by Jamie Donovan and Ned Stowe, EESI
Washington, DC, United States [RenewableEnergyWorld.com]

As America tries to wean itself off of fossil fuels, it is turning to renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass. The transportation industry relies almost entirely on petroleum, and it accounted for almost 30 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2006. Transportation is the fastest growing source of GHG emissions, according to the U.S. EPA.

Alarmed by high fuel prices, a costly dependence on imported oil and rising GHG emissions, Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2005 and strengthened it in 2007, under the Energy Security and Independence Act. The law requires biofuel production to climb from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons in 2022. Of the 36 billion gallons, no more than 15 billion gallons can be corn-based ethanol, the remainder being advanced biofuels that meet at least a 50 percent GHG reduction requirement.

Algae has emerged as a promising feedstock for future biofuels due to its high energy content, energy yield per acre, fast growth and ability to grow in water of varying quality. Algae’s potential, at least in theory, is remarkable. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), algae may be able to produce 100 times more oil per acre than soybeans—currently the leading source of U.S. biodiesel—or any other terrestrial oil-producing crop. Because of its high energy content, oil from algae can be refined into biodiesel, green gasoline, jet fuel or ethanol. Lastly, algae need only water, sunlight and CO2 to grow. And, it grows rapidly.

That said, cultivating algae on a commercial scale is no easy task. The industry is still testing a wide variety of methods for growing algae — open ponds, closed bioreactors or other processes…

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