens in your car so lets say the effeciency of your engine is around 40%.
then we have gearboxes etc and total effeciency is 30%.

in a powerplant we have a big generator ( engine + dynamo right) lets state that the engine is 50% efficient ( so better then your car) and the generator itself about 80% so that leaves 40%. then the energy goes over the grid, losing a lot of energy underway. so we have 35 % left ( this is just a guess i do not know how much energy is actually lost probably a whole lot more)
then we plug it into a car with a battery with ...50% effeciency (also do not know but usually pretty bad) so we are left with about 17.5 percent and then the electric motor ( a good one os 90% efficient so 17.500.9 = 15.75 %.

now these are all guesses so please if i am wrong corrert me
but the thing is in a car it is combustion, transmission rubber. end of chain.
in an electrical system there are more elements where energy (and thus effeciency ) is lost, so therefore it must be less effecient.

however in the city it is a good thing no LOCAL pollution, and no enery consumtion in traffic jams...

RE: One True Test
By masher2 on 5/5/2008 11:17:08 AM , Rating: 2
> "now these are all guesses so please if i am wrong corrert me"

The IC engine in a car averages around 25% over its entire operating range, rather than 40%. The newest high-temperature coal plants can break 50% efficiency. You lose about 7% in transmission line losses, which takes the figure to 47% (0.5x0.93).

NiMH batteries have a coulumetric charging efficiency of around 66%...but LiIon batteries can run close to 99%. Electric motors aren't far behind that. The total end-to-end efficiency of the entire process can break 40% optimistically. That's substantially better than an IC car...and much cleaner, still, even if the overall efficiency was equal.

As Hoser pointed out, electric cars are being held back by battery technology only -- size, cost, weight, and charging time. Not because of efficiency concerns.

RE: One True Test
By TimTheEnchanter25 on 5/2/2008 4:27:23 PM , Rating: 5
There is a big difference between the tax breaks for the oil companies and the ethanol subsidy. The tax breaks are intended to incourage refinery exspansion (which they do) and the ethanol subsidy is to compensate for it being an inferior product (E-85 drops your gas mileage 20%+).

For people that don't know, the Federal Government pays a 51 cent per gallon subsidy per gallon of ethanol (5.1 for E-10 and 43 for E-85). I think it totaled close to $3 billion last year and it all goes into the pockets of the ethanol companies, because they inflate the prices to take advantage of the 51 cents. And to go one step further, there is a 50 cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol, because Brazil is willing to sell it much cheaper than US companies.

For a good comparision of the REAL cost of using E-85, AAA started giving an adjusted E-85 price.

Right now the average price for Regualr gas is $3.622, E-85 is $2.989, and adjusted E-85 is $3.934. So, you think you're saving $.633 per gallon, but you are really paying an extra $.312. I don't hear many people complain that it doesn't cost them enough to drive.

RE: One True Test
By JonnyDough on 5/2/2008 4:51:27 PM , Rating: 4
Just wanted to excerpt this from that link above...

" **The BTU-adjusted price of E-85 is the nationwide average price of E-85 adjusted to reflect the lower energy content as expressed in British Thermal Units - and hence miles per gallon - available in a gallon of E-85 as compared to the same volume of conventional gasoline. The BTU-adjusted price calculated by OPIS and AAA is not an actual retail average price paid by consumers. It is calculated and displayed as part of AAA's Fuel Gauge Report because according to the Energy Information Administration E-85 delivers approximately 25 percent fewer BTUs by volume than conventional gasoline. Because "flexible fuel" vehicles can operate on conventional fuel and E-85,the BTU-adjusted price of E-85 is essential to understanding the cost implications of each fuel choice for consumers."

What it's saying is that you get fewer miles to the gallon, and so are actually paying MORE for gas with added Ethanol, which is derived largely from corn and I think soy (correct me if I'm wrong).

You should be AVOIDING using E85 gas at the pump in your car. It's a poor choice, especially when you figure in how it's raising the cost of food worldwide, as noted in a recent statement by Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

I repeat, don't be an uneducated consumer. Tell people not to buy Ethanol (E85) gas. It's a horrible horrible "green" "solution". E85, just say no. It's bad bad bad.

