Energy from Algae – Green, Slimy and A Fuel of the Future

Pond green with algae

One of the more surprising forms of energy that may soon be playing a larger part in our everyday lives is derived from Algae. This algae, or “Algae Fuel” is a form of biomass energy and as the name suggests it is derived from various forms of algae that are commonly found in our waterways and oceans. So why the fuss about Algae you may ask, we already have a number of bio-fuels that are yet to reach fruition, so why add another? Well one of the pluses is that whilst co2 is released when the algae-fuel is consumed, this co2 is absorbed by the algae culture itself as it grows. Another is that it is truly a green fuel (not just in colour!) but that it is sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly. So whilst not a miracle cure (is there such a thing?), it is capable of being a carbon neutral fuel.

The downside is that as the technology and science is relatively new, it may be some time before it becomes viable for the home user, though this is true of any new form of energy and the research that goes into the tech will define how far this fuel goes to fulfilling our everyday energy needs. As you may have guessed this biofuel is capable of being grown in an “open pond” environment, so depending how the technology improves it has the potential to generate energy in even the most remote locations around the world. However it shows the most promise under what is called a photobioreactor, which whilst may sound fancy essentially just means pumping the algae through glass tubes which are exposed to sunlight that encourages the growth of the bacteria that forms the algae.

Ok, i’m off to harvest the slime from my garden pond

Hold on, it’s not quite that simple. You see whilst you may have slime, i mean algae, you need a means to extract the oils from the cells of the bacteria themselves. It is possible to dry out the algae and use what is known as an oil press to extract the oil itself, leaving a dried out biomass which can also be burnt for fuel. However in commercial applications it’s more likely that a chemical process will be used which does hold hope for a more portable system for use in homes. Currently though the main producers of this fuel are likely to produce, or farm to use the correct term, algae-fuel on a mass basis which of course will help keep costs down as this technology matures.

A really neat idea is that of algaetec who use shipping containers as part of their award-winning algae farming setup, details of which you can see in the video below…

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