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Algae: A Truly GREEN Solution

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Scientists predict that the Earth’s petroleum supply will run out in the next 150 years, leaving the human population virtually immobile and taking us back into the Dark Age. Is there a solution, or something that can be done to prepare in case of this event? Yes. It is believed that algae, a simple, singe-celled organism, could be the savior of human advancement and our technological evolution. Algae biofuels have the potential to become a permanent replacement for petroleum fuels in the near future: they are easily and efficiently produced, are environmentally friendly, and don’t interfere with food supply.

The production of algae biofuels is straightforward and very efficient. The fuel is created by growing and processing algae. There are many varieties, but researchers have found that pond scum is best suited for making biofuel. The algal oil is extracted through an oil press and mixes with a chemical to create fuel. The process is so simple that scientists have suggested that people may eventually be able to make algae biofuel themselves. Alga has a very high oil yield and can produce over half its body weight in oil. In fact, algae produce over 100 times the amount of oil that soybeans produce per acre on a yearly basis. In addition, they have the ability to double their size in a very short period of time and can be harvested from day to day, which is more often than other crops. Not only does it grow faster, but it is said that algae can produce 6 to 10 times more energy per hectare than any other type of biofuels. Algae only require water, sun, and carbon dioxide to thrive, so they will grow in almost any place on Earth, even the driest desert. Researchers hope that algae biofuels will eventually be sold for $40 to $50 per barrel, whereas, at the end of 2009 the cost of petroleum fuel neared $80 per barrel.

Algae biofuels are very environmentally friendly. Algae manufacturing plants need less space than those of other crops used for fuel, which greatly reduces the amount of deforestation needed to produce cropland that occurs consequently. Algae grow in water, and are not specific to what type of water. They can even grow in dirty water, salt water, or waste. Plants could be hooked up to water treatment systems, and the algae would recycle our waste and use the water to grow. The fuel is also biodegradable, so it will not harm the environment if it is spilled. Alga is a renewable resource, and will never run out.

Algae fuels even reduce pollution. Algae intakes carbon dioxide in order to grow and manufacturing plants can be placed next to factories to reduce emissions. In addition, algae fuels burn cleaner than fossil fuels. J.B. Hunt, a major trucking company, recently found an 82 percent reduction in particle emissions using an algae fuel blend compared to regular gasoline. Some argue that algae biofuels are harmful to the environment because carbon dioxide must be pumped into the plants in order for algae to grow. However, some labs have solved this problem by using a closed bioreactor. When growing algae, one has two main choices: algae can be grown in open pond systems, or in bioreactors. Closed bioreactors are containers in which algae or other substances are grown. These closed bioreactors are quicker and more efficient at growing algae than open pond systems and keep all elements inside the container.

Furthermore, algae biofuels don’t interfere with food supply, like so many other biofuels. Algae don’t need fresh water to grow, so the water can be used for drinking, farming, or other purposes. It also doesn’t require fertile soil, and therefore does not have to be grown on farmland. It uses less land to grow the amount of fuel required. Algae biofuels grow 20-30 times faster than food crops. It is estimated that 140 billion gallons of algae biofuels are needed every year to replace petroleum in the United States. Soybeans require 3 billion acres of land to produce this much fuel, and canola would need 1 billion acres to generate this amount. This is impractical, as there are only 434 million acres of cropland in the United States. Algae biofuels would only take a mere 95 million to produce enough fuel to replace petroleum. This difference is equivalent to 1,905,000,000 acres, about 11 times the size of Texas.

Despite all of these benefits, skeptics are still not convinced. They argue that the process of manufacturing algae biofuel is impractical because of weather and nature. They are afraid that the weather will affect the speed at which algae grows, and that the water will evaporate before the algae has had a chance to fully mature. However, these are problems that can easily be solved by using a closed bioreactor and growing the algae in sealed containers. Another major problem that scientists working with algae biofuels are constantly having thrown in their face is that skeptics cannot seem to look past the price tag. While it is true that at the moment algae biofuels cost anywhere from $10 to $30 per gallon, Stephen Mayfield, one of the founders of Sapphire Energy, relates it to “…the stage of the first automobile.” It is predicted that the price of algae fuel will drop, possibly even becoming cheaper than petroleum fuel. In the end, it all evens out, because currently almost all of the biofuels are too expensive for commercial use, and as the price of gas skyrockets, the difference in price between petroleum and biofuels will cease to seem so extreme.
The future is looking very bright for algae biofuels. Many companies are interested and invested. ExxonMobil has donated $600 million into research. Solix, a Colorado-based biofuels company, recently began producing algae biofuels. If all continues to go well, they hope to expand production and partner with major gas companies. Another new company, Sapphire Energy has dedicated itself to algae biofuels. Their goal is to produce 1 million gallons of diesel and jet fuel per year by 2011, 100 million gallons by 2018, and 1 billion gallons per year by 2025. Sapphire has even created the Algaeus, the world’s first algae powered plug-in vehicle. In 2009, the Algaeus became the first algae fueled car to drive across America. The hybrid traveled with an average of 147 miles per gallon, compared to petroleum’s 15 to 20 miles per gallon, or a normal hybrid’s 45 to 50 miles per gallon. Algae biofuels are also being tested for use in airplanes, and are already being prepped for used in NASA and the Navy. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Senator of California, backs algae biofuels and says that “the steps we take to address global warming, including incentives for the development of clean energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and algae fuel… will lessen our dependence on foreign oil.”

What was once seen as gooey, green scum at the bottom of a swimming pool now has the potential to become a permanent replacement for petroleum fuel. Algae biofuels are efficiently and easily produced, don’t interfere with food supply, and are even environmentally friendly. With these advantages, it seems as though algae biofuels are the perfect solution that the human race has been searching for. Algae biofuels are on the right track, and if all goes as planned, the roads could be filled with algae powered cards and the air with algae fueled planes in only a short matter of time.

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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

Jade95 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Hey! Good job :). Huh, I wonder if I<3Algae user made it just to comment. That is sooo nice. I love your work.

Oh ummm, yeah I started an account also.

sam013 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 20, 2010 at 6:23 pm

gee I wonder...

and I figured as much from the name :)


sam013 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 20, 2010 at 7:26 pm
and thank you soooo much. ;)
I<3Algae said...
Apr. 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm


You should already know this, but you're awesome!!!!! :D

I'm going to tell Mr. A tomorrow. He'll be so proud :)


sam013 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 20, 2010 at 7:26 pm

well, thank you, thank you very much.

and don't even think about it

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