Sunday, May 26, 2013

Algoil? Little green plants and the future of fuel.

From my friends at Sustainable America

Algae Whiz Kid: Seventeen-year-old scientist Sara Volz has been making some algae news of her own lately, as she explained to ABC News. The high school senior beat out 1,700 other science stars nationwide to win the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search, and her winning project was on, you guessed it, algae bio-fuel. Algae produces a natural oil that can be used as diesel bio-fuel, but doesn’t traditionally produce enough of the oil to make the process financially viable. For her research, Volz grows algae under her bed and works to make it increase its oil production by artificial selection. Simply put, she eliminates the algae populations with low oil production and develops the algae populations with high oil production. The great thing about the oil produced is that it can be used as a drop-in fuel that can be used directly in diesel engines with no modification. The U.S. Navy has already done demonstration flights using similar fuel. Volz won $100,000 from Intel and will be using it for her education at MIT.

Amazingly enough, half of algae's composition, by weight, is lipid oil and scientists have been studying this oil for decades.  They want to convert it into algae biodiesel -- a fuel that burns cleaner and more efficiently than petroleum. What's not to love about that?

The Marine Research station in Ketch Harbor, Nova Scotia, has been involved in growing algae for 50 years. The National Research Council (NRC) and National Byproducts Program have provided $5 million to fund this project. The aim of the program has been to build a 50,000 liter cultivation pilot plant at the Ketch harbor facility. The station has been involved in assessing how best to grow algae for bio-fuel and is involved in investigating the utilization of numerous algae species in regions of North America. NRC has joined forces with the United States Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

From The National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

Why is algal research important?

Algae have the potential to produce the feedstock for transportation fuels. In the near term, algae may also mitigate the effects of carbon dioxide from sources such as power plants. In the future, they may be used to capture and reuse fossil fuel-generated carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Microalgae (microscopic algae) include a variety of photosynthetic microorganisms that use solar energy and carbon dioxide to create biomass more efficiently and rapidly than terrestrial plants.

RICHLAND, Wash., May 21 -- The U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory issued the following news release:

A new analysis shows that the nation's land and water resources could likely support the growth of enough algae to produce up to 25 billion gallons of algae-based fuel a year in the United States, one-twelfth of the country's yearly needs.

The findings come from an in-depth look at the water resources that would be needed to grow significant amounts of algae in large, specially built shallow ponds. The results were published in the May 7 issue of Environmental Science and Technology, published by the American Chemical Society.

"While there are many details still to be worked out, we don't see water issues as a deal breaker for the development of an algae biofuels industry in many areas of the country," said first author Erik Venteris of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

For the best places to produce algae for fuel, think hot, humid and wet. Especially promising are the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern seaboard.

"The Gulf Coast offers a good combination of warm temperatures, low evaporation, access to an abundance of water, and plenty of fuel-processing facilities," said hydrologist Mark Wigmosta, the leader of the team that did the analysis.

My hope is that further research and development will find a way to produce sustainable energy from plants that will not compete with food sources, or damage the environment through processing. Maybe Sara Volz is already working on that.

Until next time...become the change you imagine

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