Algae for fuel

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Boeing recognizes that algae biomass holds tremendous potential for use as jet fuel, and it fits into our plan to guide aviation toward commercially viable and sustainable fuel sources - fuels with substantially smaller greenhouse gas footprints that do not compete with food or require unacceptable quantities of land and fresh water resources.” -Billy Glover, managing director-environmental strategy, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.


Did anyone ever think we‘d come to this: examining the potential of lowly ALGAE to be major source of fuel for the world‘s transportation system.


That‘s what will be the topic of discussion at the second annual Algae Biomass Summit in Seattle, WA, October 23-24 this year, hosted by the Algal Biomass Organization (ABO), whose charter is to help accelerate the development and commercial application of algae biomass. Boeing‘s Billy Glover, quoted above, is the co-chairman of the group‘s steering committee, which is aimed at raising the profile of algae as a potential fuel source for global transportation systems.


Note, too, that this is BOEING we‘re talking about - the billion-dollar global behemoth that makes a wide variety of commercial and military aircraft - not some mom and pop operation trying to sell snake oil (with many apologies for the negative use of the term “mom and pop” by the way.)


Algae

(Diesel fuel stock? From this green gloop? Maybe ...)


So why is algae getting so much attention? Here‘s what the folks involved with the ABO believe are the benefits this organic substance can bring to the transportation fuel issue table:


Renewable Fuels: Algae are an ideal low-cost, renewable and environmentally progressive raw material that can be converted into biofuels. They can grow rapidly (doubling in biomass in as little as a few hours), require limited nutrients, and can annually deliver up to 2,000-5,000 gallons of fuel per acre of non-arable land.

Environment: Algae do not require fresh water to thrive, and so they will not compete for limited supplies of fresh water. In addition, they can also be used to clean wastewater and to recycle greenhouse gases such as CO2, NOx and SOx. As the algae grow, they can be harvested and converted to next-generation biofuels.

Economic Development: As developing nations continue to look for ways to spur economic development, algae-based industries can be a central part of an overall strategy. Many developing nations currently import nearly 100% of their fuel. An algae-based energy strategy provides a way to either reduce oil import costs, create fuel/feedstock export revenue, or both, without competing with food crops.


There‘s serious involvement on the part of the scientific community, too, as Dr. Greg Mitchell from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Dr. Phillip Pienkos with the U.S. government‘s National Renewable Energy Laboratory are members of ABO.


“Given the social, economic, and environmental possibilities for algae, and the growing number of companies, technologies and products being developed to address them, it is becoming increasingly important to harness their potential for use across multiple industries now,” said Boeing‘s Glover.


To that I say, let‘s see where the research takes us.

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