Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finally! A Non-Financial Topic

My brother-in-law sent me the following articles on "energy from algae."

The concept is intriguing, if true: grow green algae (pond scum) in a tank, and then cycle them through a series of vertically arranged, long, thin, soft plastic packets to expose them to sunlight. The biomass of this algae, according to the investigator, is 50 percent lipids (vegetable oil) by weight.

Algae production would overcome certain problems related to corn-based ethanol:

  • It generates more biofuel per acre.
  • It does not take away from food supplies.
  • It does not force farmers to clear new land to produce other ethanol-producing plants.

Now the claims that Mr. Kertz of Valcent Products makes are a bit pie in the sky, sort of like the energy promises of solar power satellite advocates, but what the heck, we need all the alternatives we can find, right? Still, the science fiction writer in me wonders a few things:

  • What is the power input/output ratio (i.e., how much energy does it cost to produce this stuff vs. how much energy does the algae actually produce)?
  • Where does the power come from to keep the pump and oil extrusion facilities going?
  • What happens when the algae gets a disease--natural or artificial?
  • What happens if water, sunlight, or some other critical aspect of the whole scheme becomes limited?

At least people are thinking creatively. I'd be curious to know how much government funding this guy is getting. Still, if the power potential is real, the market is there, and the federal expenditure is minimal, then it might well be an investment worth making. Or better, keep the government the hell out of it, and let me buy stock!

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