Algae: Our Possible Future As An Alternative Fuel Source? You Decide!

In a previous blog I wrote about how us conservatives always seem to get a bad rep in, besides issues regarding the needy (which I’ve addressed in numerous other blogs), that we also have  a bad rep on issues regarding “going green.”

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see us move to more environmentally friendly sources of fuel and energy, it’s that the ideas liberals have proposed thus far for doing so oftentimes involve much more government control over our private lives than the Founding Fathers intended.  This in turn creates an environment where “going green” costs lots of….well….green (pardon the pun).  I mean, have you seen the price of organic items?  To shop organic you’d have to be part of the “rich and famous” crowd.  For example an alternative to artificial sweeteners like splenda is in the organic section of Wegman’s called xylitol, a sugar alcohol that, unlike sugar, metabolizes independently of insulin, causing very little, if any rise in blood glucose levels.  A lot of sugar-free chocolates use a sugar alcohol like xylitol as the sweetener.  They also have  a rather unfortunate side-effect when consumed in excess quantities.  Let’s just say that if you plan to consume a sugar alcohol in excess quantities you’d better have plenty of Immodium handy.  Anyhow, the bags of xylitol in the organic food section at Wegman’s were $8 – $9 apiece.  Yikes!  I think I’ll stick with Splenda thank you very much.  Or at the very least Truvia, an all natural sweetener that is a blend of stevia and erythritol, another sugar alcohol commonly found in grapes.

Anyhow, back to alternative fuel.

One example of a liberal idea that would not be viable is that they’ve bandied about the idea of using corn and other land-based crops as an ethanol source.  This is problematic because a lot of these crops are also used as food sources.  And there’s already a high enough demand on crop farmers such as corn farmers to produce enough to be used as food.  To add on demand for use of corn as an ethanol source would quickly become more than most corn farmers could produce.  Another problem arises when you consider the amount of time it takes to grow most land-based crops.  So not only would total aggregate demand outpace supply in this area, but producing the supply of corn itself (and other land crops) is a very time-intensive process.

Another problematic idea was the idea to use water as fuel for cars.  I think everybody knows that water would be of no use in a combustion engine, as water does not burn.  About the only way it could be used is to redesign a car engine to work not as a combustion engine but as an engine that would break apart the water molecules and use the hydrogen as fuel and expel the oxygen out the exhaust pipe.  And that’s problematic because the Engine would already have to have a certain amount of energy available to it to initialize that process, as any student of chemistry knows that it requires an investment of energy to break a molecular bond.

But what most people have overlooked is the possibility of using algae as an alternative fuel source, one that has the potential to compete with crude oil.  For one thing there’s currently not a very high demand for using algae as a source of food.  About the only people that use it for food are those of Asian decent, otherwise there tends to be very little demand for algae as a food product.  I once tried a seaweed cracker and found that the taste left something to be desired.  So you could grow crops of algae and use nearly the whole crop for the purposes of fuel production.

Algae can produce a lot of oil.  Many estimates put algae as having a good 60% of its weight in oil and potential oil yields of roughly 26,000 gallons per hectare of algae, give or take a few hundred.  That sounds like a pretty decent yield to me.  Thus many estimates that I’ve come across state that we wouldn’t need much more than 15,000 square miles total in algae crops to fulfill our needs in the area of oil production.

Algae is also nature’s multi-purpose tool.  The leftover plant matter from extracting the oil could be used to make organic animal feed, which would in turn free up some more of the corn supply since right now corn is the popular thing to use to make animal feed.  It could also be used to make those biomass charcoal briquette substitutes that I see all the time at Wegman’s in their organic section.  The leftovers could also be fermented to produce an alcohol that could be used as a fuel, like ethanol.  Though I think fermenting it into propanol or butanol would make better sense because ethanol is also used as a drinking alcohol.  So if you used ethanol as a fuel source you’d probably see people at the fuel pump station fueling themselves up rather than the car, unless you were to add some sort of toxin to the supply of ethanol to be used for fuel that would render it not for human consumption.  Making the leftovers into propanol or butanol would make better sense because those aren’t drinking alcohols and so no toxin would be needed.  Those alcohols are toxic enough on their own for human consumption.  Crude oil is also used as a source of large hydrocarbons that get sent to a hydrocarbon cracking station to make propene molecules, which are then hydrolized to make isopropyl alcohol, a popular first aid item.  Algae could be easily substituted here as the oil source.

Algae also has another advantage.  Unlike most land-based crops, algae grows much more rapidly.  I imagine you could have a crop of algae ready for use in much less time than a crop of corn.  Also, you could have 2 different types of algae crops going: one with high lipid content for use in oil production and another with high carbohydrate content which could be fermented into whichever alcohol you think could be better used as a fuel.  Or you could have a third crop to ferment into ethanol and sell it as moonshine….LOL!

So, could algae be our best bet as an economically viable and environmentally friendly source of fuel for our automobiles?  You decide!  As always my comment board is open.