Now you probably have heard of bio-diesel made from soybeans, but you may have not heard of algae bio-diesel. A relatively new player in the bio-fuels games it promises by far to be the best option for weening us off of fossil fuels.
What is algae?
Algae is a group of single and multi-celled organisms that number over 100,000 species ranging from the microscopic to massive species of kelp in the oceans. Algae is composed of over half lipid oils by weight which when processed correctly can be a clean burning and more efficient bio-diesel than petroleum diesel. Under optimal conditions you can grow a almost unlimited quantity of algae that only needs water, sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce a amazing amount of the natural oils needed to produce bio-diesel.
How Can You Grow It?
Algae grown for bio-diesel production is done in a couple a ways with varying degrees of success.
Using open ponds we can grow large amounts of algae in sunny, hot locations in many places all over the country. While this is the the least invasive and most environmentally friendly technique it has some drawback as far as production is concerned. The pond can be infiltrated by bacteria or other harmful organisms and it can be stunted by bad weather or pond water being to cool.
Vertical Growth/Closed Loop
A technique used by many budding algae farms it is far more efficient and easier to manage algae than in a open pond. How it works is algae is placed in clear plastic bags and exposed to sunlight on two side which greatly increases algae production and growth. They are protected from the rain and stacked to improve space efficiency and sun exposure. They are also protected from contamination as any new water and carbon dioxide introduced into the system is screened before it can go in.
Closed Tank Bioreactors
Indoor plants are constructed which allow every factor of algae growth can be controlled very strictly. This allows for optimum growth and means that a properly sized and producing reactor can be harvested every day providing a daily supply of the lipid oils used in bio-diesel production. Another benefit to this technique is that these facilities can be placed adjacent to CO2 producing factories or power plant and the extra CO2 can be used to maximize algae growth.
After you have grown the algae you then squeeze out the oil and turn it into bio-diesel. First you have to refine it by putting it through a process called transesterification which in a nutshell is a chemical reaction involving the oil, a alcohol and and ester compound that produces viable bio-diesel.
To learn more about algae and its potential role in bio-diesel I would highly recommend a documentary called Fuel by Josh Tickell.
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