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.
“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