Bio-Diesel from Algae – Good Idea or Bad Dream?

Bio-diesel from algae – sounds like a winner! But not so fast —

Researchers from the University of Virginia’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have found there are significant environmental hurdles to overcome before [algae-based] fuel production ramps up …. The U.Va. research, just published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, demonstrates that algae production consumes more energy, has higher greenhouse gas emissions and uses more water than other biofuel sources, such as switchgrass, canola and corn.

The devil, as they say, is in the details, and the details are far from clear. Using waste water (say sewage treatment plant effluent) may reduce overall water consumption and improve effluent quality. And growing algae in a pond or tank doesn’t coopt farmland that could be used for food crops.

Check the ScienceDaily article for details.


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2 Responses to “Bio-Diesel from Algae – Good Idea or Bad Dream?”

  1. anonymous Says:

    The US Government has spent over $2.5 billion dollars on algae research in the last 35 years and all we have to show for it are shelves full of useless patents. Algae have been researched at universities and in laboratories in the US for over 50 years, financed in significant part by government funds. One of the largest problems is that the research has been done in laboratories and at universities, using federal funds, and there is fear at that level that commercialization will ‘ruin it for them’. What it will ruin is the steady stream of ‘free’ money flowing from the DOE, NREL, the DOD, DARPA and other Washington-based agencies to University Row. It was most disconcerting to hear from more than one agency that the funds it awards are, by Congressional mandate, restricted to research. If we could invest one years’ worth of awards into commercialization instead of research, we could easily move this industry into commercialization. The research would be needed to improve technologies, but Microsoft and the American Petroleum Industry, among others, can confirm that this is a necessary component of any industry growth.

    According to my sources. another large problem is, in order to be a grant award recipient, the algae technologies must be investigated and approved by NREL, and that NREL is not particularly supportive of the private initiative. NREL is the same government agency that ran out of money and stopped the otherwise successful Aquatic Species Program after 18 years of federal funding. After the Consortium grant announcement, sources at various government agencies, including NREL itself, shared the fact that grants would only be awarded to proposed groups that included government agencies in their consortia. The truth of that statement lies in the fact that one of the groups that recently received an award is led by NREL and the other by the David Danforth Plant Science Center, and includes two national laboratories (one of which is also a participant in the NREL award) and 11 universities. According to its website, “Scientists at the Danforth Center receive more than half of their funding from federal agencies via competitive grant programs, with the rest of the funding coming from private companies and foundations. In addition to the USDA and the NSF, other federal granting agencies that fund research at the Center include the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency…”. In the last 2 years, it has received grants from the Department of Transportation and the National Sciences Foundation relating to biofuels, in addition to housing one of the DOE’s Energy Frontier Research Centers.

    Federal agencies are incapable of commercializing anything. The only ones that are even remotely designed to earn money are those that regulate the financial institutions, and we all know that the American banking system has failed us miserably. Until someone in Washington who has power and authority to stop this steady stream of funding to nowhere, listening as the algae researchers continue to claim that they are 3-5 years away from completing their research, it’s too expensive and they need more time and money, they will receive grant money from the DOE, NREL, DOD and DARPA. Nothing will ever get commercialized at the university level. Until there is an industry, there is no value to the results of the research. Until development of this industry is taken out of the hands of the research community, and put into the hands of the business, not corporate, community, this industry will never support reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

    The question you need to be asking is ” Does the US really want to get off of foreign oil or do we want to continue to fund the algae researchers at the universities.” The problem is we can grow, harvest and extract algae today with all “off-the-shelf” proven technology. We no not need genetic modification at all when there are existing algae strains currently on the market with 30-60% oil content. Algae production requires far less land and water than any other terrestrial crop (see page 194 of the DOE’s National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap), which has the farmers in an uproar right now. The ethanol credits went away, allegedly shutting down an industry – can it really be that without the tax credit, years of time, effort and expense will be for naught, leaving us with unedible genetically modified corn fields? The DOE is still awarding grants for algae pond research when it was established years ago that all algae ponds get contaminated and will never produce enough algae to get us off of foreign oil. Stop wasting monies on algae research. We need algae production!

    • David Hrivnak Says:

      $2.5 Billion for algae research over 35 yeqrs? That is a drop in the bucket for what we have spent so far in Iraq 1,000 billion over 8 years to secure oil for our insatiable thirst for oil.

      Oil is far from free or even inexpensive. We give the companies low cost drilling rights, generous tax credits and ample military support.

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