With oil prices skyrocketing, food costs peaking, and the economy in a recession, consumers are looking for a way to relieve the strain on their thinning pocketbooks. One of the ways to ease this stress is to look towards a cheaper, more efficient form of fuel. Here's where the exciting new bio-fuels industry comes into play. Currently, the most widely known alternative fuel source comes corn in the form of ethanol. But, is this fuel the best route to take? What about the increasing interest in algae as the base for an alternative fuel source? This article compares and contrasts the more conventional bio-fuel ethanol with bio-fuel produced from algae.
At first glance, ethanol seems like a great way to wean ourselves off of expensive foreign oil dependence. Lobbyists market ethanol as a clean, green, renewable, domestically produced fuel. But, are there hidden dangers lurking in these sprawling corn fields? According to Nobel Laureate Paul Cortzen's recent findings, bio-ethanol and bio-diesel (made from rapeseed) release more nitrous oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere than our current fossil fuels, whereas the algae based bio-fuel actually consumes available atmospheric CO2 and N2O when processed.
Also, ethanol, the seemingly miraculous alternative fuel, is predicted to reach a stockpile of 30 billion gallons by 2016, depleting half the U. S. supply of corn. This consumption has many consequences: With the supplies of corn, wheat, and other grains being consumed at such a high rate, there will be significantly less food for our domestic livestock; consequently, meat production will decrease, meat prices will increase at the supermarket, and less meat and grain will be exported to other countries.
As for the eco-footprint of ethanol, there is concern over its supposed environmentally friendly production methods. With increased corn and grain production more land is needed, as well as more fertilizer. This increase of fertilization could result in potentially harmful carcinogenic runoff into our water supply.
Algae, on the other hand, has a small eco-footprint and is a low-cost, high-yield alternative.
First, producing algae as the foundation for bio-fuel is remarkably simple-anyone can do it if they put in the time and research.
All you need to do is build a temperature controlled “photo bioreactor" (any glass or plastic tank will work), use the right strain of algae, and allow photosynthesis to do the rest. Granted, not everyone will want to put in the time and effort, but the point is that if they wanted to make their own fuel, they could. For a company with the time and startup cost to go into business as a producer of algae based bio-fuel, it is estimated that one acre can produce up to 5,000 gallons of fuel a year!
This ease and profitability of production, almost nonexistent eco-footprint, and independence from corporate lobbyists makes algae a much more promising and exciting new alternative fuel source than ethanol.
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