Green Crude (Gas) Made From….Algae?
As a SCUBA diver, and former marine aquarium junkie, I know a fair share about algae…you know, the nasty green or brown tiny plants that grow on the glass of an aquarium, or that turn ponds and unkept pools green? Well how about using this plant to create gas? That’s what Sapphire Energy is trying to do. They have issued a press release about their innovative research, and hopefully soon, a product.
I’m always very skeptical of “gasoline replacement” fads because, for the most part, they never seem to work. Now, before you start screaming and carrying-on, take the tin-foil off of your head and join us in reality…it’s very unlikely that the government (and every government in the world) is covering up for the big bad oil companies as they murder, plunder alternative ideas, and kill off potential competition. C’mon…you just can’t keep stuff like that a secret; too many prying eyes. It just doesn’t make sense…so let’s not go there.
Now, being a skeptic (and I must add, a layman…as I am very far from an expert on fuel…just a concerned, but moderately eductated consumer), corn-based bio fuels has not excited me much for several reasons; trading dwindling agricultural land and water for gas production not being the least of them. I have been waiting for something that just makes more sense…and is hopefully something a little more radical from a science perspective, but feasible from a market perspective. If it turned out to be cleaner, cheaper to produce, and more renewable…all the better. I also knew, from my economics training, that when gas prices got high enough (i.e. as global and local demand continued up and supply stayed the same or decreased a la rationing from OPEC, no more refinement capacity, and even possibly actual dwindling world supplies of crude) that it would become financially feasible to come up with alternatives. Maybe we’ve finally reached that point.
As a budding airplane pilot (and avid auto driver…I’m American, after all :)), I would love more this and other efforts to produce real (hopefully cheaper in the end) alternatives to dino fuel. But its not just so I pay less for Aviation Gas at the airport or 91 Octane at the Chevron down the street…everything gets cheaper to produce and sell if fuel prices decrease. That said, I don’t think fuel prices are too far out of whack from inflation (I’d have to check the latest numbers), but still, cheaper is better.
Sapphire’s efforts seem promising to me. First, algae grows like mad…and in water, even waste water. It also grows pretty much anywhere there is water and sunlight and CO2 (i.e. pretty much anywhere). Their process appears to produce something that very much approximates gasoline so it should run in existing cars, trucks, boats, planes, etc. It can be moved and sold using today’s infrastructure for gasoline. The big questions are, for me: will it work? will it be cheap, when it’s all said and done? Only time will tell on these.
With Sapphire’s press release and some other sources, including this article from the LA Times (which indicates goals of having this completed and on the market in three years), though, I’m feeling some of my skepticism get ever so slightly weaker. Hopefully for more than just a moment. For now, I’m rooting for my gas to turn green in a few years.
This is my “dream” job…at least from the perspective of the industry in which I would most like to work. As I result, I’m also a layman, but interested observer. Here’s an article about a similar technology that uses bugs who turn waste into oil. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article4133668.ece