Biofuels can be produced by any number of oil- or sugar-producing plants. Switchgrass, wood chips, and sugarcane have all had turns being the new buzz in the alternate fuels market. A new contender joins the scene, potentially cheaper and more efficient: algae. Still in the experimental stage, there are several companies and several methods being developed to harness the power of microalgae, the "original oil producer." Why original? Crude oil's most significant source is the fossilized remains of algae bodies. Today's developers are faced with the task of speeding up a process that until now has taken millions of years. Whether grown outside in ponds or in labs fed on sugar, that process can be truncated to several days. The genetic strains undergo directive evolution by specialized, hybrid
Algae is the best potential source for vegetable fuel because it doubles its body mass in a few hours, absorbing greenhouse gases as it does so, and when burned releases relatively low levels of pollutants.
Currently, research is not providing the billion-barrel levels that oil companies reckon with, but is projected to reach 100 million gallon-level productivity by 2010, according to Lissa Norgenthaler-Jones, CEO of LiveFuels, Inc. In the meantime, this high-quality, cheaper source of energy is being tested in production for biodiesel, rocket-fuel, industrial chemicals and plastics.
Seattle's AXI, San Francisco's Solazyme, and Cambridge's Greenfuel Technologies, among others, have algae-energy programs . Brazil joined the scene last week to invest in this next arena of untapped renewable energy sources. The Brazilian government currently obtains bio-diesel from "oil-producing plants such as castor, sunflower, soy, and palm and is a world leader in ethanol from sugar cane" according to South Atlantic News Agency MercoPress .
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