Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wait, I thought Corn was going to save humanity

This is a very cool article posted by wired about the potential of Algae as a source for syntheticly derived (traditional) fuels, eg BioDiesel, Ethanol, other alcohols, etc. Currently we use Soybeans and Corn (for the most part) to produce these synthetic traditional fuels from non-traditional sources (mining). But thats not necessarily a good thing... I've written in the past about my negative feelings about Corn as the source for vehicle fuel ethanol. Corn doesn't exist in nature, and soybeans in their current iteration aren't far behind. We could always use things like switchgrass, or even waste vegetation (food waste, etc) but that also requires an intensive process with a great deal of refining in order to create a standardized compatible fuel.

Algae is another option. It grows easily, its water requirements can be managed if grown in humid areas, it is very tolerant of different water conditions and can be coaxed to produce many specific types of raw materials for fuel production.

From the article:

Of course, one of the major concerns about algae is the volume of water needed to produce it. But the researchers note that water use can be significantly curtailed by raising algae in the humid climates of the Gulf Coast, Southeastern Seaboard and Great Lakes regions.
“Algae has been a hot topic of biofuel discussions recently, but no one has taken such a detailed look at how much America could make — and how much water and land it would require — until now,” said Mark Wigmosta, a hydrologist and lead author of the study, in a statement. “This research provides the groundwork and initial estimates needed to better inform renewable energy decisions.”
Algal fuels are made by extracting and refining the lipids within algae. Algae are attractive biofuel feedstock because it grows quickly and thrives in everything from seawater to irrigation runoff to sewage. Such fuels could go a long way toward meeting the Energy Independence and Security Act. That law requires that biofuels replace more than 10 percent of our current petroleum consumption by 2022. Half of that biofuel must come from something other than corn.

I'm as much of a supporter as Algae based biofuels as I am to stop using food as fuel. There is evidence that the increase in the price of corn has led to increased cleft palates in Latin America, caused by a switch from traditional calcified corn tortillas as a primary food to cheaper generic flour noodles. I do think that more research in field grasses and waste vegetation as a hydrocarbon source should be continued as well though.

Source -> http://blogs.princeton.edu/chm333/f2006/biomass/bioethanol/

Earlier posts -> http://www.dannyfinnegan.com/2011/01/please-stop-with-corn-as-fuel.html

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