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Both startups and oil giants are experimenting with algae-based oil production. New research from the University of Virginia could help to jump start these efforts  (Source: CNN)
Can algae fill up your tank?

Wind, solar, nuclear, and geothermal are all very promising technologies.  However each will need a great deal of construction and infrastructure changes.  Perhaps the greatest difficulty is adopting our transportation efforts, from cars to planes to run on electricity.

One promising alternative is to use biofuels.  Biofuels are getting a bad rap these days, as their early representative -- ethanol -- has driven up food prices in the U.S. and abroad.  However, the term biofuel also encompasses all other forms of fuel produced by living organisms, including synthetic gasoline.

Synthetic gasoline is perhaps the most promising of the biofuels.  Certain species of algae can be genetically engineered to produce hydrocarbon chains chemically identical to pure diesel fuel.  Best of all, the carbon used is snatched out of the atmosphere, meaning that burning the fuels has no net impact on carbon emissions.  The other good news is the fact that the pure fuel lacks the polluting sulfates and nitrates that oil typically contains.

DailyTech previously covered the efforts of a number of startups in their quest to develop green gasoline from algae.  One key difficulty is yields – typically, algae growing in a natural state only produces about one percent by weight of the hydrocarbons desired.  Now new a new research program from the University of Virginia aims to change that.

The new program, funded by a UVA Collaborative Sustainable Energy Seed Grant worth about $30,000, seeks to apply analytical engineering practices to optimizing the algae's fuel output

Algae are brimming with potential.  An algae field could produce 15 times more oil per acre than other biofuel plants such as switchgrass or corn.  Further algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water.  The new research revolves around the theoretical assumption that algae should produce more oil if fed more carbon dioxide and more organic material (in the form of sewage).  Lisa Colosi, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who is part of the project team explains, "We have to prove these two things to show that we really are getting a free lunch."

According to Professor Colosi, feeding carbon dioxide and organic waste to the algae can increase their oil yield to as high as 40 percent by weight.  If the team can prove that either of the factors can indeed boost production, it would provide additional benefits.  If the organic sludge works, the algae could be used to treat wastewater.  If the concentrated carbon dioxide works, the algae could have coal power-plant flue gas bubbled through it, which contains 10 to 30 times atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.  This could help cut the emissions from coal plants.  Algae could else help remove nitrogen gas from industrial sources.

Professor Colosi comments, "The main principle of industrial ecology is to try and use our waste products to produce something of value."

The team has enlisted the help of Mark White, a professor at the McIntire School of Commerce, to analyze how the resulting picture of the algae-based biofuel's outlook stacks up to that of soy-based biofuel and other alternatives.  Professor White analyzes the outlook under three scenarios -- one a scenario in which a nationwide carbon cap was adopted, as some nations have adopted, monetizing emission cuts.  The second scenario is if a nitrogen cap was adopted.  The final scenario is if oil prices reached very high levels.

Rounding off the team is Andres Clarens, a professor of civil and environmental engineering.  Professor Clarens will focus on attempting to improve the separation process of the oil.  The team will methodically test batches of algae, a few liters at a time.  They will try different approaches, such as grinding up the organic matter "fed" to the algae.  They plan on feeding the hungry algae a variety of wastewate solids, living and nonliving, to see how it reacts.  Says Professor Colosi, "We're looking at dumping the whole dinner on top of them and seeing what happens."

While many startups and oil giants Chevron and Shell are all looking into algae-made fuel, the team says there are numerous benefits of the public research.  First it may cast light on techniques that are being kept secret by those developing the tech for private entities.  Secondly it may spur interest in the field and help to legitimize it.  Finally more algae-oil research may even help future research project win grants from the U.S. Department of Energy or other sources.

DailyTech recently reported that other microorganism, such as genetically altered E. Coli may also be used to produced biodiesel.

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By FITCamaro on 8/21/2008 9:45:02 AM , Rating: 5
I love this idea. Use nature to create what we want. We want gas and diesel. If nature can provide it to us, why fight it? I know the hippies will still fight the use of gas and diesel even if it was all produced in this manner because we all know burning fuel is evil. But the fact is that this is clean energy. You're taking CO2 out of the environment, producing oxygen, and creating fuel.

RE: Potential
By JasonMick on 8/21/2008 9:48:18 AM , Rating: 5
Really once this technology can produce at an affordable level, there's absolutely no justification to fight it.

It release virtually 0 net pollution, while potential solving the fossil fuel crisis.

Remember its environmentalists and hippies you have to thank for this research ;) Most environmentalists I know love the prospect of algae-gas.

