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Kevin Grandia

Kevin Grandia

Posted: July 14, 2009 01:48 PM

The Future of 'Green Energy' Might Be Pretty Slimy

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There's been a lot of news popping up lately about algae as a source of biofuel and rightly so, the idea is surprisingly old and what better use for this slimy sludge for than fueling the clean energy revolution is there?

Relative to the other sources of biofuel, like soy beans, palm, sugar cane and corn, algae does not have the same stigma (justified or not) that these other sources have, which mainly comes from the fact that while I find many soy and sugar products to be quite delicious, you won't find me sucking down a blue-green algae smoothie anytime soon. And the amount of biofuel that could potentially be derived from algae is quite staggering compared to the other sources.

According to California-based Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), who today signed a $300 million deal with ExxonMobil to mass produce algae to biofuel technologies, algae could yield more than 2000 gallons of fuel per acre of production per year. Approximate yields for other fuel sources are far lower.

Examples include:
• Palm - 650 gallons per acre / year
• Sugar cane - 450 gallons per acre / year
• Corn - 250 gallons per acre / year
• Soy - 50 gallons per acre / year

Of course, one could argue that SGI is a little bias, but their numbers make a lot of sense and are echoed in a recent Department of Energy report finding that algae may be able to produce 100 times more oil per acre than soybeans -- currently the leading source of U.S. biodiesel -- or any other terrestrial oil-producing crop. And because of its high energy content, oil from algae can be refined into biodiesel, green gasoline, jet fuel or ethanol.

While the idea of using algae to create jet fuel might sound a little out there, the idea is not new. In fact, In 1978, Jimmy Carter launched the Aquatic Species Program which began looking at ways to create bio-diesel from plants, in this case algae.

So next time you're walking past that dirty old ditch gleaming brightly with a sheen of slimy green, remember that while it might look gross, it might also be a key answer to America's energy woes.

 

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