We all know that biofuel is derived from plants like corn, wood, sugar or soybean. By extracting these plants, we can obtain biofuel that is used in our daily life. Alga biofuel is based on the same concept. Algae are the organisms that thrive in damp, wet and moist areas. They mostly creep onto plants and can even be found near rivers, on rocks and sometimes, even on a few animals. The high oil prices since the last couple of years and the growing need of alternative fuels has triggered research in the algae farming area. One of the lesser known algae biofuel facts is that the land area unfit for agriculture can be used to create ponds of algae that can be used to create fuels like vegetable oil biodiesel, bioethanol, biobutanol, biogasoline, biomethanol, and other biofuel. Algae cultivation is the latest buzz in the scientific and farming community. Its pros and cons have been discussed further.
Algae Biofuel - Pros
Proponents of algae biofuel argue that it is a crucial renewable source of energy and it is an answer for the energy sustainability issues. This is so because algae biofuel is inherently carbon neutral. What does this mean? Well, when algae grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. When algae is burned, it emits carbon dioxide, they don't contribute to the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Instead, they just give out the CO2 which was used during photosynthesis. In this way, it maintains the neutrality of the carbon in the environment. Although not many researches have yet been conducted regarding the use of algae biofuel as the next fuel for American transportation, few studies that have been conducted in this field are believed to be very optimistic about the role of algae biofuel, as an alternative fuel, in the coming years.
Moreover, unlike agriculture or forestation that requires a vast expanse of land, growing algae in algaculture is relatively easier and requires lesser water and other resources. This has increased the chances of algae biofuel to be called the 3rd generation fuel. Algae are also regarded to be one of the most important biofuels produced from plant feedstock because of their easier maintenance. They hardly require any physical support and they use everything they need from the surroundings. Unlike plant feedstock, they don't produce extra extensions such as leaves, stems or even roots. It is also believed that production of bio oils from plants like corn are way lower than what can be produced by diatomic algae and microlagae in a year. While issues regarding the use of algae bio fuel in truck engines is taken with suspicion, it is a fact that many supporters of this fuel believe that with little modification, it will be easier to use biodiesel derived from algae to be used in engines!
Algae Biofuel - Cons
High cost and high energy consumption are regarded to be the main cons in production of algae biofuel. Questions have been raised about the commercial feasibility of this seemingly modest form of fuel production. The costs regarding algae production include maintaining and constructing algaculture ponds, raising algae species, providing required nutrients to the growing species and extracting bio fuels from the species. Another disadvantage of this bio fuel is that it requires higher amounts of CO2 to perform efficiently. For large ponds of algae, a special CO2 atmosphere will be required if the algae species are to produce the biodiesel fuel. The question that the scientific community now faces is that how's it going to be possible to capture and supply CO2 to algae production sites in large amounts. Other major issues related to algae bio fuel production are the issues of weather and climate changes. If there is an abrupt change in weather, production can be severely hampered. The threat of algae contamination is another compelling issue that worries environmentalists.
Now that we know about several algae biofuel pros and cons, what do you think we should do? We must definitely try to develop our technology so that such biofuel can be easily tapped. Hopefully, our energy crisis will be solved after a few decades, when advanced technology will be developed to extract biodiesel oils from large ponds of algaculture! Let us wait and watch!