Algae as a biofuel

Algae, or seaweed, range from single cell to multi-cellular organisms.  Recently, the interest has been in the type of  liquid fat (oil) that can be extracted from certain species.  Algae takes its energy from the sun and converts carbon dioxide to oxygen in a process called photosynthesis.

Several obstacles need to be taken into account with this new biofuel: a different way for the algae to collect sunlight; several ways to extract the lipid that are cost efficient; more political support.

It seems as though the political arena doesn’t see renewable energies as a viable source right now because many of the technologies are not established and it would be difficult to depend on something that is not reliable, since we live in a world of instant gratification.  However, it also makes sense that huge oil companies continue to lobby their cause, since their pockets can only get fatter, in spite of the benefits renewable energy sources like algae may bring.  The electronic cars were certainly closed down by big oil.

In order to extract a large amount of lipid, large amounts of algae are grown in photobioreactors, a closed vessel, that integrates a light source needed for photosynthesis.  I’ve read of algae that can be grown in plastic bags that would float close to the ocean’s surface.  The ocean’s waves would help to circulate the air and water inside the bags, thus eliminating the need for bioreactors to pump carbon dioxide into the bags.  I’ve also read of technologies that would increase the amount of biomass produced, thus increasing the amount of lipid (oil) extracted from the algae. Different technologies, all competing for the most cost efficient and stable method.

It seems every company has a different angle.   Which technology will end up being the most stable, the most efficient, have the least environmental impact?

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