Gas and electricity rates will only continue to head north for several years to come. Because of that, developing alternative fuels becomes all the more important for meeting our future energy needs. Our need for fossil fuel derived electricity has come at great expense to our ecosystem. Thankfully scientists are hard at word studying potential alternative fuel sources that may be practical to implement and kinder to the environment. While it may not receive the same media attention as other alternative energy sources algae is one surprising possible fuel source that is showing real promise. Algae grow naturally worldwide in almost infinite quantities.
Scientists are perfecting procedures that can allow up to half with the biomass of algae to be converted to bio-diesel which is often burned to power engines or produce electric power. Algae grow rapid and grow virtually anyplace. Algae calls for very little to grow. Sunlight, moisture and CO2 is about all it wants. There is a large number algae types but it is the pond scum kind of algae that shows the most promise for biodiesel production. As opposed to other types of crop-based fuel production, algae will not reduce food supply. In fact, algae byproducts that are not converted to fuel are made into fertilizer.
The promise that algae represents for electricity production is gaining the attention of big corporations. At present, the private sector pays for the bulk of investigation into algae-to-energy technology. Numerous proponents of algae as a renewable energy source are frustrated at the lack of funding and attention directed at study in this area by public institutions. Many people feel strongly that algae could be the key to altering our energy mix away from fossil fuel and that algae could create most of our electrical power and fuel our vehicles if only more funding were put into the necessary research to perfect the technologies for processing algae into fuel. Skeptics feel the deck may be stacked against algae; at least in the short term. There is a feeling that big oil companies have an economic incentive to realize every last bit of profit from oil even as the asset depletes.
As oil supply continues its inevitable steady decline oil companies will be able to realized ever increasing profits from their product. This means that big oil companies are making a killing on far less product. Many people vilify fossil fuels. It’s true that they have had a damaging impact on the environment as well as social harmony. However the fact remains that ever since the first ox was yoked by a man society has relied on some source of energy other than our own bodies to sustain us. As the industrial revolution took hold fossil fuels met that need for energy and helped fuel and amazing century of human achievement. However, the world’s fossil fuel reserves were a onetime endowment. They don’t replenish themselves on a practical timescale. Renewable energy sources such as algae will not be an optional energy choice forever. The current word political and power structures is driven in large part by the need to produce and trade in fossil energy. This means that algae energy technology has the potential to be disruptive in the short term yet stabilizing in the long-run. Entire nation’s credit their political standing and wealth in very large part to the oil found within their borders. Algae, by contrast to fossil fuels, can be grown and refined into electricity and other energy by essentially any nation on earth. That shift in political and economic power structure on a global scale would be seismic. However, in a world where almost every nation on earth is energy independent a major cause of political and economic strife would be removed from the world dynamic. Wealth currently being funneled into the ever-increasing coffers of oil-rich nations would instead be retained by local economies creating local jobs and opportunities where previously none existed. This could be a free market based counterbalance to the growing wealth gap that is increasing becoming a source of tension in both developed and undeveloped nations.
The promise of an algae driven electricity grid and transportation system is truly encouraging. Although lab results and early field test have shown promise, the technology has a long way to go to be perfected.