RE: Potential
By mdogs444 on 8/21/2008 10:01:26 AM , Rating: 5
Most environmentalists I know love the prospect of algae-gas.

Of course you know that will change once it meets reality, and we do starting burning them. Their current opinion is just a holdover to try to get us off oil, then it will change once that mission is accomplished.

Environmentalism is a never ending cycle - much like a little kid who is never satisfied and escalates his mind changing process each time his parents cave in.

RE: Potential
By JasonMick on 8/21/2008 10:39:48 AM , Rating: 5
will change once it meets reality, and we do starting burning them

...I don't know about that, last I checked some environmentalists and hippies liked to burn certain plant residues :P

RE: Potential
By abzillah on 8/21/2008 4:15:54 PM , Rating: 2
After the oil has been squeezed out of the algae, they can use the algae as fertilizer and reduce the cost of operations. Waist water would be cleaned by algae, which produce oils, and are fertilizers and all I see is $$$ and more $$$$$ from this!

RE: Potential
By Murloc on 8/22/2008 10:19:49 AM , Rating: 2
Looooooooool that's true :)

RE: Potential
By MrBlastman on 8/21/2008 10:54:27 AM , Rating: 2
What happens when certain environmentalists start protesting the unfair treatment of Algae?

"It is kept locked up in plastic bags all day. It is never given any free time, it is constantly worked hard 24/7 for what? So humans can burn their petrol in automobiles? The humanity. Those poor algae. Never free to roam the oceans abroad. Never to see the sights of whales migrating through the oceans blue. Never to witness the conception of non-algae life. Yes, this is horrible. We must free the algae!" - A. Environ Mentalist

RE: Potential
By AnnihilatorX on 8/21/2008 2:07:55 PM , Rating: 2
That'd be animal or plant activist.

RE: Potential
By snownpaint on 8/21/2008 4:05:17 PM , Rating: 2
What about Vegetarian gas?

RE: Potential
By ThePooBurner on 8/21/2008 8:50:22 PM , Rating: 2
We can burn them too. ;)

RE: Potential
By HinderedHindsight on 8/21/08, Rating: 0
RE: Potential
By Topweasel on 8/21/2008 12:37:04 PM , Rating: 3
Your right about the all things in life being kind of circular. But the problem comes from two lines of reasoning, Perfect so called harmony with the world where humans are neither hunters nor prey, and exist with no imprint on the world. The other mind set being, that as the most advanced, mentally and physically capable that we should do everything in our power to become a better and more advanced species, and our thoughts should only be on our success just as any creature would.

Sure their are people in between and many layers. But for some one who sits a little more on the latter how is us building a skyscraper any different then a stampede of Apatasourus's traveling 20 miles and clearing out all plant life in between. How is the us mining coal, any different then a bunch of elephants emptying a pond. How is Farming any different then a pack of wolves surrounding an feeding area of deer, and just picking them off as needed.

As for this exact usage of fuel. Most of this is based off of the idea that the CO2 that the cars give out is causing the the pre2004 global warming. Its now labeled as pollution. Do you know what also gives out CO2? I will let you in on a secret, everything (living) expect plants (they consume it). If you knew what fraction of a percent that automotive actually give out compared tho the trillions of termites, ants, wasps, bee's, deer, cows, tigers, lions, panda's and all other forms of life's, you would say so whats the issue. I don't think anybody disagrees that their might be a better option for fuel, but it needs to be just as efficient, cheaper, and not forced through mass hysteria.

That is where the environmentalist issue comes in. It only works when the public goes insane about it so for the people who actually think about, all their hear is insane rambling of confused and possibly retarded people. Because if fuel still cost $1.50 a gallon, and E85 cost $3.00 a gallon the only reason people would switch is if they thought the world was going to end otherwise. The only reason any of this has reached the level it has is because certain groups have gotten buy in from top name trend setter's, and because with current costs of gas people are more likely to believe that gas and not the sellers of gas are plain evil.

RE: Potential
By masher2 on 8/21/2008 1:12:49 PM , Rating: 4
> "if environmentalism were a child, what would it sound like?"

I don't know, but I know what environmentalism as an adult sounds like:

"Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental"
-- Dave Foreman, Earth First

"I suspect that eradicating smallpox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems."
-- John Davis, environmental editor and author.

"If you ask me, it’d be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it"
-- Amory Lovins, founder Rocky Mountain Institute

"To feed a starving child is to exacerbate the world population problem"
-- Helen Caldicott, Union of Concerned Scientists.

