Can Algae Replace Oil for Our Energy?

Johnson R. Masterson
January 10, 2012 — 1,154 views  

Anyone who drives a car can see that the cost of gas bounces up and down in the short term but in the end will always continue to move higher as our fossil fuel reserves diminish. This makes the development of alternative fuels an unavoidable necessity in the future. It's vital that we discover cost-effective and economically viable alternatives. Thankfully scientists are hard at work creating alternative fuel technologies that may be practical to implement and better for our environment. There is one alternative fuel source that hasn't garnered as much attention as wind or solar power. This under-appreciated potential new power source is algae. Algae is endlessly renewable and can be grown in basically endless quantities.

Approximately half of algae's weight is comprised of lipid oil which scientists believe can be converted into biodiesel a fuel that burns more cleanly and efficiently than petroleum. In contrast to oil, algae are renewable and ubiquitous. Algae grow almost any spot on earth. Oil does not get replenished. Algae might be grown anywhere so long as it has access to carbon dioxide water and sunlight. Everybody has seen pond scum. This is probably the most know algae and is also probably the most productive form for producing biofuel. Far from depleting the food supply, the parts that are not converted to biodiesel might be used for fertilizer and feedstock.

Big energy as well as agricultural companies around the globe are beginning to see the windfall that algae might represent in the area of energy production. The majority of research in the field is done by private organizations. Many proponents of algae as a renewable energy source are frustrated at the lack of funding and attention directed at research in this area by public institutions. Many people feel passionately that algae is critical to altering our power mix away from fossil fuel and that algae could create most of our electrical power and fuel our vehicles if only more funding and effort were put into the research necessary to perfect the technology. Despite the large amount of interest from the private energy sector compared to the public sector skeptics maintained that oil companies will not easily allow oil to be usurped as the energy source of choice for the world electricity grids and transportation needs.

Oil prices will continue to go up as the basic laws of supply and demand dictate. Oil companies are well-positioned to make unprecedented amounts of profit from this endgame in oil as they can realize much higher margins from turning over less product. The fossil fuel revolution has facilitated a period of unprecedented prosperity for mankind. But it has not come without a price. Because algae can be grown in every corner of the globe it has the potential to be a great equalizer when it comes to the geopolitical implications of energy. Localizing energy production in the form of algae farms and biodiesel fueled electricity plants means local jobs, economic stability, and opportunity for many nations of the world that today lack these things.

We have grown accustomed to electricity rates which are quite low compared to what they may become when fossil fuels begin to run out. The promise of an algae driven electricity grid and transportation system is truly encouraging. Although lab results and early field test have shown promise, the technology has a long way to go to be perfected.

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Johnson is an energy writer who follows issues and trends that impact Texas electricity rates.

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Johnson R. Masterson