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Are Algae Powered Vehicles a Possibility?

There are many ways of converting substances to biodiesel fuel, and researchers are continually finding new ways to use neat materials for gassing up vehicles.

Algae are one example of a conceivable substance that seems to have some potential.

When mixed with sunlight, bacteria and carbon dioxide, algae, in its water dense environment produces a lot of oil. In fact, an alga’s mass contains around 50% oil, which can be gathered, processed and converted into biodiesel fuel. Palm oils, in contrast, contain about 20% of convertible oil.

Are Algae Powered Vehicles a Possibility?

Image source: solixbiofuels.com

Algae are naturally carbohydrate rich and can be turned into ethanol. Using algae as a base can make a cleaner burning fuel than traditional based petroleum or gasoline. Many companies have discovered this possibility and have established innovative plans for upcoming processes and pilot operations for examining models to convert the rich organism into biofuel.

However, this isn’t as easy as skimming a pond and just scooping up the algae for treating. Though in ideal circumstances they are capable of thriving in areas where other growth is not possible, optimal conditions are needed to actually grow algae. A particular water temperature needs to be maintained, which is not easy to do in an expansive area. Additionally, other organisms besides the desired algae will be in the environment, so separating the needed materials from the unusable is required.

To combat some of these issues, trial productions have been investigating the best ways to make use of the natural material. Some have had the idea to employ photobioreactors, or closed systems made from things like layers of polyethylene plastic, which are implemented to keep the algae contained in a manageable area. The layers help carbon dioxide, which is needed for prime growth, to more readily disperse through the area.

Are Algae Powered Vehicles a Possibility?

Image source: solixbiofuels.com

What makes algae a potentially great source of biofuels is its availability. Though getting it started may be a challenge, when correctly done, algae can dramatically take over an area. For example, corn and soy can take a while to harvest, while algae can be continually harvested due to its quickly producing nature.

To put algae’s yield potential in perspective, Douglas Henston from Solix Biofuels (which is Jim Sears’ company, who is an initiator of the algae biofuel movement) stated that if algae based fuel replaced all current forms of diesel in the U.S. alone it is possible that it could be produced on a much lower land scale than farming normally requires, by about 1% or even less.

Further, the comparisons to current processes provide a prospective: Annually, soy crops produce about 50 gallons of oil per acre, canola is about 150 gallons and palm accounts for around 650 gallons. Algae, on the other hand, are projected to naturally return about 10,000 gallons each year and even more so when growing areas are established.

Another example of research to put algae to use is being conducted at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, where they are examining ways to make butanol from it. However, biotechnology experts point out that more investigation into the production process needs to be done, as it is much different than existing commercial procedures, though demonstrator operations are in the works.

Research that examines ways to use natural materials for sustainable and more productive processes is key to unearthing exciting prospects.

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