RE: One True Test
By pillagenburn on 5/2/2008 5:10:17 PM , Rating: 4
the reason you see the lesser gas mileage is because ethanol is a very high octane fuel. Currently, I don't think any of the E85 enabled vehicles are equipped to harness Ethanol's real potential. Ethanol is 110 octane and thus will perform better in a much higher compression motor (i.e. 12:1 or greater). Ever see the kinds of performance gains that high compression motors yield when using race gas? (110+ octane) It's pretty phenomenal

I would LOVE 110 octane fuel... but then I'd also love a 13:1 compression motor and cheap race gas at every pump. Supposedly, when running at higher compressions, the gas mileage decrease going from pump gas -> ethanol is less than 10%.

Remember, ethanol is basically alcohol... google "alcohol injection" and look up a dyno sheet comparison.

RE: One True Test
By aeroengineer1 on 5/2/2008 6:44:48 PM , Rating: 4
I think that you are missing the point here. We tend to think of systems by their individual components, and while you are trying to tie the whole system together there are some things that need to be added into your thoughts. It is true that engine efficiency is proportional to compression ratio, but we already have fuels that can take the high compression without the alcohol content. These fuels, though sold for aviation use, and have other environmental concerns, are much more efficient than any alcohol based fuel when considering power per mass or per volumetric unit. This is the reason that many of these fuels have not taken hold.

Let's say that you boost you compression ratio, the results of that are that you will need to strengthen the engine block, which will increase weight. This can be offset by increasing power output. A diesel engine does this because its fuel has a higher energy content than gasoline, but with alcohol based fuels you will not get the increased energy output unless you add more fuel to the engine. This can be done, but by doing so you fuel efficiency will go down.

The way to go is diesel. It seems when you read the news so many focus on the smaller group that is making gasoline substitutes, but the real gains have been made in the diesel/jet fuel substitutions. There are many methods being explored and tested, with strong government backing because our airforce relies on heavy fuels, not gasoline. With the fact that the cycle describing the combustion for a diesel engine being more efficient over that of a gasoline engine, I think that it would be best to follow Europe's lead in diesel fueled vehicles. The issue of reducing emissions can be dealt with much easier, and will reduce overall oil dependency. This combined with nuclear advancements as well as batteries will allow for a new, but diversified approach to the energy situation in front of us. Other technologies will also make advances, but I think that these are things that we have had right before us, but due to public perception we have ignored them thinking that we will just wait and make the big leap to the next thing. We have spend 30 years waiting for solar, wind and hydrogen to become the next generation, and for some of those technologies we will wait another 30 years.

RE: One True Test
By walk2k on 5/2/08, Rating: 0
RE: One True Test
By aftlizard on 5/2/2008 9:17:51 PM , Rating: 3
Do not know where you get that number from but using a congress report that the Iraq War costs 9 billion per month (CBO) and we have 108 billion divided by 105,480,101(US Census Bureau) households = 1023 dollars a year per house hold. I wont get into the subsidizing oil part.

RE: One True Test
By MrBungle123 on 5/2/08, Rating: 0
RE: One True Test
By JonnyDough on 5/2/08, Rating: -1
RE: One True Test
By Goatjoe on 5/2/2008 11:41:01 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, our president came from profiting from helping the Nazi's... (The Bush family didn't start making all their $$$ on oil...) Now, they may not have directly supported them, they still sold goods and profited from fueling their attempt at world conquest...

RE: One True Test
By degeester on 5/3/2008 11:10:18 AM , Rating: 2
I thought the Bush family was in business with the Rockefeller's at the start of Standard Oil over a hundred years ago.

RE: One True Test
By JonnyDough on 5/2/08, Rating: 0
RE: One True Test
By ebakke on 5/2/2008 5:06:22 PM , Rating: 4
My head finally stopped shaking back and forth, so now I can reply to your post.

Gas: We buy gas because the price is worth the benefit to us. This is the same as every other purchase made. There are alternatives to buying gas. Carpool, take the bus, walk, bike, etc. These are (exponentially) less convenient, and thus people justify the expense of gasoline.

Walmart, etc: The bottom line for you is cost. You place a high value on cost. Others value keeping a local company in business. Some will make sacrifices elsewhere to support things they value. In that case they value the local company more than they value going out to the movies, for example. It's all about the consumers, and their choices; it's not about the businesses and how bad they are.

RE: One True Test
By JonnyDough on 5/2/08, Rating: -1
RE: One True Test
By ebakke on 5/3/2008 12:46:55 AM , Rating: 1
Because saying "I really really really really disagree with you" just doesn't have the same effect.

RE: One True Test
By Comdrpopnfresh on 5/2/2008 5:42:46 PM , Rating: 2
There is a difference though. Ethanol is renewable, and does burn cleaner, so subsidies there are meant to give it a foot in the door to a market that was previously based on fossil fuels only.

There is also a tax on oil coming into the country, and at the pump that consumers pay (state and national). The subsidies for oil companies are geared towards giving them money outside of profits to reinvest into more efficient, cleaner technologies- but they can't be forced to do this (laissez fair).
The main reason why gas is so expensive in the US is because of a catch-22: People need gasoline, so oil companies provide it. But a new refinery hasn't been built in the US since the 70's. Our refining facilities and techniques are very aged, and no matter how much oil comes into the country, the limiting factor is refining. Refineries are put under a lot of scrutiny for safety concerns and environmental factors. No one wants to build them because it takes so long for the investment to yield a return. I doubt anyone would spend their own money on a facility to process a substance everyone hears is running out. And if oil companies shut everything down all of a sudden and switch to another energy source, masses of people would still be pissed. They are between a rock and a hard place, and it is only natural that they would want to have profits as large as possible.

A freemarket mainly means it is self-regulated by a balance of buyers and sellers, with minimal governmental oversight and forced direction. Pure communism can't exist in groupings of people over a few dozen, but it hasn't stopped millions of people from trying...

Oh, superfluids and supersolids have no friction... real physics.

RE: One True Test
By symbul on 5/2/08, Rating: 0
RE: One True Test
By Ringold on 5/2/08, Rating: 0
RE: One True Test
By symbul on 5/2/2008 11:44:26 PM , Rating: 2
If you have evidence of collusion, which you don't, then you could take such companies to court as collusion is illegal; fits nicely in with the idea of cartels being illegal, etc.

I guess I imagined the whole Enron/Arthur Andersen fiasco (to name one). Sorry to burst your bubble, but collusion does happen and more often than not gets settled but doesn't get publicized a lot (unlike Enron).

Most goods and services ultimately end up resembling commodities, and commodities are defined as being mostly uniform in nature. This is natural, and it allows standardization (thus better information) and lower prices (scale).

Then I guess it's fine if consumers are getting screwed on services and goods that aren't commodities... The 2 biggest purchase one will ever make are a house and a car. Those are not commodities.

Thanks to free speech you can, of course, make unsupported accusations about large amorpheous entities that are easily demonized (men and women with families do suit up and go to work every morning at these places) with little fear of repercussions.

You should look at who sits on the board of directors of the biggest companies. That exclusive club is not that big and those guys care about the men and women you mentionned only if it increases the profit margin.

My point is not about demonizing corporations, but about making sure there is a level playing field and real competition so consumers benefits the most.

Have a good day.

RE: One True Test
By Ringold on 5/2/2008 6:01:33 PM , Rating: 4
What about comparing the unsubsidized cost of ethanol to the unsubsidized cost of gasoline? Why does everybody ignore the fact that Big Oil receives massive tax breaks?

It's sad posts like that get up to 5.

Instead of repeating a typical liberal attack line, why not prove it?

Perhap's because you'd have a very difficult time if you were to compare evil 'big oil' to other industries?

Please get it through your head: There is no such thing as a free market. Just like physics homework problems with "frictionless surfaces". It just doesn't exist in the real world.

It doesn't exist in a perfect form, therefore ignore it?

Hate to point it out, but one could take a valid position that everything we know about physics is bull in that while we can make extremely accurate predictions, there is a lot that is poorly understood. Yet, we still have CPU's. Likewise with economics, free markets arent pure and perfect anywhere, and yet those that strive to be closer to such a state have reliably higher growth rates than, say, France.

RE: One True Test
By Ringold on 5/2/2008 6:12:18 PM , Rating: 2

Furthermore, the average effective tax rate on the major integrated oil and gas industry is estimated to equal 38.3 percent. This exceeds the estimated average effective tax rate of 32.3 percent for the market as a whole.

