Biodiesel algae are a type of water-growing plant cultivated for use as a fuel. This relatively new product is made possible because of the high content of oil the algae contains. Biodiesel algae are being heavily researched and invested in around the world, as governments and scientists search desperately for a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels.
If you have ever seen a pond covered in greenish plant material, you have seen algae at work. This plant, whose variations include seaweeds and kelp, grows at an astonishing rate and can spread over large bodies of water quickly. Their rapid growth and quick repopulation is one of the main strengths of algae; they have the ability to regrow much quicker than other oil-producing crops used for biofuel, such as canola or soybeans.
To make biodiesel from algae, the plant is harvested and undergoes processing to extract the oil. Typically, extraction is done through mechanically-based expelling methods or through a chemical process that divides the oil from the rest of the algae material. Extraction is one of the easier parts of using biodiesel algae to create fuel; the more complicated issue is managing and controlling the growth of the plant.
Early research efforts, such as the 1978 United States Department of Education effort, called the Aquatic Species Program, utilized open water sources as growing grounds for biodiesel algae. Although algae can spread across almost any body of water, its growth is somewhat unpredictable and unmanageable in open pond settings. Today, companies growing the algae typically use test tube methods, such as photobioreactors, to grow biodiesel algae in contained, uncontaminated settings. Because the plant requires concentrated carbon dioxide to grow properly, some experts suggest having cultivation sites near power plants, which produce a high level of carbon dioxide.
Fuel from algae is part of the growing category of green fuels and alternatives to traditional oil sources. In contrast to some plants used to create biofuel, algae seems to cause very few problems with its production. Crops such as soybeans and corn are costly and polluting to convert into biodiesel, and with many countries suffering enormous rates of malnutrition and starvation, critics wonder if we should be using precious land to grow crops for fuel rather than food. Algae is unique in that it can be grown in laboratory settings or on seawater and even waste water.
Due to increasing global warming, environmental concerns, and a serious draining of natural fossil fuel reserves, the world finds itself in an oil crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. In recent years, a shift in industry has lead to increased searching for sustainable, inexpensive alternatives to the fossil fuel that runs our cars, factories and much of our world. While the use of biodiesel algae is still in its infancy, its production has attracted dozens if not hundreds of investors and scientists. If you've ever looked at pond scum with disgust, you may want to take another look: that scummy green material could be a major key to restoring the environment and saving the planet.