Sunday, December 07, 2008

Algae Power

Originally uploaded by lyle58

It grows almost anywhere, produces biofuel of high enough quality to power jet planes, and doesn't raise the cost of the food on anyone's dinner table. As reported in a story from McClatchy News, "Go green: Algae could be the next hot biofuel," many aerospace companies and airlines are betting on a future where flying machines can essentially be propelled by pond scum refined in a bioreactor.

Getting serious attention and support for algae as a biofuel, a role played by the Algal Biomass Organization, will be an uphill struggle. Their high-profile membership role includes Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic, and Boeing, but lobbyists for other forms of biofuel have a large head start in this realm.

"We are up against formidable opposition from competing interests," Jason Pyle, the chief executive of Sapphire Energy, said of resistance from ethanol and biodiesel groups during an algae industry meeting in Seattle earlier this fall.

Sapphire, a San Diego company, already has made a type of gasoline using algae that meets fuel quality standards, is compatible with current gasoline-manufacturing infrastructure and achieved a 91 octane rating.

Pyle said that current policy favored such alternative fuels as corn for ethanol or soybeans for biodiesel and provided only limited assistance to algae-related products. He said that one of the top priorities for the new Congress and the Obama administration in their first 100 days would be to write a comprehensive energy bill. Pyle said it was crucial that the algae industry make its presence known.

The article also notes that besides algae, jatropha (a bush well adapted to arid climates) shows much promise. Virgin Atlantic has already flown a 747 from London to Amsterdam on a fuel mixture made from jatropha.