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James Stafford

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Algae Creeps Slowly Towards Viability

Right now algae is simply too expensive to produce—and the process uses more energy than we get back. But by around 2017, with more money being dumped into research, we should start seeing enough advances to close the cost gap. For the Obama administration, 2022 is the Year of Algae—the year it hopes to see commercial viability. We’re not entirely convinced of the timeframe, but we’re giving algae the benefit of the doubt—for now, especially since it has plenty of commercial applications beyond fuel.  

Politically, algae is a sore topic. The right uses it against the left, setting algae up as the butt of all manner of jokes. But the Obama administration has a thing for algae, and that translates into dollars to further the research necessary to catapult algae into the economically viable biofuels playing field. In fact, earlier this month, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced $16.5 million in support for the development of algae biofuels.

So that’s the politics. Let’s look at the realities of algae as a biofuel.

 The potential is more amazing that one would think, though it’s still prohibitively expensive and cannot yet be produced commercially anywhere in the world. While corn can grow up to 8 tons of biomass per acre, algae can grow up to 40 tons of biomass per acre, according to Green Plains Renewable Energy CEO Todd Becker. But this is just the potential.

While algae is already…

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