The Tea on Biofuels


Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield, Staff Writer

Algal Biofuel.

Sounds fancy, don’t you think? Algae is a plant-like organism found in water, a term I’m sure you’ve all heard before. This plant, like almost all others, is photosynthetic, meaning it possesses the capability to convert carbon dioxide into food, even though it doesn’t have any stems or roots. I’m sure you find all this information incredibly enlightening, but why should you care? Well, algae poses as an alternative to other biofuels, and what’s more is the fact that algae is a renewable energy source and it grows quickly. This topic of research was reopened upon the rising oil prices in the 2000s, and starting in November of 2012, solazyme and propel fuels made retail sales of algal fuel.

The process isn’t all that difficult. Oil is extracted from algae, processed at an integrated biorefinery, turned into renewable fuel for something like your car, and in the process all the carbon dioxide gas disappears.

Algal biofuel has proved itself to be a positive contributor to our society for a variety of reasons. This includes the fact that it grows with minimal impact on the environment and is biodegradable. It also yields the most fuel in comparison to any other biofuels that exist today, even holding the potential to improve water quality.

Although, it all sounds too good to be true. Algal biofuel is a science diva, that can only grow in controlled temperature conditions requiring a considerable amount of land and water. It also requires phosphorus as a fertilizer, a resource becoming more and more scarce. The fertilization is carbon dependent and to add to the environmental damage, it also has a relatively high capital cost.

With all of this in mind, algal biofuel has left scientists in quite a pickle, with the challenge to outweigh the costs or the benefits over one another. We can hope they reach the right conclusion.