"The collective needs of non-human species must take precedence over the needs and desires of humans"
-- Dr. Reed Ross, the Wildlands Project

"We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts one might have. . . . Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."
-- Stephen Schneider, Stanford University, speaking on Global Warming.

RE: Potential
By Alexvrb on 8/21/2008 8:03:02 PM , Rating: 2
I especially like that Schneider bit. He might as well have said, "Damnit, people! Don't you get it? We need to lie more!"

RE: Potential
By drmo on 8/21/2008 12:17:21 PM , Rating: 3
Since windmills are hated, even though they are relatively clean, then this will be hated by environmentalists or farmers or food consumers. Think of having your beautiful farmland, or pristine prairies turning into what looks like giant popsicle containers. What about the local biodiversity? What about the large tracts of farmland not producing food? What about plowing down forests to produce land to make oil?

RE: Potential
By Ringold on 8/21/2008 2:34:28 PM , Rating: 2
Environmentalism is a never ending cycle - much like a little kid who is never satisfied and escalates his mind changing process each time his parents cave in.

Lots of joking about it in other posts, and a little denial, but I think you're right mdogs. At least, you might be. These types of people have been rabid opponents of genetically modified crops in Europe. Drought-resistant seed? Higher yields? Seed optimized for local climate conditions? Insect-resistance? Not enough for them. They're apparently quite happy to have to subsidize their farmers to be competitive and pay higher prices for food rather than adopt the latest technology.

If they can be opposed to GM seed, lets not be shocked if, before this technology becomes commercialized, they'll become fierce opponents of this as well.

Oh, and thats not limited to Europe. "Organic" food became sexy here, though I'm not sure its based on the same sort of opposition to GM food as in Europe. Here it's mostly just snobbery, I think.

RE: Potential
By Omega215D on 8/21/2008 10:08:17 AM , Rating: 3
But then there may be another PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Algae. =P

RE: Potential
By BansheeX on 8/21/2008 10:15:53 AM , Rating: 2
In commercial vehicles, I believe all-electric advancements will win out over any form of combustion in the coming years, but we obviously still need fuel for other things like airplanes and heavy transport. Remember, oil still prevents you from being able to power your own car with a renewable-equipped home. Combustion-based engines still require the same costly maintenance. They still contribute to smog in low-basin areas where the CO2 can get trapped. So just because you can't see the costs doesn't mean they're not there.

And let's not forget that pie-in-the-sky socialists will find some reason to forcibly appropriate money and disproportionately direct it towards this "solution" like they did with ethanol, delaying me from affording better solutions. If you need to force people to pay for its development, chances are it wasn't a product worth making.

RE: Potential
By bobsmith1492 on 8/21/2008 10:29:14 AM , Rating: 2
I bet that serial hybrids like the Volt will be more practical since the refueling infrastructure already exists. Serial diesel-electric is incredibly fuel-efficient... and algae diesel will be maybe even cleaner than gasoline.

RE: Potential
By HinderedHindsight on 8/21/2008 11:29:30 AM , Rating: 2
And let's not forget that pie-in-the-sky socialists will find some reason to forcibly appropriate money and disproportionately direct it towards this "solution" like they did with ethanol, delaying me from affording better solutions.

Actually the whole ethanol push was a collaboration between government and the auto industry (note, I said collaboration, not conspiracy).

The truth is, it has always been easier/cost effective to adapt traditional gasoline engines to use ethanol rather than convert to a completely different means of locomotion such as electricity. Because of that, and the fact that we can produce ethanol from the massive amounts of corn fields in the United States, it was viewed by policy makers and vehicle manufacturers as the best solution from an economic standpoint while still trying to meet the goal of being independent from foreign sources of fuel because it can be produced in America. It had very little to do with its environmental benefits.

RE: Potential
By JustTom on 8/21/2008 6:22:17 PM , Rating: 2
mmmmmmmmmmmmm I thinks you forgot the corn lobby....

RE: Potential
By BansheeX on 8/21/2008 9:28:19 PM , Rating: 2
Actually the whole ethanol push was a collaboration between government and the auto industry (note, I said collaboration, not conspiracy).

So what? That isn't the enablement. In order to get forcibly appropriated money, the government power to subsidize markets must exist. In order to get a special tax break, the corporate income tax has to exist. If these unnecessary powers were abolished, large companies could not collude with them to effectively be subsidized by smaller companies. Welcome to the libertarian fold, it's that simple.

RE: Potential
By FITCamaro on 8/21/2008 11:53:02 AM , Rating: 3
Remember, oil still prevents you from being able to power your own car with a renewable-equipped home.


