Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Power of Algae

Small steps toward curbing global warming emissions is coming out of the hub of tech/science advancement using one of nature's most simple organisms: algae. Isaac Berzin of MIT has created bioreactors of algae that strip the CO2 and NOx pollutants from emitting power plant smokestacks removing up to 40% of the CO2 and 90% of the NOx.

Working much like a screen, the algae bioreactors use photosynthesis to absorb the CO2 and other pollutants and emit oxygen instead. The algae is then harvested daily and from it a combustible vegetable oil is squeezed out. This fuel can be used as biodiesel and is some of the cleanest fuel that can be burned for cars running on "veggie-oil." The dried solid is then clumped together and can be burned as a cleaner coal. Ethanol is also a by-product of this process.

The most impressive side of this plan, however, is Berzin's business strategy that lays out the way in which utilities and coporations can make money off of the deal. By setting up algae farms, the biodiesel and ethanol can be sold as additional energy products.
For his part, Berzin calculates that just one 1,000 megawatt power plant using his system could produce more than 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. That would require a 2,000-acre "farm" of algae-filled tubes near the power plant. There are nearly 1,000 power plants nationwide with enough space nearby for a few hundred to a few thousand acres to grow algae and make a good profit, he says.
Now, the utilities aren't just gouging people for energy usage but are instead making it back in the form of fairly green energy. This explosion of biodiesel as a clean fuel could begin to affect car companies as more and more become open to producing diesel versions of their most popular vehicle for customers who want to drive on veggie oil.

Berzin's company in Cambridge, GreenFuel Techonologies is dedicated to educating all about the massive economic and ecologic bonuses coming out of clean air biofuels.

This is a good step in removing CO2 and NOx gases from the atmosphere but I also hope that eventually we'll move towards a more sustainable fuel source using solar and wind. The bottom line is this method is used on smokestacks that continue to belch out millions of pounds of CO2 and NOx every year and isn't really advancing the techological capability of clean energy. However, I'm all for supporting ways in which to clean up our environment, and this is one of the more interesting ways to help our air quality. I also don't want to ignore the fact that had we developed cleaner energy tactics a century ago we wouldn't be looking for ways to limit our emissions today. Still, who woulda thunk algae can absorb such dirty pollutants?


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