Nicholas Eckelberry, co-founder and inventor of OriginOil, stands next to two test batches of nannochloropsis algae at the company’s laboratory in Los Angeles December 12, 2008. OriginOil is in a race with hundreds of other companies to find an affordable way to convert algae to energy. Algae promises to use less land, water and other resources than other biofuels, such as corn.
Can algae save the world again? The microscopic green plants cleaned up the earth’s atmosphere millions of years ago and scientists hope they can do it now by helping remove greenhouse gases and create new oil reserves.
In the distant past, algae helped turn the earth’s then inhospitable atmosphere into one that could support modern life through photosynthesis, which plants use to turn carbon dioxide and sunlight into sugars and oxygen.
Some of the algae sank to sea or lake beds and slowly became oil. “All we’re doing is turning the clock back,” says Steve Skill, a biochemist at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
“Nature has done this many millions of years ago in producing the crude oil we’re burning today. So as far as nature is concerned this is nothing new,” he said.
The race is now on to find economic ways to turn algae, one of the planet’s oldest life forms, into vegetable oil that can be made into biodiesel, jet fuel, other fuels and plastic products.
“So we are harvesting sunshine directly using algae, then we are extracting that stored energy in the form of oil from the alga and then using that to make fuels and other non-petroleum based products,” Skill said.
He predicted that industry will be cultivating algae in viable quantities for commercial oil production with a decade.
Such fuels are considered to be net carbon neutral because the algae absorb greenhouse gases when they grow.
Many companies are working on algae and biofuels including U.S. groups Sapphire Energy, OriginOil, BioCentric Energy and PetroAlgae.
Among uses, Japan Airlines had a test flight last month with a jet fuel and biofuels blend including algae oils.
Brazil’s MPX Energia plans to trap 10-15 percent of carbon emissions from a coal-fired power plant by feeding them to algae when it starts in 2011.
Cultivating crops on prime farmland to produce bio-diesel has been widely criticized for helping sustain higher food prices. But many strains of algae grow in sites otherwise uninhabited, from salt-water marshland to deserts.
They can grow 20 to 30 times faster than food crops.
Algae’s requirement of a source of carbon dioxide has also stimulated interest from industrial plants which see the possibility of feeding algal beds with carbon-rich exhaust fumes from their power plants.
Wow! I had no idea algae could do that, it will be amazing if they are able to pull this off in a feasable fashion.
While I’m here, I was curious to know what sort of linking opportunities you had available. I would like to discuss options whenever possible. Thank you very much in advance!
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i am a process engineer in an exploration company and i have recently assigned a project for disposing of carbon dioxide seperated from natural gas.how can i do it by using algae beds?