ALGAE'S POWERFUL FUTURE by ProQuest

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        THE FUTURIST             March-April 2009          25
© 2009 World Future Society • 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814, U.S.A. • All rights reserved.




F
       irst, the bad news. A 2006 re-      ing countries.                            for producing biofuels (biodiesel,
       port by the U.S. Department of        Biodiesel from algae is lead-free,      ethanol, biogas, and hydrogen) is in
       Energy (DOE) predicts that          almost sulfur-free, biodegradable,        conjunction with municipal and ag-
       cars and trucks powered by          and can run any modern diesel en-         ricultural wastewater treatment.
       batteries or hydrogen fuel cells    gine. Biodiesel also lessens global       Wastewater from about 1,200 dairy
will total only one-tenth of one           warming because it’s made from            cows, 5,000 pigs, or 30,000 people
percent of new vehicle sales in the        plants that absorb carbon dioxide         would supply nutrients for 25 acres
year 2030, mainly because of the           while they’re growing, thus compen-       of algae ponds (the minimum eco-
limited driving range, high vehicle        sating for the carbon dioxide re-         nomic scale).
costs, and lack of infrastructure          leased when the fuel is burned. Ac-          Mixed algae ponds may also be an
for refueling.                             cording to the DOE, unblended             affordable alternative for the world’s
   With fuel cells, there’s also the       (B100) biodiesel fuel emits an aver-      fastest growing and potentially most
problem of developing a cheap,             age of two-thirds less CO2 and five       carbon-intensive economies, China
abundant source of hydrogen to             other air pollutants than does petro-     and India. The IEA study includes
power them.                                leum diesel. However, biodiesel is        maps of the global distribution of the
   Under current policies, the DOE         more likely to cause engine problems      three nutrient sources, as well as
now predicts that relatively clean-        in cold winter weather unless it’s        maps of appropriate climates, flat
burning ethanol and biodiesel won’t        blended with petroleum diesel. And        lands (required for algae ponds), af-
supply more than 11% of the fuel for       burning biodiesel produces slightly       fordable lands, and lands with the
America’s motor vehicles in the year       more nitrogen oxide, although the         required infrastructure. A composite
2030. Conventional crops can’t             amount of this air pollutant is much      map of these resources shows that
produce enough of these biofuels per       less when using biodiesel blends or       the greatest production potential for
acre to meet the enormous demand,          the emission-control systems in new       this technology is in China, South-
which is expected to grow 40%              diesel vehicles.                          east Asia, India, western Africa, and
by then.                                     The market generally points to a        southeastern United States. Fortu-
   The numbers are daunting, but           bright future for diesel. Market ana-     nately, China and India already have
one solution to our growing hunger         lysts expect the price of petroleum       a thriving industry using shallow
for transportation fuels may be very       diesel to be closer to that of gasoline   ponds (often mixed by paddle
simple: algae.                             in a few years. Then, Americans will      wheels) to produce algae for nutri-
   Lowly, single-celled microalgae         start purchasing more low-polluting       tional supplements.
may eventually be used to make             diesel and diesel-electric hybrid ve-        Unwanted microorganisms often
large quantities of biodiesel, ethanol,    hicles. Sales will grow as potential      invade open ponds, so a series of
and even hydrogen. At a small DOE          buyers realize that the new “clean        bioreactors would also be required to
plant in New Mexico, researchers 
								
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