Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 11:31:11 PM EST
wonder what y'all's thoughts on algae as a source of fuel are:
Exploring Algae as Fuel - NYTimes.com
Algae are attracting attention because the strains can potentially produce 10 or more times more fuel per acre than the corn used to make ethanol or the soybeans used to make biodiesel. Moreover, algae might be grown on arid land and brackish water, so that fuel production would not compete with food production. And algae are voracious consumers of carbon dioxide, potentially helping to keep some of this greenhouse gas from contributing to global warming1.
But efforts to genetically engineer algae, which usually means to splice in genes from other organisms, worry some experts because algae play a vital role in the environment. The single-celled photosynthetic organisms produce much of the oxygen on earth and are the base of the marine food chain.
And they worry me, too, because algae reproduce extremely rapidly -- "doubling in as little as a few hours" -- and are very easily disseminated -- "they can be carried long distances by the wind".
What's more, according to the article, companies are
developing algae that can thrive in extremely salty and exceedingly alkaline water.
as well as
algae that capture less light. Right now, he explained, algae capture more light than they need and waste a lot of it as heat. If each organism captured less, then a given amount of light could be shared by more organisms, increasing biomass production.
In other words, there is this drive to create super-algae that reproduce at unprecedentedly fast rates, and that can survive in new, tougher environments.
The article quotes experts who dismiss the risks and/or harmful impact of genetically engineered algae escaping into the environment:
"Everything we do to engineer an organism makes it weaker," said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-founder of Sapphire. "This idea that we can make Frankenfood or Frankenalgae is just absurd."
Dr. Mayfield and other scientists say there have been no known environmental problems in the 35 years that scientists have been genetically engineering bacteria, although some organisms have undoubtedly escaped from laboratories.
Even Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been critical of biotech crops, said that if genetically engineered algae were to escape, "I would not lose sleep over it at all."
But one quote raised a red flag for me about the possibility that all the hype about genetically modified algae's green energy potential and all the poo-poo'ing of its risks come down to money trumping caution:
"Re-engineering algae seems driven more by patent law and investor desire for protection than any real requirement," said Stan Barnes, chief executive of Bioalgene, which is one of those companies [that are sticking with searching for and breeding natural strains].
Anyone know anything about this topic?
1Somewhat misleading: While algae are voracious consumers of energy,
The production of biofuels from algae does not reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), because any CO2 taken out of the atmosphere by the algae is returned when the biofuels are burned. They do however eliminate the introduction of new CO2 by displacing fossil hydrocarbon fuels.
Algae fuel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia