Algae as fuel

~Lauren Ruhland, MCPP intern

Drew Thornley over at Planet Gore has a really nice examination of algal biofuel today.  A few of the biologists I know say that this will be the only economically and environmentally viable way to make a large-scale shift to ethanol, though the process is still very far from large-scale feasibility.  Unlike processes that divert food resources toward fuel production, algae-to-fuel methods use biomass that’s very energetically cheap to produce and maintain.

On the other hand, the promise of plankton in warding off Malthusian collapse may be exaggerated due to poor disclosure problems.


5 thoughts on “Algae as fuel

  1. I’ve not read the literature on this, but up front I’m really concerned about how sustainable it would actually be. Algae is responsible for the vast majority of photosynthesis, right?

  2. Algae reproduces at a rediculous rate. The oil would be harvested from algae farms, and would probably not hurt the natural population of algae at all.

  3. While I like these kind of ideas for coolness-related factors, I’m somewhat concerned about public discussion. While talking about most new ways of doing things informs and educates us, in the case of energy policy, discussion tends solely to be about which piece of techne or which industry the state should subsidize.

  4. Algae is essentially a form of solar energy. To get enough to make a signifigant dent in world energy needs you’d need to cover many thousands of square miles of ocean with it. Nukes are almost certainly a much better way.

    Re. JH’s point, if people are really in a hurry to accelerate the eventual transition frpm a fossil-fuel based economy to one that uses other energy sources then the only honest, transparent and effective way to make it happen is to adopt a gradually-increasing revenue neutral carbon tax, and let the market take it from there. I’ve described it on Jack McHugh’s Blog.

  5. The stats I have read are that vertical algae farm technology can produce 33,000 gallons of oil per acre in non-arable land–and that it uses very little water because it re-cycles the water. Why are nukes a better way when the byproducts of nuclear reactors have the potential to contaminate the planet indefinitely?

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