I’ve heard a lot about using algae for fuel. Why is this such a popular topic these days?
Thank you for your question! As concerns over the availability and accessibility of fossil fuels increase, the world is looking for sustainable alternatives. Researchers have explored the use of fuels derived directly from plants such as corn or sugar cane, but those solutions have a number of issues. In an effort to develop a more viable solution, the fuel industry began to use crops designed exclusively for fuel production, such as algae. Many experts now believe that algae represents the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to produce liquid fuel, which could be used in existing technology such as jet engines or the family car.
Currently, the most exciting and innovative algae fuel efforts focus on approaches that couple the production of biofuel with the processing and treatment of other waste, such as sewage, creating a process with a double advantage. In essence, such systems turn the expensive problem of treating contaminated wastewater into a sustainable bioenergy source. Imagine helping fuel a fleet of cars just by flushing your toilet! One key benefit to algae in this instance, is that it can absorb CO2 and pharmaceutical chemicals found in wastewater that cannot be treated by conventional sewage treatment plants.
To date, much of the development of biofuels from algae have been on a small scale. Production costs have placed the resulting fuel at a price level that is not competitive with current fossil fuels. However, in February, President Obama announced that the Department of Energy would allocate $14 million in new funding to develop transportation fuels from algae. The DOE is already supporting over 30 such projects. This new funding will push the total investment from the DOE to over $100 million. With the support and interest of the federal government and support from private industry at about $2 billion, several commercial-scale projects are under construction or will break ground this year. This impending boom in production capacity means that algae is set to become a viable source of fuels such as gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and other transportation fuels that can operate safely in existing engines and infrastructure.
BTL is working with energy companies to create specialized ponds for growing algae. Our durable, plant safe liners are perfect for such ventures, and present a cost-effective solution to the problem of reliable containment without contamination. We are proud to be involved in cutting edge technology that will potentially establish our energy independence for generations to come in a manner that is also responsive to the needs of environmental protection and global sustainability.