So go ahead leftists, point out this huge tax break 'Big Oil' gets that gives them favored son status above the average American firm.

RE: One True Test
By Hoser McMoose on 5/4/2008 3:09:39 AM , Rating: 2
Why does everybody ignore the fact that Big Oil receives massive tax breaks?

Because the "big tax breaks" aren't nearly as big as a lot of people claim and oil companies also pay a LOT of tax. ExxonMobile, in it's most recent quarterly earnings report, listed over $29 BILLION dollars worth of taxes in a 3 month period.

Recently Congress made a big stink about how they were eliminating a bunch of oil subsidies they estimated at up to $1B/year. By contrast, corn subsidies alone are estimate at more than $10B/year.

Even if we just look at the final step of things, gasoline is taxed at about 50 cents per gallon at the pumps (varying somewhat from one State to the next). Ethanol has no tax and a 50 cents per gallon subsidy. A dollar a gallon is a BIG difference.

Get rid of the subsidies to oil and gas? Absolutely! But also get rid of the subsidies to ethanol.

RE: One True Test
By Fenixgoon on 5/2/2008 3:02:49 PM , Rating: 3
I think places like these are more in the R&D stage at the moment. I know a month or two ago, DT ran an article about GM investing millions into an algae-fuel research company.

In any event, the more people that enter the market to develop the solution, the faster we'll develop a better answer. Win-win all around.

RE: One True Test
By dever on 5/2/2008 3:20:32 PM , Rating: 2
R&D can easily be funded in a free market. If it has potential, many will want to risk investment for potential payoff. We don't need to confiscate the wages of average taxpayers to mitigate risky investments. Those "evil rich" bear the risk early through VC and we all benefit in the long run.

RE: One True Test
By knipfty on 5/2/2008 4:20:20 PM , Rating: 2

RE: One True Test
By mattclary on 5/3/2008 9:59:00 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, two tests:
Can it produce enough power to run itself?

Ethanol plants need natural gas pipelines, which is why it is argued that ethanol is simply recycled natural gas.

Huge Energy Density
By Chemical Chris on 5/2/2008 3:29:09 PM , Rating: 5
I did a report on biofuel last year for my final project in my 'scientific writing' class. Basically, sugar-based approaches (as is done now) is futile and a bad idea. Using cellulose-to-sugar-to-alcohol is a better option, but requires expensive enzymes or engineered bacteria, both too immature at present for viable production.
However, algae was the one high point. It grows in three dimensions without gravity (plant doesn't have to expend energy to stay upright). IIRC, 1 acre of algae (cant remember the depth, but lets say 10-20 ft) can produce ~10000 gallons of fuel per unit time, whereas corn only produces 300-400 gallons of fuel per acre per unit time. Thats without considering 1 year of growing corn requires 7-15 years of not growing anything to let the soil recover (in actuality, a season is, say, 6 months, so, it would be 3-8 years of now growth per season), fertilizer pollution, etc etc etc.
So, corn is dumb, then only reason its being pursued now is politics (they dont have a clue what they're talking about) and all the money already sunk into it.
Algae is much more promising, and is where the money should be going, or to cellulose ethanol, not sugar ethanol!
But alas, politicians will continue to mess it all up.
Politics, religion, and science should all stay away from each other, unfortunately, that is rarely the case.

RE: Huge Energy Density
By ksherman on 5/2/2008 3:40:10 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm, I don't think that politics, religion and science need to stay away from each other. That only makes our society even more polarized. And while this is not a political article, I give major props to McCain for standing up against Ethanol, in Iowa of all places, back a few months. I really really despise all this attention that ethanol gets, in politics and even in the minds of the people at times, and its great that he stood against the politics in such a polarized state.

Anywho, I am really excited for this research. It really seems that algae is the answer to our problems here and now. I really am excited to see algae-based biodiesel take off.

RE: Huge Energy Density
By blue76mg on 5/2/2008 4:10:15 PM , Rating: 2
Politics you say! I'm shocked! Religion! Shocked again.

There are no primaries nor voters in the Pacific ocean, that's why we have corn based fuel.

