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What Kinds of Fuel Can Be Made from Algae?

July 7th, 2008

algae-biodiesel.JPGIn this companion to his other article on the advantages of algae-based fuels, Aaron Turpen discusses some of the possibilities for using algae to create different types of biofuels. Interestingly, the author claims that these types of biofuels can be used in most existing engines without modification, something that would make them more practical than some of the other suggestions for alternative fuel sources. Below the article, I have included a series of videos that explain the process and methods for growing algae and using it to produce biofuels on a potentially large scale.

Many people are under the impression that only diesel fuel, also known as biodiesel, can be made from vegetable oil sources. This is normally the case when you’re talking about most vegetable oil sources. A notable and well-known exception is corn oil, which is used to make ethanol, a supplement (not replacement) for unleaded gasoline.

These restrictions are not true of algae, however. Because algae are fairly simple organisms with many thousands of species in nature, there is much diversity available from which different types of oils can be made. Also because of its simplicity, algae are relatively easy to manipulate into anthropogenic species.

In algaculture (the growing of algae), the species and other factors used in choosing and manipulating the algae itself can create a diverse number of oils used for various types of fuels. Everything from normal vegetable oil, to biodiesel, bioethanol, biogasoline, biomethanol, biobutanol and other biofuels can be made from different strains of algae.

This means that algae-based biofuels can be used to power existing machinery without modification. So a semi truck using diesel fuel can use biodiesel made from algae and your car, using unleaded gasoline, can use biogasoline. It also means that jet planes, natural gas implements, and even coal and gas-burning power plants can use algae-based biofuels instead without modification to the existing machinery.

Another benefit to algae is that it is a zero-emission fuel. This doesn’t mean that you car will burn “clean” without emitting carbon gases. Instead, it means that the carbon given off by the machinery when burning algae-based fuels is equal to the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the algae during its growth process – so there is no net amount of new carbon emissions.

Therefore, overall algae has the best chance of becoming the latest fuel replacement substance because of all the market benefits for doing so: zero net carbon emissions, no change of current equipment needed, and diversity of fuel products viable to algae oils.

Algae Biofuel Videos

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