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The 90 Day Plan

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Graduate's New Word: Algae

The popular line from The Graduate can usher in the new era now... "One word. Plastics." can now be described as "One word. Algae."

Thanks to the rapidly advancing field of Algaculture, the blue-green revolution continues at a hopeful pace.  This is not breaking news, but there are signs that this technology is reaching a practical level faster than expected.  Exxon and General Atomics are investing hundreds of millions of dollars on applied research.  If this doesn't give you hope for the process, than consider the other potential uses of algae as a dietary supplement, water treatment, and other beneficial uses.

Not all algae is created equal though and in many cases, algal blooms have a devastating effect on local ecosystems.  In the Sacramento River, the first 40 miles of river are as pristine as the headwaters at the base of Mt. Shasta.  Once the river dips into agricultural land, the nutrient rich runoff and slower waters are perfect for Algae blooms.  The clarity of the water is drastically reduced and the algae clings to rocks and increases turbidity.  Perhaps this is a contributor to the decline in fish populations, it's not the algae's fault though, they are merely being fed an endless buffet of nitrates and phosphates from fertilizer runoff from one of the greatest Agricultural areas in the United States.

Would it be possible to trap the runoff before it hits the river and allow Algal blooms to be contained in pools and harvested for nutrients and potential biofuel?  Could we improve river water quality by fixing the nitrogen in the Algae before it contaminates the river?  Could farmers utilize this veggie diesel/biofuel to power their tractors, combines, and shakers and reduce their reliance on traditional diesel?  All of this remains to be proven through basic applied research, but from an early stage analysis of the state of the art and the millions of dollars of investment from big oil companies, I believe that the answer is yes.

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