Is Algae The Biofuel of The Future?


Algae as a biofuel: With increasing concerns over climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, as well as a society that is becoming more environmentally aware, it is time to start pushing for change. Algae biofuel is discussed as we take a close look at the benefits and potential drawbacks of using mass algae production as a source of biofuel for alternative energy. Hopefully fossil fuels will become a thing of the past sooner rather than later; our environment depends upon it! Compared to other alternative sources for biofuels, algae appears to be the most promising candidate.

The Problem We Face With Fossil Fuels:

360px-Algae_biofuel_tubesAs the industrial world advances and new technology continues to develop, we find ourselves in a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. We (humans) will invent a new device for its benefits and feel like we are going uphill (progressing), but then as that device starts to cause problems we start going downhill (causing more problems), and at that point we have become so dependent that we cannot get off the ride. Speaking of rides, the automobile has driven the United States society down that very same hill.

When the internal combustion automobile was first invented, humans thought it was such a great and convenient idea; everything was so “perfect.” People with the economic resources could commute around town, travel, businesses could expand and deliver to other cities, and so forth. Then as time went by, we started to realize all of the negative aspects associated with the internal combustion automobile such as smog in the atmosphere, car accidents, drunk driving, and sucking up every last oil reserve from a planet that humans do not even own. Oil is also used in factories for machinery, as well as for the production of countless petroleum based goods that consumers “depend” upon to maintain their daily lifestyles.

With world oil consumption at its peak, which also happens to co-exist with increasing environmental problems, it is safe to say that it is time to get off this ride. Signs of weakness show before disaster, and those warning signs in our environment are clear (to those who pay attention). We may be stuck on a rollercoaster ride, but if you saw the rollercoaster show signs of weakness and knew there was a possibility that disaster was approaching, would you do whatever it took to get off?

Alternative Sources of Biofuel:

Many alternative methods of energy have been proposed; some are far fetched and highly unlikely to be implemented into future plans while some show signs of promise. Some introduce new problems such as the destruction of wild habitats for land space to grow more crops such as corn, soy, and sugarcane, as well as the increased demand for freshwater and farm equipment needed to farm these crops for mass production. This also poses a threat to food production as food and biofuel production will compete for land space and energy consumption. Farmers will have to choose between devoting their farm land to the production of crops for food, or to the production of crops for biofuel.

Every new method of biofuel being introduced thus far has both positive and negative effects, however, the positive effects must greatly out weigh the negative effects if we, as a society, hope to get off fossil fuels. The ideal candidate for this biofuel movement must have the potential to be mass produced without destroying habitats for its need of major land use, and without competing with food production. Luckily for the earth and all of its inhabitants, this ideal candidate does exist. The ideal candidate: algae.

Algae As A Biofuel:

algae-biodiesel-6Algae is an aquatic plant-like organism that converts sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into energy fro growth via the process of photosynthesis. Like the current crops being used for oil extraction, algae also contains oils. The oil extracted from algae is similar in content to the oil extracted from other candidates for biofuel production such as corn, sugarcane, soy, canola, and palm, but the major difference lies within the production process.

Based on yearly production of oil per acre of land usage soy produces about 50 gallons per acre in a year, canola produces about 150 gallons of oil per acre in a year, palm produces about 650 gallons of oil per acre in a year, and algae produces about 10,000 gallons of oil per acre in a year with the potential to become even more efficient. Based on composition, up to 50 percent of algae is oil. Of course this will vary from species to species, but it is still a significantly larger percentage compared to the currently most efficient and destructive crop, palm, which is about 20 percent oil.

Douglas Henston, CEO of Solix Biofuels, claims that “If we were to replace all of the diesel that we use in the United States (with an algae derivative) we could do it on an area of land that is about one-half of one percent of the current farm land that we use now.” This efficiency of algae gives it the upper hand in leading the biofuel industry as it greatly reduces the amount of land usage and competition with other crops such as soy and corn that will still be able to be farmed for food purposes.

Benefits of Fast Algae Growth:

Under the proper environmental conditions, such as adequate sunlight, nutrient, and carbon dioxide levels, algae has the potential to double its volume in a single day. The reason for this is simply due to the functions of nature. The complex process of specific food webs will be saved for a more appropriate article, but to keep it basic, the foundation of some food webs relies on the high turnover rate of biomass such as algae at the bottom of the food chain. Algae grows quickly to stay in equilibrium with the food web as the algae also gets consumed quickly by its herbivorous predators.

This is a major advantage as algae can be harvested on a daily basis which is not even feasible to attempt with other crops that can take months to mature. Not only does algae contain more oil per body mass than other crop candidates, but it can also be harvested much more frequently.

Recognition of Algae As A Biofuel For The Future:

Is it feasible?

Algae biofuel of the futureIt appears that the mass cultivation of algae for the production of biofuel is gaining ground in its industry as it has gotten enough attention to be considered among officials of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This international treaty was designed to bring the world’s countries closer together in the hope to combat the problems associated with climate change.

Hopefully algae for biofuel will pick up more attention and gain respect as scientists and industry executives continue to push the field forward and work towards a more sustainable source of energy for the future. The public needs to be informed of algae’s possible benefits for biofuel production. With the support of the general population, movements (or even revolutions) like this can become a reality.

Drawbacks of Algae As A Biofuel:

While algae production for the extraction of biofuel has some people excited for the future, it still has some drawbacks in need of attention.

One concern for outdoor cultures of algae is the risk of contamination. Contamination would occur by environmental factors, such as the wind, introducing invasive species into the culture vessels. This is not a major concern for indoor cultures being cultivated in photobioreactors, but those closed systems are not as large as the possible outdoor cultures.

Therefore, the mass production of algae in outdoor cultures would be greatly complimented with a method consisting of low risks of contamination. Australian scientists are currently working to solve this problem, and they think they are on the right track. “It was previously believed impossible to grow large quantities of algae for biofuel in open ponds consistently and without contamination, but we have proven it can be done,” says Project Leader Professor Michael Borowitzka from Murdoch University. Hopefully the methods of researchers at Murdoch University can be replicated all around the world to eliminate the potential problem of contamination destroying algae cultures.

Final Take on Algae Biofuels:

The Biofuel of The Future!

Is algae biofuel feasible?When all is taken into consideration, algae as a biofuel appears to be very promising. From here on out it is up to corporations and government to work together and provide the public with a consistent and reliable alternative to fossil fuels, and of course we need activists to put pressure on corporations and government to speed up the process. Once a reliable source of fossil fuel is put on the market for mass consumption, the laws of supply and demand will be able to give society a chance to influence corporate decisions.

With energy sources being responsible for billions of dollars of profit to large corporations, it will be no surprise if oil companies fight to their “death” in order to prevent biofuels from taking over. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to contribute massive amounts of money to political candidates does not help the fight against petroleum. It is sad that profit stands in the way of a healthy environment and sustainable lifestyle, but that is the way American society has “evolved.” The mentality needs to change, and biofuels replacing petroleum would be a huge victory for those concerned about the earth. The potential is there, so lets get this thing on the road!'
Spencer Blake graduated from Vanderbilt University and has always had a passion for writing. Prior to becoming a full-time contributor, he also worked as a youth counselor.