You may want to bring your gas can to the lake from here on in, thanks to some promising news about the future of algae as fuel. Arizona State University recently announced that it has received a $3 million grant to help develop a kerosene aviation fuel derived from algae. Why algae? It’s plentiful, grows faster than any crop, and you can harvest it every day. Scientists found a strain of algae that can convert their cellular mass into oil that contains medium chain fatty acids. When the oil is deoxygenated, the result is a product that’s similar to kerosene. Mix that substance with a few fuel additives, and you can really fly green.
The good news continues, as the University of Virginia has announced plans to develop a commercial model to grow algae more efficiently. National Geographic Magazine discussed the race to create algae-based fuel in their “Growing Fuel” cover story last October. In it the author, Joel K. Bourne, Jr., writes of algae’s seemingly endless possibilites:
Algae not only reduce a plant’s global warming gases, but also devour other pollutants. Some algae make starch, which can be processed into ethanol; others produce tiny droplets of oil that can be brewed into biodiesel or even jet fuel. Best of all, algae in the right conditions can double in mass within hours. 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.
NGM also has a great interactive which describes where biofuels are made, and how they compare in value to the regular fuels they’re up against. So one day, when you’re crossing the Pond, pond scum might be what gets you there.
Thanks to CleanTechnica for the tip!
Photo: Alexander Yates, via Flickr
- Nat Geo Expeditions