Fact or Fiction: Algae Biofuels

By: Staff

Algae can be grown in water that is unsuitable for food or plant production, such as saltwater and wastewater.

Algae's ability to grow nearly anywhere there is sunshine is one of the reasons it has such potential as a biofuel.

As algae grow, they consume carbon dioxide, thus offering the additional benefit of lowering greenhouse gases.

Unlike fossil fuels, algae release carbon dioxide in a process called bioremediation.

The molecular structure of algae biofuel is different from that of petroleum fuel.

Despite their different sources, the molecular make up of both fuels are very similar.

The Aquatic Species Program, created to explore algae as a potential fuel, was established in 1996.

It was created in 1978 under President Jimmy Carter, but shut down by President Bill Clinton in 1996 after it was concluded that fuel from algae was not a feasible alternative to fossil fuels.

Algae may be able to yield more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year of production, which is much higher than other sources.

Algae yields are very high in comparison to other biofuels. For example, corn yields only about 250 gallons per acre per year of production.

Some species of algae have an oil content of up to 60 percent oil by weight.

Some species do have oil content as high as 60 percent. The high amount of oil that can be extracted from algae is one of the reasons it holds potential as a biofuel.

The algae used to produce biofuel takes a long time to grow.

Large quantities of algae can be grown quickly, which is just one of its promising attributes.

One million acres of land would be required to produce the algae necessary to replace fossil fuel use in the United States with algae biofuel.

Nearly 10 million acres would be required. However, that is only about 1 percent of the land used today in the United States for farming and grazing.

Algae can grow only in limited conditions.

Algae can grow almost anywhere, as long as it's exposed to enough sunlight and has adequate water and carbon dioxide.

Algae-based fuels are carbon-neutral.

While algae biofuels release CO2 when burned, the algae itself absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows, making it carbon-neutral. Fossil-fuel combustion, on the other hand, emits CO2, but doesn't absorb any.

Some biodiesel manufacturers are building algae biofuel facilities near power plants.

Several biodiesel manufacturers are building algae biofuel facilities near power plants because the algae can help improve air quality by absorbing the CO2 the power plants release.

Researchers are experimenting with altering the genetic structure of algae to produce more efficient crops.

Researchers are experimenting with the genetic structure of algae. Current efforts are focused on controlling the trigger for lipid production in algae.

Algae biofuel has been used to fly a commercial plane in the United States.

In 2009, a Continental Airlines two-engine Boeing 747-800 successfully completed a two-hour flight during which one of its engines contained a 50-50 mix of petroleum fuel and fuel made of jatropha weed mixed with algae.

Algae's harvesting cycle lasts from one to 10 weeks.

The harvesting cycle is actually only one to 10 days.

Most research on algae for fuel production focuses on macroalgae such as seaweed.

Research is mainly focused on microalgae, which have a less complex structure and grow faster.

Researchers have developed special nutrient solutions for aquatic environments to help algae grow there.

Researchers have developed special nutrient solutions that can be used instead of standard fertilizers, which are not designed for aquatic use.

The main problem with using chemicals to extract oil from algae is the high cost.

The chemicals, such as benzene, that are used to extract oil from algae are relatively inexpensive. The problem with using them is they can be dangerous to work with and harmful to researchers' health.

Growing algae for biofuel in open ponds is challenging because of the possibility that it can become contaminated.

Contamination is definitely an issue when growing algae in open ponds. Other problems include poor light utilization and diffusion of C02 into the atmosphere.

There are tens of thousands of different strains of algae that could be used to produce fuel.

While that many strains of algae exist, only a small percentage are viable to use in fuel production.

Algae grow best in outdoor environments.

Algae for biofuel can also be grown in indoor photo bioreactors, which offer scientists much more control over the growing environment.

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About This Quiz

While you can't pull up to the pump and fill up your car with fuel made from algae, researchers hold out hope that these common organisms will help reduce the world's reliance on fossil fuels. Test your knowledge of one of the potential fuels of the future.

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