The Future of Fuel
We all hope that the future of energy will be green, but alternative energy research is taking this literally—biofuel industries are producing fuel from algae, with the eventual goal of using it as low-cost transportation fuel. Algae is much more ideal than conventional biofuel crops such as corn and switch-grass, because algae can be grown almost anywhere: it only needs sunshine, water and carbon dioxide to flourish. Fuel extraction varies depending on type of fuel and species of algae, but basically oil is extracted through a press and is then converted into fuel using a chemical process called transesterification. The technology is sound, but is it commercially viable enough to compete with fossil fuels? The cultivation process is expensive because it requires large amounts of land and water, and environmental issues are also prevalent: questions are raised about whether the algae takes more CO2 to grow than it actually absorbs. However, the process produces approximately 4,000 gallons per acre—ten times per gallon more than any other biofuel—and so the industry has enormous potential. Pike Research predicts that it will have a market value of $1.3 billion by 2020 and produce 61 million barrels per year, but it won’t be enough to take over fossil fuels—worldwide, 83 million barrels of oil are currently consumed per day.
June 25, 2012
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