Using Algae for Biofuels

Algae Seen Through Microscope

Algae Seen Through Microscope

Not quite saltwater aquarium related, but I thought I’d share anyway. The large oil companies, realizing crude oil won’t be around forever, are beginning to look to the future. Many companies invest in natural gas, solar energy, wind energy, and wave energy in order to decrease the human need for fossil fuels. Some companies are climbing a little farther out onto the limb, investing in biofuels as well. One of those companies, ExxonMobil, has teamed up with a genomics company to grow algae. That’s right, algae.

In July 2009, ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics Inc. partnered up to build a greenhouse that will improve the research and testing of various algae species used in biofuels production. This facility was designed to test whether the large-scale production of biofuels via algae can produce an affordable fuel source. The facility was also used to determine what type of system (e.g. open ponds and photobioreators) is best suited for algae growth. Additionally, both natural and engineered algae strains were tested. In keeping with traditional scientific research, hundreds of variables were taken into account to determine the optimum levels for algae growth.

Continue reading below for the facility’s accomplishments and future milestones, as well as a little of our opinion.

In the year since the facility’s opening was announced, ExxonMobil and SGI were able to isolate and engineer several strains of algae to serve as potential candidates, develop growth conditions to maximize algae productivity, identify and test various characteristics of the production system, and begin studies focused on the impact of each step in the biofuel production process on emissions. In 2011, ExxonMobil and SGI are planning to open an outdoor test facility.

I’m very excited to see oil companies moving to greener energy. I’m a tad nervous about “engineered” algae strains, but I feel this research is extremely important for our future energy needs. Not only is biofuel more “green”, but it will also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.


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