Algae: The Next Frontier
We're warming. I know this may seem hard to fathom, especially when many of us are struggling to fit as many sweaters as possible under our winter jackets just to take a walk outside, but we are warming.And it’s not pretty. Globally, we are running out of chocolate, houses are crumbling, California is in drought, and the Netherlands is sinking.
Well, technically, the proper nomenclature is four words: “Carbon Capture and Storage”. Otherwise known as CCS, Carbon Capture and Storage is the process of capturing greenhouse gas emitted by large industrial plants, compressing this gas for transportation, and then injecting it into a rock formation, where it can be permanently stored.
But that's just one method.
Today, much of the gasoline in the U.S. and Brazil encompasses somewhere around 10% ethanol, which is essentially corn (and sometimes sugarcane) turned into fuel. The limitation with ethanol is that for this concept to truly be scalable, corn would have to dominate farmland. In other words, unless we want to live in cities inundated with corn stalks, there's simply not enough space.
Algae, similar to corn, are able to sequester carbon out of the air. The competitive advantage here is that 70% of the earth's surface is unused water. Algae does not require tending to.
But the end game is turning sequestered carbon into fuel, and this is not being done on a commercialized basis.
...Why not? Glad you asked. Three major reasons.
1. Strain development - in other words, not all algae are created equal. Some algae are more efficient at sequestering and churning carbon. The struggle lies in finding the algae.
2. Cultivating and harvesting - algae are floating everywhere. Scientists and environmentalists have been striving to find a way to efficiently capture these floating plants.
3. Extraction - unearthing crude oil from algae is not easy. There are refineries dedicating to performing such a task, but it is not cheap.
Algae to fuel is hardly a new concept. What's new is that recent breakthroughs in technology have enabled the cost to come down to about $7.50 per galloon.
This is progress, but it is not enough.
The Department of Energy has granted $48.6 million dedicating to developing a fuel source from algae. Yet, this is just a drop in the bucket. Here's the real problem. Oil companies should be doing more than just lip service. Exxon, Chevron, Shell and the other big players have expressed interest, but there has been very little action.
We should all be dreaming of the day when we go to the gas station and say "Fill me up with some green algae please!"