Is Algae in Our Energy Future?

It’s green and yucky and most of us try to kill it or avoid it when we find it, but it may be the answer to our fuel problems. It’s algae. Rod Rice reports.

“Algae is totally renewable number one, it does not affect the food channel whatsoever and number three it happens to eat CO2.”

Barry Cohen is Executive Director of the National Algae Association in The Woodlands.

“What the National Algae Association is all about is putting algae on a fast track to commercialization to build out the industry.”

It turns out that algae are 10-40% oil.

“And that oil is very similar to vegetable oil; you can eat it if you want to.”

That’s Will Thurmond, Chairman of Research and Development for the Algae Foundation.

“You can grow algae, harvest it, extract the oil from it and deliver it directly to a biodiesel plant and they can use it.”

Some algae have a high sugar and starch content and can be turned into ethanol but researchers are just recently coming up with even more possibilities.

“What they’re doing is taking algae and turning it into a bio-crude or green crude. It’s something that you can deliver directly to refineries, and from that you can create a renewable diesel, renewable gasoline, you can create kerosene which is also known as JP-8 for jet fuels.”

Algae can be grown in ponds but that can be problematic. The newest way is the Closed Loop Photo-Bio Reactor, plastic tubes full of water and nutrients. You add a tiny bit of algae and CO2 and the algae grows. Fast.

“Some of the systems I’m seeing can grow three or four time a week.  There are some new people that have postulated that you can grow algae three or four times a day under the right conditions.”

And remember the algae love CO2, the very thing that cause problems for many industries.

“And what you’re seeing are these integrated models where you can take an algae production system and co-locate it next to any factory that produces carbon dioxide as a way to sequester the carbon and grow clean fuels.”

There are even uses for what’s left after the oil’s extracted.

“The bio-mass from the algae can be used in the pharmaceutical industry, can be used in the cosmetics industry, can be used in the organic fertilizer industry. And also we heard, because of the protein that in the algae some of our members are feeding it to their cows.”

Will Thurmond says there are those how believe that algae are THE answer to our fuels problems. He says a professor at the University of New Hampshire believes that an algae farm the size of Maryland could one day supply all our transportation needs. Because algae doesn’t grow in the ground algae farms can be on the most unproductive land in the country.

Barry Cohen admits that algae researchers may be a bit less optimist about the future of algae then what he calls “algaepreneurs” but the difference is mainly in how fast it can be brought to market. He says algae are the future and that future should be headquartered here.

“When people think of Houston they think of the energy capitol of the United States, what I’m trying to do is to turn it into the alternate energy capitol of the United States.”