Monday, December 1, 2008

Greener Than Green

Anyone who has had a fish tank knows how fast algae can build up. Seemingly overnight. There are hundreds of forms of algae. Mostly, we humans consider them all some kind of nuisance stuff that builds up anyplace where you have standing water. Definitely, some are toxic enough to kill you. However, some are actually edible. But, better yet, they just might be the future biofuel of this country.

Some forms of algae, called diatoms or micro algae, have as much as half their composition in what are called lipids or emulsified fats. Prior to the 1800's and the development of kerosene, most people in Europe and early America used oil that was indirectly derived from algae to light their oil lamps. That oil was whale oil. Whales literally pack on the blubber or fat from only eating a salt water form of micro algae known as plankton. The goal of science, today, is to eliminate the whale in getting to the oil from algae.

Interestingly, algae need tons of carbon dioxide, that evil greenhouse gas, to produce their oils. It is possible that our burning of one fuel, like coal for electricity, could be linked to the production of another fuel made from algae to fuel our cars and other vehicles. The carbon output from a coal-fired electric plant could be forced into massive vats of water or other solution where the algae could, in theory, metabolize all that CO2 and happily thrive. Then, the algae could be processed for the production of a diesel-like fuel. The overall process would be a net reduction in the overall amount of CO2 that we are outputting today.

Certainly, green (or brown) algae may be the future form of green energy that awaits us in the years to come. It, along with other forms of energy, could easily get the monkey of imported oil off our backs. To me, the trucks that transport our goods around this country aren't really good candidates for fuel-celled hydrogen or electricity for their fuel. Neither are trains, boat or planes. All those types of vehicles are going to need some type of fuel similar to diesel. Those little micro algae could be the very energy savior that keeps UPS delivering packages to half of America's front doors. That keeps those tanker crossing the oceans. That keeps the airliners transporting millions of Americans from city to city and all over the world.

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