Algae could be the next major source of alternative fuel

August 11, 2015 1 By Angie Bergenson
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Algae organisms might be an important and reliable energy source, says the DOE.

In an effort to find clean alternative fuel in the United States, the Obama administration has been supporting algae biofuel research and development through the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Defense, and it appears that the research was well worth it, as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says that algae shows promise as a renewable energy source, and estimates that it can generate 60 times more oil per acre than plants found on land.

Algae are carbon-neutral sources of energy.

According to the DOE, Algae organisms can transform sunlight into energy and can store the energy into natural oils. These oils can be extracted to cars, fuel planes, and trains. Moreover, as mentioned above, the organisms are more efficient at producing oil than land-based plants, producing up to 60 times more oil per acre, reported FierceEnergy.

In addition, another advantage that algae has is it requires carbon dioxide to grow, which means that it’s not only a carbon-neutral energy source, but it also takes greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The DOE says there are three primary reasons that algal is likely to become a huge contributor to alternative fuel in the future.

The first reason is that new algae have been engineered by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Algae can improve the quantity of energy-storing molecules that are vital for making oil.

The second is that algae biofuel production, according to the DOE, involves processes such as “harvesting, dewatering and concentrating algae material so it can be preprocessed and eventually refined into fuel.” This makes it different from other power sources that require many processes and systems to convert raw material into a completed product to create any kind of fuel. Furthermore, the DOE is looking for new ways to reduce the cost of algae-based biofuel production. So far, a process that has been developed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, can convert algae to water, oil, and usable byproducts in under an hour.

The final reason algae shows promise as an alternative fuel is the number of algal biorefineries is on the rise. The DOE said that among the refineries is “Sapphire Energy in New Mexico, which is producing algal oils that can be easily processed into diesel and other fuels through their refining partners, Phillips 66 and Tesoro.” When the construction of the plant is complete, it is expected to generate as much as 1 million gallons of algae-based biofuels annually, according to the Department of Energy.