RE: Huge Energy Density
By rudy on 5/2/2008 4:51:27 PM , Rating: 2
Some times I do not get where people are getting data. 1 year of growing corn results in many years of not growing it? I have been to the midwest have you? there are not tons of fields sitting empty they rotate crops yes but most of it is corn and they often plant corn year after year. Something is wrong with your report. 7-15 years of not growing anything? where on earth did you get that crazy information.

RE: Huge Energy Density
By Comdrpopnfresh on 5/2/2008 5:19:51 PM , Rating: 2
rotating crops is a natural way to put nitrogen back in, but it is usually done through commercial fertilizers- which have obvious downsides. a few years (without rotation or anything) sounds about right

RE: Huge Energy Density
By JonnyDough on 5/2/2008 9:03:05 PM , Rating: 1
Agreed. Well said. I'm pretty much auto-rated down by a couple of jerks on here, but I don't care - I know people still read my posts just as well. Who doesn't click the open thing to see what some idiot said anyway?

Not a series of tubes
By Runiteshark on 5/2/2008 2:53:48 PM , Rating: 2
If you have a series of tubes or plastic bags on the desert floor or wherever, you are still limited by the amount of photons that get in from the sun to create more algae. When the algae gets slightly dense, it starts blocking its own light.

Why don't they get a dump truck to dump it with? Couldn't it be something that you just dump it on, rather then a series of tubes?

RE: Not a series of tubes
By Keeir on 5/2/2008 3:13:00 PM , Rating: 2
The Idea behind the tubes is that the critical component is surface area exposed to light. A stack of tubes have significantly more surface area than just flat ground alone.

I can see many of the same things used in solar power plants to maximize surface area exposed to light being used also

RE: Not a series of tubes
By Runiteshark on 5/2/2008 4:14:48 PM , Rating: 2
I understood the article perfectly well, and thought along the lines of the poster that posted about its efficiency over corn. However due to the massive influx of topics like this and the opportunity to make a Internet Tubes reference, my mind couldn't stray from the path it had already gone down.

The internet is a series of tubes, not something you dump stuff on.

RE: Not a series of tubes
By ebakke on 5/2/2008 4:55:47 PM , Rating: 3
If it makes you feel any better, I got your joke.

Is there a bigger scam . . .
By Denigrate on 5/2/2008 3:46:16 PM , Rating: 2
than carbon credits? What a freakin' joke. Gore has a huge horribly inefficient mansion, but it's OK because he bought carbon credits to offset his stupidity.

RE: Is there a bigger scam . . .
By MozeeToby on 5/2/2008 4:02:17 PM , Rating: 2
What's especially funny about his argument that power plants can send the CO2 to the algea farms is that eventually the algea (or whatever is made from it) will be burned for power, releasing it back into the air anyway.

By JonnyDough on 5/2/2008 9:08:23 PM , Rating: 2
That's somewhat true. The basic principle of electricity generation is switching between forms of matter, (i.e. fuel -> gasses). Regardless, there will always be some sort of byproduct in the form of heat or waste. The trick is to find a use for the waste, by converting it back into it's original form (oxygen, carbon, etc) with little expended energy and cost. By so doing, we're virtually replicating nature's biological/decomposition processes at an accelerated rate. Human beings haven't really done anything that nature doesn't do itself. We build skyscrapers, the earth uses volcanoes to build mountains. We make ice in a freezer, nature does this as well. We dig a pool, or alter plants and bacteria genetics...the list goes on.

By RogueLegend on 5/2/2008 11:18:01 PM , Rating: 2
I think we all need a basic biology lesson in the various uses of algae (proper spelling) and how it absorbs CO2- first of all, it consumes the carbon and releases O2 like most plants, but its usefulness extends to all sorts of things besides simple combustion- it can be used for fertilizer and it can even be eaten.

In fact, the source of Omega 3 fatty acids that fish have come from algae in the first place.

But I think the point is, if you can use algae to consume C02, grow more algae, which can then either be used for further C02 absorption or energy conversion (or even fertilizer). The whole point is that you're offsetting the straight release of C02. Some C02 will always get released, but the amount could be greatly offset as some powerplants are already doing.

Go Into the Water
By ZombieRitual on 5/2/2008 3:59:41 PM , Rating: 2
We call out to the Beasts of the sea to
come forth and join us, this night is
yours...Because One day we will all be
with you in the blackened deep...One day
we will all go into the WATER...

