03 December 2007

Algal Oil

Algae Emerges as a Potential Fuel Source
Another possible energy source. I really like reading about these, there is such creativity and possibility in them.

Some algae is as much as 50 percent oil that can be converted into biodiesel or jet fuel. The biggest challenge is cutting the cost of production, which by one Defense Department estimate is running more than $20 a gallon.

I can honestly say that I didn't know the chemical composition of algae. I wonder what specific oil they produce and what kind of processing is needed. What chemicals are needed, what catalysts? This is the point at which corn ethanol production becomes so inefficient. Those steps between the thing that grows and that which ends up in the gas tank are the most important part, and sometimes it gets only mentioned vaguely as processing.

If the price of production can be reduced, the advantages of algae include the fact that it grows much faster and in less space than conventional energy crops. An acre of corn can produce about 20 gallons of oil per year, Dr. Ruan said, compared with a possible 15,000 gallons of oil per acre of algae.

That is impressive. All of these alternative energy processes require that we look at whats needed as input and how much those are going to cost. Land use, water use, chemicals as fertilizer or in the processing, energy input for production and transport, and so on. I don't think one can honestly look at an alternative energy without looking at all of it. If a process requires several kilograms of a metal that has its ore mined in Africa and a ton of ore produces a few grams of metal, you can't honestly call it a viable alternative energy. If a process requires so many gallons of water that it dries up huge aquifers, the I don't think that can be called viable.

This seems like a good one though. Easy to grow, doesn't require pure water, and no fertilizer. So I really want to hear about the steps between green thing in a tank and diesel in my car tank.

The other part of this that I find interesting is that the funding is coming from oil companies and the Pentagon. There was a time not long ago that when an alternative energy process started making noise, the oil companies would buy the patents just to make it go away. But with the Pentagon, they really are looking at other sources for fuel. Say what you will about the Pentagon, some one there seems to have figured out that the remaining fossil oil is under countries that we don't always get along with.

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