Growing Algae as a Source of Biofuel

Recent research has shown that common algae could possibly be used as a renewable fuel source.

There are still questions however about just how to grow enough algae to make this scenario completely possible. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been conducting research on just how sustainable algae can be and how it can be used as a source of fuel. Questions have been raised as to how much algae can actually be grown in freshwater so alternative sources are being researched. PNNL is currently studying the possibility of seawater as a water source as well as what nutrients are needed to effectively grow algae and what the actual cost of transportation would be to refineries.

Studies have so far shown that marine algae can be genetically engineered for use in producing biofuels. Researchers from the University of California in San Diego feel that the yield of this genetically engineered algae could actually match the petroleum-like compounds of fresh water algae which makes it very possible to produce it on a larger scale.

Researchers feel that the ability to genetically transform seawater algae is essential because it helps to expand the growth potential for algae that can be used in the production of biofuel. Studies have shown that the same quality of algae, that which is good for producing biofuels, can be obtain with seawater algae as opposed to only using freshwater species. Studies have also shown that there are more than 10 million acres throughout the United States that can be used to grow algae for biofuel production and using marine algae could help to make this type of biofuel a viable solution for transportation fuels in future years.

Open pond water is the most natural method for growing algae but again, freshwater has its limitations. Using ocean water allows those restraints to be completely removed and offers a wider base of production. Open ponds grow algae naturally and using these ponds in hot and sunny regions will allow for maximum production. Bad weather however, can stunt the growth of algae which would mean that lower crop yields would be experienced. Contamination from certain strains of bacteria can also hinder production.

Being able to genetically modify seawater algae for use in biofuel production would open up a completely new playing field for researchers. Given the vastness of ocean water, it would make it completely possible to produce biofuel and without the constraints that freshwater algae can have.

Vertical growth is often used by biofuel companies in order to produce algae much faster than their natural growth rate. Algae being grown in this method are put into clear plastic bags and exposed to sunlight on both sides. The bags can be stacked to save space and are protected by rain. The extra exposure to sunlight can help to significantly increase the productivity rate which will help to increase the rate of oil production.

Another method of growing algae is by using closed tank plants that will help to increase growth rates even further. Indoor plants will contain large drums where algae are permitted to grow under the most ideal conditions. Algae can be manipulated into growth at optimal levels and can be harvested daily. This method can yield very large outputs of algae which again, produces higher yields of fuel.

These growing methods, along with the genetically engineered seawater algae could mean great developments in the biofuel industry. Using algae as a source of fuel is still being researched but all studies to date show that this promises to be a very successful venture. Between freshwater algae that is being grown specifically for biofuel production and genetically altered seawater algae, it is not completely impossible to believe that algae could prove to be a very effective source of renewable fuel in the very near future.

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