Fill Up Your Tank with Algae- The New Green Gold
Algae-Based Renewable Energy May Have Fast Fueled Future-
Sapphire Energy – based in La Jolla, California – recently announced that they expect to produce one million gallons of diesel and jet fuel annually by 2011, doubling their original estimation. The company, which is renowned in the algae biofuel industry, has produced over $100M with help from big-name financiers such as Bill Gates, ARCH Venture Partners, Venrock and Welcome Trust. The company is also working with American Continental and JAL commercial airlines to provide jet fuel for the large corporations’ needs, proving its staying power in the green energy industry. The company boasts that their technology is different from others, in that their biofuel can be used with existing U.S. cars, trucks, airplanes, pipelines and refineries. Sapphire’s jet fuel was analyzed earlier in the year to test the commercial use of algae biofuels in flight and Continental Airlines reported that the Boeing 737-800 test flights on Jan 7th were successful. The test was the first for algae-based biomass on commercial airlines. Holden Shannon, Continental’s senior vice president for global research and security, recently stated during a congressional meeting, “Continental’s primary role in the demonstration was to show that the biofuel blend would perform just like traditional jet fuel in our existing aircraft without modification of the engines or the aircraft. This is important because … the current engine and airframe technology is unlikely to change materially for many years, so it is crucial that alternative fuel be safe for use with the current aircraft technology.” Algae-based fuel procedures use sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to convert carbon dioxide into sugar, then the algae metabolizes into lipids, or oil. The algae industry says it can generate this fuel by using non-potable water and without turning more forests into farms, which tackles the majority of environmental issues with corn and soy-based biofuels. Another excellent advantage of algae fuel is its vast expenditure of carbon dioxide. Sapphire’s process of conversion uses 1 kilogram of algae to 1.8 kilograms CO2 and about 50 percent of that algae biomass is oil, so each gallon of oil produced will consume about 13 to 14 percent of the greenhouse gas. Even as the company uses energy to transport water and CO2 to its algae manufacturing plants in New Mexico and ship the fuels they generate, the lifecycle emissions are two-thirds to three-quarters less than those supplying traditional diesel fuels. Sapphire projects that they will be producing more than 100 million gallons a year by 2018 and 1 billion gallons annually by 2020, which is enough to meet almost 3 percent of the United States renewable fuel standard (RFS) of 36 billion gallons annually. However, the problem lies with U.S. Federal Law, whose standards do not make room for algae-based biofuel in the RFS. The recent energy law restricts corn ethanol production at 15 billion gallons annually by 2015 and only allows the leftover 21 billion gallons of renewable fuels to come from advanced biofuels. Regardless of the efficiency of algae-based renewable fuel, Congress and other lawmakers need to step in to enact policy changes so that we may explore every avenue of alternative energy. It would be sensible and practical to provide renewable energy credits (RECs) for carbon-emitting corporations which reduce and reuse greenhouse gases, to ensure our future is fueled by green energy and independent of foreign oil.