And I rest my case that people will still complain about using gas.

RE: Potential
By theapparition on 8/21/2008 12:19:12 PM , Rating: 2
And how does that electricity get made to power all those electric cars.

While I certainly agree that electric cars are the future, the fact still remains that the only nationwide cost effective power generation comes from a massive heat source (burning coal, nuclear). Solar is not anywhere there yet. Wind almost costs more to implement than will return. Hydrodynamic is very good, but can only be implemented in certain areas. Geothermal has promise, but just that. Promise.

Fact is, we still have to burn something unless signifigant increases in technology are discovered. IF this alge based biofuels becomes viable, than that may just be another avenue for power generation.

We're so very far away from the "renewable equiped home" that will be able to also power your cars.

RE: Potential
By BansheeX on 8/21/2008 9:36:43 PM , Rating: 2
And how does that electricity get made to power all those electric cars.

Fact is, we still have to burn something unless signifigant increases in technology are discovered.

Umm, nuclear power has been the answer all along. I thought that was implied.

We're so very far away from the "renewable equiped home" that will be able to also power your cars.

Wrong, I know many people who have geothermal equipped homes in the city, or a windmill in rural areas, who are powering their hybrids for free and could power future all-electrics. This will become a possibility for many people as costs come down on these home modifications. Not everyone, but many, and it's a pretty cool enablement not possible with combustibles. Not sure why you you can see a future for algae gas but are irrationally skeptical of this.

RE: Potential
By theapparition on 8/21/2008 10:17:28 PM , Rating: 2
First let me clarify that I'm all in favor of research on any type of technology, as long as it makes sense. I'm not necessarily advocating this, and certainly it shouldn't be subsidised. I'm not particuarly fond of this idea, but if it ends up viable, than it could certainly be an option for diesel cars on the road.

With that out of the way.

Umm, nuclear power has been the answer all along. I thought that was implied.

While I completely agree with can it be implied when we haven't built a new nuclear plant in this country in decades. Nuclear is, hands down, the best current solution, but unless the sheeples' attitudes change, it isn't a reality.

Wrong, I know many people who have geothermal equipped homes in the city, or a windmill in rural areas, who are powering their hybrids for free and could power future all-electrics.

Please provide more information, because quite frankly, I don't believe you. First off, there is no available production plug-in hybrid in production. None. So what are they powering? I believe there are a couple of concept ones being deployed in CA, but power requirements for them are very heafty.
And geothermal power??? Or are you thinking geothermal heating/cooling? I'm not aware of any privately owned geothermal power generation.

With the exception of futuristic concept homes or radical eco-freaks, I don't believe there is a single home in the country that is gridless and can power an average home and electric autos entirely on renewable resources. When the sun goes down or the wind stops's back to the local electric co.

But since you know those people, it should be no problem to post up sources. I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

RE: Potential
By JonnyDough on 8/26/2008 6:12:58 AM , Rating: 2
Nuclear power is not "THE" answer. It's one very GOOD answer, but not "THE" answer. It might be "YOUR" answer, but all is not right according to you.

There are better power sources than nuclear energy, we simply have yet to discover them.

Read the prologue in Michael Critchon's "Timeline" to learn more.

RE: Potential
By Mitch101 on 8/21/2008 11:29:24 AM , Rating: 2
Who knew the shower floor of my former roommate was actually black gold and not some deadly algae growth.

RE: Potential
By johnadams on 8/21/2008 3:39:18 PM , Rating: 2
I think there would still be a problem with high-concentrations of CO2 in urban areas ergo local warming.

Not sure how long it would take for the CO2 produced in one area to disperse evenly around the globe after it is produced.

RE: Potential
By snownpaint on 8/21/2008 4:30:42 PM , Rating: 2
Diffusion baby, Diffusion. Do you know how we found out the Russians had the Bomb? We found radioactive isotopes in the air and jet stream..

Global Warming is just that Global.. If you ever rode a motorcycle and drove past a lake you would notice the drop in temp.. That is just a drop in a very very very very..... large bucket. You wouldn't consider that global cooling.. A few volcanoes go off at the same time for a few years, and they could pump more toxic gases in the air then humans have in the past 50 years. The Rings of Fire are prime for another go.

The real point is not to worry about global warming, but to worry about making your camp site, home, earth cleaner then when you found it.. And I KNOW, everyone here has produced more trash, gases, and other toxic junk then was there before. So we can slow the trash machine down, but it will never EVER stop. (I've made my mark on the earth in trash)

We are just lucky the earth has a great system of check and balances. Think back on the eons of this earth, (or 1900 till now) then think how pretty it looks now. It all gets covered up, broken down, pushed down, heated up, then push back up again..