Go Into the water
Live there Die there
Live there Die
We reject our earthly fires

Gone are days of Land Empires
Lungs transform to take in water
Cloaked in scales we swim and
swim home

We are alive
And we'll metamorphisize
And we'll sink
As we devolve back to beasts
Our home is down here
And we've known this for years
We must conquer from the sea
We are an army with water steeds
We'll rise
From our depths down below
Release yourselves
Drown with me
We will conquer
Land with water

Gone are days of Land Empires
Lungs transform to take in water
Cloaked in scales we swim
swim home
We swim home...
We swim home...

RE: Go Into the Water
By walk2k on 5/2/2008 8:04:25 PM , Rating: 2

growing it is not cheap
By sonoran on 5/2/2008 4:12:12 PM , Rating: 2
Not cheap? The stuff grows for free in my swimming pool - they're welcome to come harvest it. ;)

But seriously, it grows like mad during the summer months (which pretty much equates to about half the year) in the desert southwest. Doesn't seem like harvesting it occasionally with some sort of pump and filter mechanism would be a big challenge. The (solar-powered?) pumps could also activate occasionally to stir the water and ensure the entire water column gets some light exposure. Around here, the challenge is keeping algae from taking over your pool.

RE: growing it is not cheap
By nekobawt on 5/5/2008 1:13:21 PM , Rating: 2
Darn right! Finally, a potential use for the fact that every other house in Phoenix and its surrounding cities has a pool in their back yard...instead of wasting all this money on pool chemicals to kill the stuff so you have a clean pool you never use anyway, you could potentially get a government subsidy and help people fuel their cars and stuff! :D

That'd be nice, anyway.

Hemp much?
By acme420 on 5/2/2008 6:44:13 PM , Rating: 2
Hemp for Victory.

grows faster than corn, produces more ethanol.

RE: Hemp much?
By JonnyDough on 5/2/2008 9:30:30 PM , Rating: 1
So do weeds. Maybe you should smoke weeds instead of weed, and then sell whatever you don't use to the energy company.

Some things missing
By Comdrpopnfresh on 5/2/2008 4:42:57 PM , Rating: 2
I did my senior paper, necessary to graduate from high school, on a topic encompassing this.

Of the 22 million barrels of crude oil used each day in the US, 40% of it goes to cars and transportation
-U.S. Department of Energy

There are naturally-chosen, non genetically altered strains of algae that grow quickly. A few of them contain nearly their own weight in oils, that when compressed create pure biodiesel- no processing required. The dried flakes are high in protein, as mentioned, but could also be used when cellulose-ethanol takes off, creating more ethanol per pound of raw material than crops specifically grown for fuel production.
Isaac Berzin, a rocket scientist at MIT did extensive research and trial-implementation of algae as a way to clean flue gases while also creating fuel. Tubes full of water and algae have flue gases run through them to achieve this. He says that a SINGLE 1000-megawatt power plant with the algae system could produce upwards of “40 million gallons of Biodiesel a year," 1000-megawatt power plants are not few in number, and not nearly the largest capacity either. That same 1000-megawatt generator would also be able to produce 50 million gallons of ethanol a year with cellulose-driven processes. Plus, much of the pollution is pulled out to make all the algae grow. For instance, the levels of carbon dioxide are reduced by 40% after going through algae. Sulfides and Nitrogen compounds, which contribute to global warming, smog, and the depletion of the atmosphere, are reduced as well. Another great reason to use algae to clean the air at the site of pollution (flue gases) is that the ample heat and pollutants the algae feed on is enough to sustain them- minimal sunlight is required.

The whole thing about not enough land is bull. The oils algae create are better suited for diesel (since it is squeezed out as pure biodiesel), and on a per-capita basis of both energy and fuel output, could leave soybeans simply being grown for food. Neat diesel, otherwise known as B100 or pure Biodiesel releases 75% less C02 gas than petrol (a gallon of gasoline, when combusted releases 18 pounds of CO2 into the air). Biodiesel releases less particle emissions, less smog-forming emissions, and a sweet smell of freshly made fried food than petrol-diesel. Whereas ethanol has less energy per unit volume than standard gasoline, diesel, including biodiesel, has 10% more energy per gallon than gasoline.

