Wednesday, October 01, 2008

algal biofuels


I had dinner tonight with a researcher visiting our lab, who works in the field of algal biofuels. He told me that they are far from commercial reality. The numbers you see in the press are extrapolations from lab studies and attempts to scale them up to commercial scales suffer huge losses in efficiency, producing ~20% of the frequently quoted figures, probably due to the need to keep the cultures on a knife edge balance between lethal stress and rapidly reproducing.


"diatom algae needs silicon in the water to grow, whereas green algae requires nitrogen to grow. Under nutrient deficiency the algae produced more oils per weight of algae, however the algae growths also were significantly less."

From here.

I can't help but be disappointed as I had fallen under the spell of the PR and was poising myself to spring into this line of research and save the world. I haven't abandoned that idea, I'm just going to have to work a bit harder for it. But then a slightly demented man once said "nothing that's worth having in this world comes easy".

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