Algae Biofuel

As the earth has reached “Peak Oil,” the pressure for alternative fuel sources is now being taken seriously. However, due to complications driven by taking food sources and fuel sources from the same crop, the two must be separated—giving rise to the use of microalgae ponds and marine systems. Algae use dominantly photosynthesis (or energy from the sun to produce proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and range in size from kelp to seaweed. The algae is harvested and its oil extracted through “…transesterifi cation whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products—methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin” (ingredient in soap).2 The research on the nutrient types which algae thrive on is being investigated by several parties including the above listed—these nutrients include human and animal waste and wastewater, among others.3 The algae consume C02 (carbon dioxide) and produce 02 (oxygen) through the sun’s energy. Jonathan Trent and his OMGEA team at NASA investigated three research scenarios for algae biofuel production: 1) tank filled with water in Santa Cruz, CA; 2) wastewater in San Francisco Bay; and 3) on site test in Monterey Bay. His research aimed to determine what “makes them [the algae] happy” and engineer photobioreactors (PBR)—the “inexpensive”, “floating” plastic structures enabling the growth of the algae.4 After several “horrible failures” they developed a PBR which worked at a smaller, then slightly larger scale.4 The idea had not yet reached its “real life” potential at his June 2012 TED talk; thus, an artist’s rendering conveyed his ideas of “integration” (meaning algae biofuel harvesting connected with renewable energy and aquaculture) in creating true sustainability.4

1. Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Algae to Solve the Pentagon’s Jet Fuel Problem.” The Observer. Web. 13 Feb. 2010. Accessed 26 Aug. 2010. <;.
2. “Biodiesel Basics: What is Biodisesel?” Web. Accessed 26 Aug. 2013.
3. Hickey, Walter. “14 Advanced Military Projects That Could Change the World Forever.” Business Insider. Accessed Web. 26 Aug. 2013. <;.
4. Trent, Jonathan.“Energy From Floating Algae Ponds.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Accessed Web. 26 Aug. 2013.
< oating_algae_pods.html>.