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How Algae Is Being Used to Develop Renewable Energy Fuels

24 Jan 16:00 by Steve Walia

algae on ocean surface

Algae that grows naturally in the ocean is being used to produce biofuels, and this hugely prolific source of natural fuel offers superb potential for the future of the sustainable economy. 

There are thousands of different varieties of algae growing across the world. It even grows on ice and snow. People naturally think of the green scum that grows on ponds or the seaweed that appears on the beach, but this just represents a small fraction of the known species. 

Algae is also attractive as a potential fuel source, as it needs only the basics to grow - carbon, sunlight, water and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Its diversity means that different strains can grow in salt and freshwater alike. Some researchers are looking at how algae can be grown in wastewater, such as the run-off from the dairy industry, in order to be produced for biofuel purposes.

But how is algae used in biofuel production? Because it draws C02 from the environment, its use in both biofuel and other bioproducts can greatly reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions. Already researchers across the bio-industry are looking at how algae beds can be developed close to factories with high emissions and oil refineries. The plan is that these could absorb carbon emissions close to source.

Algae is also hugely prolific, and these species are amongst the most powerful generators of energy on Earth. In some cases, these algae can also accumulate high levels of usable oil which can also be extracted and converted for biofuel products. This means that algae could eventually produce more oil than current terrestrial plants such as soybeans. Some strains have been shown to yield more than 60 times the oil it is possible to get from soybeans.