RE: Potential
By kattanna on 8/21/2008 10:24:34 AM , Rating: 2
creates fuel, cleans up power generation and sewage.

whats not to like?

RE: Potential
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 8/21/2008 11:23:53 AM , Rating: 2
I am for cleaner environment, cheaper energy and such. I think this will help. However, one things has come to mind for me lately. If all these "extremist" environmentalist have their way then there would be no CO2 in the air. Leaving mainly just Oxygen. Which would mean we'd be one spark away from one hell of an explosion.
Yes, I realize it's not as simple as I make it sound...but the question is, has anyone spent the time to figure out the dangers and problems we would have if we do actually change the environment?

RE: Potential
By Cullinaire on 8/21/2008 12:38:38 PM , Rating: 2
I assume you're just trying to make a joke, but most of air is composed of nitrogen, not carbon dioxide.

I agree that it'd be hilarious if the environmentalists somehow believed that the atmosphere should be as oxygen saturated as possible and somehow had the power to make it happen.

RE: Potential
By Zoomer on 8/23/2008 10:37:50 PM , Rating: 2
Well, at least one wouldn't need weed to get high anymore!

RE: Potential
By ThePooBurner on 8/21/2008 8:59:20 PM , Rating: 2
They already have genetically engineered algae that will take Co2 and produce Hydrogen with it. They can put the large pools nears power plants and stuff and it will clean pretty much everything out of the air and make it into hydrogen. In fact, this stuff is so far along that we already know it would only cost 500M$ to build enough of the algae bubbles to fuel every car in America, and only 3 months to build them all.

This was a headline article in PopularScience like 2 years ago. All the rest of this crap about a "fuel crysis" is total crap. We have the ability to change over and be off gas. We have numerous production level technologies that coudl remove our need for gas. I'll give you one guess as to why we haven't switched to running our cars on water yet.

Conspiracies are real. kkthxbye.

RE: Potential
By JonnyDough on 8/26/2008 3:07:11 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed. Monopolies are taking over America. Government runs the legal how can you sue them? In the end, the only way to get rid of an evil empire is to overthrow it. War will eventually come to America, it might not be in my lifetime. All governments rise and fall and history will repeat itself once again. It has to, the people will not live enslaved. It's a process...a tightening of the proverbial noose. It starts with little things like over-taxation and lining pockets and short term budget "fixes" and then progresses to stripping us of our privacy and censorship. Next thing you know fathers are "disappearing" in the middle of the night and then the noose is too tight and people rise up in arms. Classic. Either we will be destroyed in war or we'll destroy ourselves in war. A little groaning now can go a long way, but the more we sit back and just take it up the rear from our so called "democracy" the closer we get to having to actually do something about our little problem. I personally believe that small countries will war among themselves just as much as a big nation will war against other people. We're a warring nation, there is no doubt about it. We don't "own" territories anymore, we lease them through well placed diplomats posing as other nation's leaders.

Anyway, enough about politics. Or is it? I totally agree that the energy industry is a farce, just like all big industries. Porn/Movie studios, pharmaceutical companies, big oil, chemicals, auto...these industries have a TON of pull in government. It would be amazing if it wasn't so darn sickening.

RE: Potential
By JonnyDough on 8/26/2008 2:58:31 AM , Rating: 2
That's all well and good. I'm not a hippy, but I am an advocate for the environment. It cannot defend itself against us destroying it, so some of us have to take a stand.

The problem is that if we're using up nature to build gas farms, and taking away nature for crop fields, what is left? Sorry, but birds and deer can't survive on plastic bags filled with algae.

As the world gets better and resources become more readily available, we just populate it more. Think for a moment about something as simple as your spice rack and how they used to have to travel thousands of miles by camel to bring spices to the incredibly rich Sultans.

Eventually, our world will cave in. You people who trash "hippies" seem to not realize that you are a PART of nature, and that you NEED nature. You think we can do away with animals and confine them all to zoos. Let's just pour pesticide on the entire world so we don't have to deal with bugs? Wouldn't that be fantastic? No. We need bugs. Picnics would not be as enjoyable without them. Why? Because when you drop food on the ground at a picnic, it's often bugs that clean up it.

Maybe you only care about yourself today, but some of us think about future generations because we're not selfish, forward-thinker labeling butt holes like yourself. Sorry for that out of character hippy jargon. I tend to love nature, but it's unnatural what I read on this website some times and since you don't consider yourself a part of nature, I guess I won't either.

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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