Though there is much mention of the promise of algal biofuels and word of their commercial development, it seems timely to view what precisely has been achieved in terms of significant algal biofuel production rather than laboratory-based research, which has been going on for about 50 years. The U.S. Navy has fuelled a destroyer ship using 20,000 gallons of algae-based biofuel for a 20-hour trip, and is its largest alternative fuel experiment to date.
Thus a decommissioned destroyer made a successful journey from San Diego to Port Hueneme, in California. In terms of air-transport, United/Continental Airlines have made a second successful test flight powered by algal fuel, flying from Houston to Chicago. In 2011, over 100,000 gallons of algae-based biofuel was purchased to fuel the Navy's "Great Green Fleet" in addition to a number of separate tests of algae-derived fuels on various aircraft and boats. It is thought that by the end of 2012, the fleet will be fully operational, making the Navy an algal biofuel leader.
Privately funded efforts have been made to inaugurate commercial-scale algae farms on open-land, inside commercial buildings and in shipping containers, all of which has aided the National Algae Association to enhance its base of knowledge, research, collaboration and deployment opportunities. Clearly, there is a pivotal role for collaboration between universities, colleges, community colleges and the algae production companies to provide algal fuel on a significant scale.
Economically this year is unlikely to be any better than 2011, and so issues of expense, practical difficulty and that far more research is necessary before any serious production can be accomplished might act to militate against a significant development of algal biofuel. In view of the likely imminent arrival time of the supply-demand gap for conventional crude oil, it would make sense to spend more money on grand-scale algae production than on basic research alone.
By. Professor Chris Rhodes
Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to become the youngest professor of physical chemistry in the U.K. at the age of 34.
A prolific author, Chris has published more than 400 research and popular science articles (some in national newspapers: The Independent and The Daily Telegraph)
He has recently published his first novel, "University Shambles" was published in April 2009 (Melrose Books). http://universityshambles.com