Jan 6, 2009

Science - Marine algae may be future of biofuel development

Washington, Jan 5 (ANI): Scientists have determined that biofuel development is shifting from soil to sea, specifically to marine algae.

Referred to as "green bullet", marine algae is considered as science and society's best hope for a clean bioenergy source that will help loosen broad dependence on fossil fuel, counteract climate warming, and power the vehicles of the future.

According to Greg Mitchell from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, marine algae are the most efficient organisms on Earth for absorbing light energy and converting it into a natural biomass oil product, the biofuel equivalent of crude oil.

"Algae yields five to 10 times more bioenergy molecules per area, per time, than any terrestrial plant," he said. "Nothing else comes close," he added.

From a sustainability perspective, algae hold the upper hand against other biofuel candidates, such as corn and soybeans.

Algae can be grown on barren desert land using salt water, averting competition with agricultural cropland and the need for large amounts of precious fresh water for irrigation.

Since they require carbon dioxide for growth, algae are inherently carbon neutral, and they can suck up CO2 directly from industrial pollution sources. Furthermore, algae can feed off the nutrients in discarded wastewater.

Adding yet another layer to their allure, the rich protein left over from algae harvests can be converted to animal feed.

Because algae reproduce quickly (they can double their numbers in a single day), it's believed they can more efficiently produce many more gallons of oil per acre than any other source.

"There is still a lot of work to do, but algal-derived biofuels have the potential to become a major source of transportation fuel," said Bernard Raemy, executive vice president of Carbon Capture Corporation.

According to Raemy, a string of challenges lies ahead, but with appropriate investment, he believes a new algal biofuel industry, based on collaborations with public and private sectors, could be built within 10 years.

"Given their advantages, I believe marine algae are not only the most promising option for bioenergy fuel, but the only option that can scale up massively at the global level," said Mitchell.

"Most scientists who understand these processes are concluding that algae has the best chance. There is no silver bullet when it comes to energy, but there is a green bullet, or rather a green missile," he added. (ANI)

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