June 5, 2008

Will Pond Scum Save the Planet?

With corn-based fuels being blamed for the global food crisis, biofuel supporters are looking for non-food crops to be the next energy source.

This includes algae, a plant that few people would rather see on their plates instead of in their gas tanks.

According to Biomass magazine, a commercial wild algae harvesting operation is now under way in New Zealand ponds, with the slimy stuff going toward the production of so-called biocrude.

Barrie Leay, one of the founders of Aquaflow Bionomic Corp. Ltd., would not give the magazine details of his company’s technology, but said, “The processes we have worked through are evolutionary — not revolutionary — to get to this scale over the past two-and-a-half years. It’s been a slow, gentle accumulation of knowledge to get us to this point.”

Some analysts are skeptical about algae power.

In a CNN.com article soliciting opinions on biofuels from experts in different fields, Dr. Richard Pike of Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry wrote: “Algae would have significantly high yields. But then again, I don’t think enough people have gone through what might happen if that were pursued. You have to ask how it would affect marine life.”

But algae fuels can work.

This week, the automotive Web site Jalopnik posted a story about a group of Chicago high school students who converted a 1982 Volkswagen van to run on a combination of vegetable oil and algae biodiesel and drove it to an environmental fair at the Sears Tower.

The students from Al Raby School for Community and Environment and their teacher, David Levine, grew the algae in their classroom and refined it into fuel.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Aquaflow Bionomic harvests first wild algae”
Biomass magazine, June 2008

“Biofuels: What do the experts think?”
CNN.com, June 2, 2008

“Sears Tower Or Bust: My Algae-Powered Car Adventure” Jalopnik, June 2, 2008

5 thoughts on “Will Pond Scum Save the Planet?

  1. can we build enough ponds to get sufficient algae without using that which will have an inpact on marine life? Are they thinking of harvesting ocean algae? That would have a devastating effect on the smallest marine life up to baleen whales. This needs a great deal of thought before we go off on another tangent which puts more animals on the endangered list and creates more harm than it is worth.

  2. Algae harvesting would be more akin to keeping your sourdough starter going than it would to mining activities. National Geographic ran a cover story last year on Biofuels, including a piece on algae. It is only an intro, but a good one.

    Many different solutions will be needed to effect the transition away from an petroleum-based economy, and this may be one of them. But none of these alternatives will ever get close to the energy-to-mass ratios available from petroleum oil & gas, which means that all solutions require that our civilization in the 21st and 22nd centuries will be characterized by radically reduced total energy consumption.

  3. Algae is not really a good idea, you can’t expect oil which is the accumulation of millions of years worth of photosynthesis to be replaced with ONE seasons worth of algal growth. Most if not all of these operations use fossil fuels of some kind to convert biomass to biofuel whether that is electricity or petroleum. If you use more energy than you get out of it, then it is not a good idea.
    We should be using our remaining fossil fuel energy to develop mass transit along with solar and wind technologies. With mass transit, you can transport the most people the most efficiently.

  4. UNLESS YOU BUILD ARTIFICIAL PONDS TO CULTIVATE ALGAE, WE SHOULD NEVER FOOL AROUND WITH MOTHER NATURE TO DISRUPT THE ECOSYSTEM.IF YOU WANT TO TO DO AWAY WITH OIL, WHY DON’T WE USE THE SEA WATER TO DEVELOP HYDROGEN FUEL.PERHAPS THE EXPENSE FOR GOVERNMENTS TO DEVELOP AND SUBSIDIZE A SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE SOURCE OF ENERGY WILL BE MUCH LESS THAN WHAT WE SPEND ON THESE SENSELESS AND STUPID WARFARES.