Swamp fever
As biofuel production using corn and sugar is criticised for putting
food stocks at risk, could oil from algae solve the energy crisis?
The Guardian, UK. January 9, 2008

"Has a sewage farm just outside the New Zealand city of Blenheim
provided a solution to the world's energy shortages? Aquaflow Bionomic
Corporation, a local start-up, has patented a process to extract biofuel
from sewage, and last year the country's minister for energy, David
Parker, roadtested a car run on the oil of microscopic algae.

In May 2006, the company produced what it claimed was "the first
biodiesel crude from wild algae". The process is secret, although oil
was extracted from algae that had been separated from water, which
Aquaflow wants to leave clean enough to drink.

Faith in algae to provide energy has spread. Last month, Shell announced
it had formed a joint venture with HR Biopetroleum that will construct a
demonstration plant to harvest algae they claim can double their mass
several times a day, providing 15 times more oil per hectare than
alternatives such as rapeseed.

Unlike corn, soya beans, rapeseed and sugar cane - unsustainable
monocultures that threaten food production already jeopardised by
climate change - algae thrive in shallow, brackish water. Like all
plants, they convert sunlight into energy and voraciously consume CO2.

And they need less space than other biofuels. While corn produces 60 or
so gallons of ethanol an acre annually, algae can provide up to 10,000
gallons of biofuel, says Dave Daggett, research chief at Boeing.

However, getting there is a challenge. Those who advocate algae
monoculture believe ponds or bioreactors, closed systems that manipulate
growing conditions, will do the trick eventually. But wild algae
believers reject both methods as costly and unproductive.

"If the future of biofuels is algae, and I believe it is, you're never
going to get enough volume in bioreactors or ponds," says Kelly Ogilvie,
co-founder of Seattle firm Blue Marble Energy, which plans to harvest
wild algae from sewage farms, lakes and rivers, mining ponds and algae
blooms caused by pollution. "It has to be something with greater
volume." He says the best approach is to mimic nature by creating algae
farms, or by harvesting algae blooms. "Why try to out-engineer nature?"
he asks."

Dr. Ann C. Wilkie                          Tel: (352)392-8699
Soil and Water Science Department          Fax: (352)392-7008
University of Florida-IFAS
P.O. Box 110960                         E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Gainesville, FL 32611-0960
Campus location: Environmental Microbiology Laboratory (Bldg. 246).
BioEnergy and Sustainable Technology Society