Goodbye Fossil Fuels. Hello Algae!

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Algae is not a loud noise in the challenge to find alternative fuels. But it will be. Algae biofuel offers us a great deal of hope in our battle against fossil fuels.

Hybrid electric automobiles typically steal most of the spotlight when it comes to the idea of ‘green’ vehicles, which reduce their environmental impact by consuming small amounts of gasoline or limiting the emissions produced by their operation. Gasoline / electric hybrids certainly lead this charge, but bringing up the rear are an entire host of alternative fuels which promise to provide a similar driving experience with either ultra-clean emissions or no emissions at all. The contenders include ethanol produced from corn or other vegetable matter, biodiesel which also originates from plants, or even propane and natural gas.

One type of fuel which rarely sees mention also happens to be one which appears to offer a great deal of promise for the future. Algae, a type of plant life that is found in abundance in oceans all over the world, can actually produce a significant amount of natural oil that can be used as a fuel source. Marine algae is not familiar to most North American drivers, but in Asian countries where the population has a closer relationship to the sea algae and other types of ocean agriculture are nothing new. Recent investments in the development of algae-based fuels have been brought on by the increase in fossil fuel prices, and some of the results have been staggering.

It turns out that not only is marine algae a viable fuel source, but it also packs a much more concentrated punch than other biofuels. In fact, it is estimated that compared to the most potent fuel crops grown on land, algae can squeeze 30 times more energy out of a single acre. Advances in marine agriculture have created algae farms where special growing tubes can help produce 100,000 gallons of oil out of a single acre.

These impressive numbers have drawn a lot of attention in the alternative fuel community, and for good reason. Aquatic agriculture does not use huge amounts of landmass like corn growing does, allowing that area to be put to better use growing foodstuffs or sustaining livestock. Algae is also fairly inexpensive to cultivate, requiring only water, sunlight and the right conditions to propagate quickly. It can also use water that has been deemed too polluted for standard agriculture without affecting its yield – even raw sewage. This helps to ensure that algae growth will not absorb resources which could be better used in other areas of the economy.

The price of breaking free from the traditional fossil fuel chains that encircle the world’s economy is innovation, and looking towards algae-base initiatives seems to point towards an answer that is not only effective, but also non-destructive to the environment. The rapid growth of algae helps to ensure that establishing an infrastructure of oil-producing plants would take a very reasonable amount of time, and its hardiness means that even cities, historically not associated with agriculture would be able to house algae production facilities. Mankind emerged from the ocean millions of years ago, and it seems as though the circle of evolution has been closed once again as we now look back to the sea for the answer to our future.

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