A start-up company called Sapphire Energy is working on methods of growing algae and converting it into biodiesel fuel. They say they can produce one million gallons of fuel annually by 2011 and one billion gallons by 2025.
According to Sapphire, biodiesel made from algae is chemically identical to crude oil. That means it can be refined to whatever standard is needed and then used in today’s vehicles without an special modifications. The fuel has already been used to power jet airplanes on test flights.
Algae-based biodiesel delivers 10 to 100 times more energy per acre than ethanol. Also, the algae is grown in transparent tubes which require only sunlight and fertilizer. These tubes can be placed on non-arable land so they don’t compete with food crops. An acre of agae tubes will be able to deliver 10 to 100 times more energy than ethanol. It also requires less water than corn. In addition, algae eats up a massive amount of CO2 during its growth (oceanic algaes are actually the main purveyors of photosynthesis on planet earth). This is enough to offset the amount of CO2 released by burning the fuel, meaning algal fuels are CO2-neutral.
Sapphire Energy’s main hurdle is convincing people to switch over to the new fuel. They aren’t getting any government subsidies, which means they won’t be producing fuel no one is buying. In order to get people to switch over to algal based fuels, they need to offer a fuel that will make them a profit while being more economical than gasoline, either by being cheaper or by being more efficient. That’s the only thing that will cause biofuels to become widely adopted.