Soybean-derived Biodiesel can only provide 60 gallons of fuel per acre of crop. This is a very small number of gallons per land taken up compared to the use of algae. Also, crops must be replanted in seasons, and given time to mature and bear fruit. In a startling comparison, the same acre, if filled with algae-filled tubules would be able to produce 15,000 gallons of Biodiesel per acre.

The algae don’t need to be connected to flue gas, or replace current croplands either. According to John Sheehan, the former head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a stretch of desert 15,000 miles long filled with algae tubes could produce enough fuel to replace the nation’s current demand for petrol-diesel. Even more interestingly, the Sonoran desert, which shares the boards of California and Arizona, is more than 8 times the 15,000 square miles cited by Mr. Sheehan.

Clayton, M. (2006, Mar 2). Yellow light for a 'green' energy source. The Christian Science Moniter, Retrieved Mar 13, 2006, from en.html.

Environmental Defense, (n.d.). Global warming. Retrieved Mar. 12, 2006, from

King, T. (2005, December 10).Gibson county may become a green giant. The Jaxkson Sun, pp. .

Lashinsky, A. (2006). How to beat the high cost of gasoline. Time, 153(2), 74.

LeDuc, D. (2005, December 23).Area to get new biodiesel plant. the News-Sentinel, pp. .

SinClayton, M. (). Algae- like a breath mint for smokestacks. The Christian Science Moniter, (1/11/2006), .

Sinenj, R. (2005, August 16).Big benefits are seen in biofuels . The News Journal, pp. .

U.S. Department of Energy, (2005). Retrieved Mar. 05, 2006, from Alternative Fuels Data Center Web site:

I think it is really a shame that great ideas like this only get attention when fuel prices are high, and people are constantly told the world is going to end from global warming. It happened when hurricanes ravaged the south of the US, and around election times- but then people just go on overspending and wasting until some other even brings it up.
What is good for the environment is usually helpful for consumers- plus, any fuel-crops, including algae that are grown in-state don't need to go through international markets, don't need to be shipped, and no other country can stifle an internal supply of fuel...

so basically, no more desert-hoping to flex US might and keep oil coming from the mid-east. I say let them keep it.

By imperator3733 on 5/2/2008 4:47:26 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know how much press this got outside of the Twin Cities, but some researchers at Augsburg College discovered a new biodiesel production method.

By armred on 5/2/2008 8:42:56 PM , Rating: 2

Seems easy to grow, non-food crop and seeds generate a lot more oil than an equivalent amount of corn or soybean.

Water Absorption
By pityme on 5/3/2008 12:07:40 AM , Rating: 2
The big problem that people forget with Ethanol is its afinity for water. This is one big reason for E85 verses E100. You need something to bind with the ethanol to minimize water absorption. This is also why ethanol currently can not be pumped in a pipeline.

Geothermal what?
By Horus on 5/3/2008 3:59:50 PM , Rating: 2
Geothermal energy is far from impractical. The geothermal plants in California at The Geysers, and in Sonoma create power for nearly all the homes north of San Francisco! It's completely renewable, and when DONE CORRECTLY, has a near-zero impact on local areas. See: Mammoth Mountain Geothermal Energy plant in California. It's COMPLETELY blended into the local landscape, and it's existence has actually INCREASED tourism to the ski-resort town. The capacity for geothermal in California, and in the United States is utterly massive.

Fresh water
By drwho9437 on 5/4/2008 2:19:59 PM , Rating: 2
The idea of using fresh water to make fuel is nuts. It was in Dilbert the other day even. Of the ethanol ideas only unfertilized, un-watered plants make sense to use. Fresh water is relatively abundant in the US perhaps, but globally certainly not, aquifers in the west are being depleted, water isn't unlimited either...

Related research
By Fracture on 5/7/2008 12:36:27 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just going to post another article that I read within the last month that seems to be very similar in design and implementation:

Quick summary & comparison: Vertigro, the process from the link, uses a vertical algae-growing process in order to maximize exposure to sunlight and the harvest quantity per acre. Algae oil has proven to be a much more economic fuel in terms of processing costs compared to ethanol, especially factoring in the cost of the space used in the entire process.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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