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What is going to replace gasoline?

There is no magic-bullet fuel crop that can solve our energy woes without harming the environment, says virtually every scientist studying the issue. But most say that algae–single-celled pond scum–comes closer than any other plant because it grows in wastewater, even seawater, requiring little more than sunlight and carbon dioxide to flourish…

GreenFuel Technologies, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is at the head of the pack. Founded by MIT chemist Isaac Berzin, the company has developed a process that uses algae in plastic bags to siphon carbon dioxide from the smoke-stack emissions of power plants. Algae not only reduce a plant’s global warming gases, but also devour other pollutants.

With the ability to use power plant emissions, and car exhaust as a source of C02 to grow the biofuel producing algae, this fuel source can help clean up current dirty power technologies. But thats not even the most appealing aspect of this technology.

While each acre of corn produces around 300 gallons (1,135 liters) of ethanol a year and an acre of soybeans around 60 gallons (227 liters) of biodiesel, each acre of algae theoretically can churn out more than 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of biofuel each year.

With it’s incredible efficiency, it is actually possible to produce the massive quantities of fuels needed to replace all our petrochemical fuels.

The other huge benefit is that this algae does not compete with food crops the way corn based ethanol does, which means that food availability and price should not be affected by a mass implementation of this technology. This solves one of the major problem with most other sources of biofuels

The only thing currently holding this technology back is the currently high cost, but it is reasonable to assume that the cost should come down as the technology matures or if the government introduces a carbon or pollution tax.

2 Responses to What is going to replace gasoline?

  1. I’m still not finding two key phrases that would signal industrialization/commercialization of this unique source of “replacement energy” (yeah, also not finding that key rhetoric anywhere as a retort to “alternative energy”): 1) “continuous process” and 2) “water recovery.” Even without funds, I would have expected by now some incisive white papers devoted to the major issues and technological strategies regarding the mass production of algal energy by continuous process with high-performance recovery of the water the algae grew in.

  2. The National Geographic article mentions that you can harvest algae everyday

    “Corn or soybeans, you harvest once a year,” says Berzin. “Algae you harvest every day. And we’ve proved we can grow algae from Boston to Arizona.”

    As for water recovery, the fact that it can grow in seawater (or wastewater) may make it a smaller issue.

    Of course to determine such things one would need more information that a National Geographic article.

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