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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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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.

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