Algae Could Prove to Be The Best Biofuel

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With sky-rocketing oil prices, the world is looking for alternative fuel sources and it looks like algae could be the answer. In fact, the US Department of energy studied it from 1978-1996, but decided at the time that it couldn’t compete economically with fossil fuels. Of course things were a bit different in 1996, when a barrel of oil could be had for the cheap price of only 20 bucks!vertigro-algae.jpg

Now that oil has reached over an outrageous $100 a barrel, algae is looking more appealing and for good reason. According to an article at, “Algae are among the fastest growing plants in the world, and about 50 percent of their weight is oil. That lipid oil can be used to make biodiesel for cars, trucks, and airplanes.”

Glen Kertz, a plant physiologist and entrepreneur is pictured above with his patented Vertigro algae growing system.  The space-saving vertical rows of algae allow for more surface area where photosynthesis can take place in the proper amount of sunlight.  Kertz said he can produce 100,000 gallons of algae oil a year per acre, compared to about 30 gallons per acre from corn; 50 gallons from soybeans.  Now that’s impressive!

Another amazing perk of pond scum is that the algae plants sequester the greenhouse gas CO2 and actually need it for photosynthesis.  That means there’s potential for algae facilities to be located next to conventional power plants or manufacturing plants to gobble up the CO2 emissions.

Today, governments and private companies around the world are taking a closer look at the remarkable microorganism.  There may be hope after all!

Tag(s): Going Green, Green Travel, The Great Green Outdoors


4 Responses to “Algae Could Prove to Be The Best Biofuel”

  1. Chris on April 1st, 2008 3:47 pm

    This isn’t green – this is perpetuating an obsession with creating fuels that burn. Why miss the “big picture” – why use energy to harvest algae and then more energy to create a flamable fuel from their oil, when the oceans over a perpetual source of motion just begging engineers to use new technologies to harvest electricity from it. Hence, decreasing our dependence on oil or coal-based fuels. Folks – big picture – lift your heads from the algae in the water and look at the water that covers most of the globe.

  2. Kevin on April 2nd, 2008 5:58 pm

    Chris, burning biofuel does not negatively impact the environment. Burning gasoline does because it comes from deep within the Earth where its carbon and chemicals have been sequestered for millions of years. When we burn gasoline we add pollutants to the atmosphere. But because biofuel gets its carbon from within our environment it is environmentally neutral and represents what we call a “closed carbon loop”, both adding and subtracting greenhouse gases from the atmosphere with no additive effect. Biofuel lacks the concern of burning raw cellulose such as wood and peat because it burns extremely efficiently and there is no smoke or ash. So the mere act of burning fuel is not the issue.

    The issue with biofuel has been with methods of production which can indeed be quite harmful to the environment. Traditional biofuel crops such as cane, switch grass, corn etc. require enormous amounts of land to grow and large amounts of energy to process. There are still places in the world where entire forests are being destroyed in order to grow more of these crops. Often fossil fuels are used in the heavy machinery required to manage and harvest these crops practically defeating the purpose altogether. But please know that there are ways to reduce and even the negative impact of production.

    Biofuel from algae grown in compact vertical farms requires hundreds of times less land than conventional crops. Harvesting is vastly more efficient because it is continuously siphoned off as opposed to requiring heavy machinery. So even if fossil fuels were used in any part of this process the negative impact would already be significantly reduced. Replace any remaining fossil fuel with biofuel and the negative impact is virtually eliminated.

  3. joseph on April 4th, 2008 4:36 pm

    Some of this company’s other initiatives are equally interesting. Supposedly, their vegetable growing system can increase yields / acre by a factor of 20 utilizing 5% of the water of regular growing techniques.

    Some of what I’ve been able to piece together is located here:

  4. Vanessa on April 15th, 2008 6:04 am

    Though research into algae oil as a source for biodiesel is not new, the current oil crises force us to find a solution at the earliest. The stats that you have mentioned in the post are really impressive. Hope the research process yields successful results to ensure a smooth ride in the future.
    Vanessa@ Future of Engineering Blog

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