Researchers believe that pond scum, or algae, may become an important source of biofuel within the next decade. Solix Biofuels, a Colorado-based company, and Colorado State University’s (CSU’s) Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory are collaborating to make algae-based alternative fuel a viable energy solution. Jim Sears, Solix Biofuels Founder and Chief Inventions Officer, estimates that the pond scum could produce up to one hundred times more biodiesel per hectare than canola or soy.

Scientists works on algae-based biofuel research

Scientists predict that algae-based biofuel will be available within the next decade. Credit: DOE/NREL, Warren Gretz

Utilizing algae as a biofuel source has several advantages, such as needing only a minimal amount of precipitation each year to grow, its fast growth rate, and the carbon-neutral technology that produces it. Currently, CSU and Solix Biofuels are developing thousands of large growing troughs to house the algae. The troughs are covered with a plastic lid, which allows sunlight to enter but prevents water from evaporating.

“It is about one thousand times more efficient to produce fuel from algae than it is from an irrigated crop,” said Sears. “There’s enough water even in the desert from natural rainfall to support this technology.”

Growing the algae in this way also conserves space.

“Actually we wouldn’t have to convert any of our arable land,” Sears noted. “We could use desert land to grow this algae. It doesn’t require good soil, just flat land, carbon dioxide, and sunlight.”

The technology and processes continue to be refined, and it is estimated that algae-based biofuel may become widely available within the next decade. In addition to CSU and Solix Biofuels, the National Renewable Energy Lab and other organizations are also working to develop the fuel.

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