The United States is no exception and, as a matter of fact, may be in the worst position of any nation, spending about $180 billion a year on oil (not counting the Ministry of Oil Defense, of course). Because of this, the nation must act quickly to overcome its dependency issue. That’s no easy feat, though, with the United States using about 19.64 million barrels of oil per day.
The nation needs another resource to help transition to a cleaner, more independent and stable energy market. One proposed solution is algae biofuel.
Algae, a photosynthetic organism, occurs in most habitats and exists in both simple, single-celled forms and complex, multi-cellular forms. Two things are needed for algae to be produced: sunlight and water. Algae production can be facilitated in bioreactors, greenhouses, or ponds. Solazyme, located in San Francisco, CA, is one of the first companies to start and use algae production, cultivating through biotechnology.
Advantages and How We’ll Use It
There are a few major benefits of algae biofuels that should be considered: first, it has a number of uses that are both practical and desirable; second, it is a renewable resource with little impact on the environment; finally, it can be mass produced with using little space and saltwater. All these benefits are topped off with the fact that algae is a great tool for carbon sequestration.
One of the potential uses is using algae biofuel for our automobiles.
Truckers today, for example, use biodiesel to drive their trucks across country. By incorporating this same practice into more vehicles, algae biofuel gives America an opportunity to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. Likewise, algae production can create jobs we lose in the oil industry. According to Matthew McDermott of Treehugger, an aggressive investment in algae biofuels can lead to replacing at least 17 percent of US imported oil.
Other potential uses for algae are its ability to act as a fertilizer, stabilizing agent, food supplement, and as livestock feed. Using algae will curb the production of some sources of nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, and other ozone-depleting chemicals into our atmosphere. Serving as an alternative to corn, it will also allow for more food production.
Low Impact Resource
There is an abundance of algae in the world, meaning we can produce large amounts of biofuel. In fact, algae can outpace corn as a source of biofuel, saving a food source for humans and animals. At the same time, algae can even be used as an alternative food source. In the end, however we use it, there isn’t much need for worry, environmentally speaking.
Because algae are biodegradable and have a relatively small impact on the environment, it makes a lucrative environmental choice, which is why we are moving toward its use. Unlike algae, crude oil is a major sources of chemical pollutants that may negatively affect both human health and that of the environment.
Little Space and Using Saltwater
A key benefit of algae biofuel is that farmers are able to use seawater instead of freshwater for cultivation. This is huge advantage considering to the amount of water that exists today; how only 2 percent of the world’s water supply is fresh water and many areas in the world face fresh water crises. In stark contrast, 70 percent of the world (i.e the other 98% of water) is covered by salty seawater. Use this seawater as opposed to freshwater is invaluable by helping preserve freshwater for those who need it.
Some Drawbacks to Algae
Although algae seems to be promising, there are some drawbacks that must be addressed.
First, algae biofuel still thrives in a world of infant science and new technology. Researchers need more evidence on the costs and benefits of having algae as a source of fuel. Long-term projections must be made and a transitional phase must be thought out.
The second disadvantage stems directly from the first. Because the technology behind this is still new, the result of production has not been completely satisfying. One of the main problems with biofuel from algae, as stated on Oilgae.com, is that it gives out more nitrogen oxide emissions and tends to reduce fuel economy. As stated, “The energy content per gallon of biodiesel is approximately 11 percent lower than that of petroleum diesel.”
Despite the debate around the topic, the United States should seriously consider algae biofuel as an element in their plan to work off fossil fuels. By investing in research, real progress can be made and the few disadvantages that exist can be tackled.
At root, it’s key to understand that it demonstrates promise in lowering the dependence on foreign oil. This, in turn, will help fortify our economy by creating a new, domestic industry to create jobs and fuel the national GDP. Evidence of this is already appearing, as both public and private companies have already started to use this renewable energy.
In time, through comprehensive plans that include initiatives like algae biofuel, the United States can become the world leader in renewable energy, sustainable development, and the green economy.
Sunnie Kwok, environmental science major at the University of California, Riverside, provided research and collaboration on this article.
Originally published June 29th, 2011.