The Bright Future Found in Growing our own Fuel
by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
The United States imports roughly three and a half billion of barrels of oil annuallyi, and in return ships about $350 Billion U.S. dollars out of our country every yearii . This comes to about $1,200 per citizen. If we could figure out a way to stop buying foreign oil, that $350 billion would be left locally to create new jobs here at home. That $350 billion would chop our current $498 billion balance of trade deficit by 70%!.iii
Turns out there is a very rapidly emerging solution which would be cheaper than importing oil, reduce pollution and create local jobs, and. It is called "Bio-fuel from Algae". And it can be done locally!
Lessons learned over the last few years are being incorporated in this rapidly changing industry as national production from bio-fuels of all sorts has ramped up from 331 million gallons in 2009 to 1 billion gallons in 2011.iv Pilot projects demonstrated that the technology is ready for commercialization, and large scale technical systems are being prepared for production.
Efforts to get fuel from plants have been around for some time, and have in fact produced a lot of fuel, and a great deal of political heat. One of the first attempts to deal with this opportunity was to raise traditional crops like corn and soybeans which would be turned into oil. While this did produce various kinds of bio-fuel, there was a lot of criticism that the world price of corn and other crops rose beyond reach for many poor nations, creating food shortages.
Given the choice between growing food or growing fuel, finding a bio-fuel source that did not compete with food became of high importance. Algae wins, because biodiesel produced from soybeans produces 50 gals/acre/yr, biodiesel from corn yields 1300 gals/acre/yr, vand biodiesel from algae produces between 5000 and 15,000 gallons per year from the same acre!vi
More good news: The production process using algae can be designed so that the algae feeds on pollution from sewage treatment plants, and CO2 from any fossil fuel burning plant, like an electric generation plant or brick plant. Instead of needing fertilizer, the algae based bio-fuels production process consumes things that can harm our air, water, or climate!
Bio-fuels from algae can be grown anywhere. Australian researchers, after studying the results of working pilot projects, concluded that "the cost of saltwater algae production is now, based on current science, lower that the cost of diesel from fossil crude oil".vii Efforts are now underway to create many bio-diesel algae farms in that nation.
The scaling up of this and similar projects has now attracted investors from the major fossil fuel refining companies, and the governments of China and India. There are over 30 significant United States companies hard at work in this field now, including several well known names listed on the U.S. Stock exchange. Several of these companies have developed modular algae production/ refining units using shipping containers as basic structures, leading to a easily transported, standardized, durable production plant which can be scaled up simply by adding more containers.
The National Algae Association has been working to create an industry which will provide a decentralized industry producing liquid fuels . According to Executive Director Mr. Barry Cohen, preliminary 5 acre pilot projects have demonstrated the ability to successfully produce bio-fuels from algae using techniques that will produce the bio-crude (oil not yet refined) for around $1.50 per gallon when scaled up, which compares very favorably to the cost of imported crude oil (oil not yet refined) at $2.30 last week. viii
Local community business people and elected officials now need to abandon a whole set of assumptions that they grew up with, like "Oil is refined on the gulf coast", and "It is a shame, but we have no ability to produce a local supply of transportation fuel where we live", and most importantly "We cannot create jobs in our town by producing vehicle fuel". These life shaping assumptions are all now becoming obsolete.
Whenever I hear people talking about the economy coming back, they are usually thinking in terms of a return to whatever the local economy used to be based on - furniture, textiles, timber, and so forth. This limits their thinking to the familiar. Isn't it exciting to think of an even better future, with different building blocks that strengthens our national security while creating a healthier environment?
What is needed is the courage to decide to become a stronger economic community by taking advantage of local waste heat, local sewage treatment plant pollution, local high school science teachers (go to YouTube and search on "Bio-diesel from algae" "high school" to see why), local gas stations and oil distributors and entrepreneurs to form public/private partnerships. we could share the joy of disconnecting from an energy system fraught with expense, politics, pollution, and conflict.
With this new science and engineering, we will no longer need to be dependent on imported oil - we just need the gumption to create a better future for ourselves, and our children.
i U.S. Energy Information Administration, June 24, 2011 "EIA's Energy in Brief
iv Biodiesel Magazine eia-reports-shows-continued-increase-in-biodiesel
viii personal phone conversations held February 8, 2012