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A Shipload of Algae

Algae is the world’s first solar panel.  By converting energy from the sun into usable organic material, it has been a renewable source of energy for the last 3 billion years.

For the last 50 years we have been trying to figure out how to harness that process to fuel our own energy needs.

Recently, George Washington University students Lauren Hoenemeyer and Kimberly Kroll talked to Rear Admiral Philip H. Cullom, who is leading the Navy’s efforts to develop an innovative boat that runs on a 50 percent petroleum and 50 percent algae biofuel blend.

Two key elements determine if algae can be a sustainable energy solution: the water used by the algae farm as a source; and the fertilizer used to feed the plants.  Do these right and you tip the sustainability of algae in the right direction.

It’s currently expensive to make, as well.  Right now, it costs about $8 to produce a gallon of fuel (compared to soybean oil, which costs $4).  But there is significant investment in the research and development of this fuel to bring the costs down.