Green Gold: Algae, Possibly The Next Popular Biofuel
December 9, 2008 10:00 AM
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Algae used a biofuel is inching closer to reality
As companies look for alternative fuels to help ease the world's reliance on oil, researchers and companies have created several viable alternatives.
The aerospace industry hopes
algae can be refined
and used to help fuel commercial airliners and jets. In the short term, it's likely algae would be mixed with gasoline and diesel, though it's possible algae could be used to eliminate both resources at some point.
Select Boeing aircraft will use a mix of jet fuel and fuel made from algae and jatropha seeds, Boeing said. Continental Airlines will be the first airline company to use algae as a fuel, with Air New Zealand and others expected to begin testing algae or jatropha-based technologies.
Continental's first demonstration flight is expected to take place in Houston on Jan. 7, though the flight
will not carry passengers
and use a blend of jet fuel with algae and jatropha.
Even with the backing of Boeing and other aerospace giants, algae supporters must now request the federal government give them loans, research and development backing, tax breaks, and other similar perks that corn and soybean researchers are actively receiving.
"We are up against formidable opposition from competing interests," said Jason Pyle, Sapphire Energy CEO. Sapphire Energy has created a new "green crude" gasoline that is entirely made up of algae.
Algae for use as a biofuel has been more widely researched in the past few years, and it seems like it will continue to be a popular topic.
The Colorado Field Institute (CFI) will host a biotech meeting with Colorado State University to discuss the use of algae as a biofuel later this week. The focus of the meeting is the use of a
in rural Colorado.
Researchers will continue to look for alternatives to gas, but even with major research breakthroughs, it's unlikely the heavy U.S. reliance on foreign oil will end any time soon. Ethanol, a popular technology that still receives major research,
caused the cost of food to soar
, and much work will have to be done in order to
make ethanol a more viable solution
or to develop a satisfactory alternative.
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RE: But could we please
12/9/2008 2:47:37 PM
Well, first, it would be good to make sure it works. That is, make sure the results are actually perfectly interchangeable with fossil-based diesel, jet fuel or gasoline. Then, make sure that it is actually 'greener' than the product cycle for the fossil fuels it is replacing, or at least green enough such that the trade-off could be worth it for the sake of energy security. Finally, you work on making it economically viable.
Of course, you can work on all three tracks at once, to some extent. The flight test is a good check of whether it works, at least as a blend. The linked article talks about tests on viability, scaling, and, potentially, greenness. And, of course, we probably shouldn't waste money on projects that have no good chance of becoming economically feasible in the first place. But whether this ends up being a good technique or not, the research and testing should produce valuable data that can be used for future development.
RE: But could we please
12/9/2008 3:10:05 PM
I don't care if it's "greener" as long as its functionality is the same. That being to run my engine. But yes it would be "carbon neutral" since all the carbon in the fuel comes from carbon dioxide that was in the air and captured by the algae.
RE: But could we please
12/11/2008 6:05:59 PM
That was in the air, or was to be put in the air - like the algae test plant in Spain. But sometimes, things that seem like they should be carbon neutral or carbon sinks turn out, upon investigation, to be carbon producers. Look, for example, at the current studies of ethanol production - not every way you can make ethanol is good for the environment.
I was speaking in generalities about 'green' research concepts, not about algae in particular. But even when the process at its heart looks to be environmentally friendly, externalities may make it unfriendly. I don't envision problems with this tech, but I threw it out as part of the research and implementation process for 21st century 'green' technologies.
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