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Monday, November 29, 2010
Algal Biofuels: Will San Diego become the "Green Houston"?
Many have argued that Algal Biofuels hold promise as an alternative fuel source and that San Diego is well situated to become the "Green Houston".
Can biotechnology revolutionize the oil industry by creating algal biomass with high lipid content that can feed directly into industrial petroleum refineries?
Will San Diego County play a central role in this beyond the pilot plant?
Will refineries dot the horizon in the future and be colocated with the algal ponds so as to sequester the CO2 from the production process?
Modern algae research indicates many reasons to be hopeful that algae can play a competitive role in our alternative energy future.
With regards to cost, a recent study indicated that there are many benefits to co-location with wastewater treatment facilities equipped with decomposers that collect natural gas.
Like many chemical feedstocks in production today, there will be little waste as we will be able to utilize many aspects of the biomass created from Algae production and once we are able to realize some economies of scale, it seems that the price of Algal biofuels will come down as well.
With the hundreds of thousands of species of Algae in the world, and through modern genomic advances, we are nearing the brink of an Algae revolution.
One concern of note is with growing non-native Algae in our Oceans, Rivers, and Lakes. Given the risks of algal blooms and unknown consequences of some of these newly discovered and developed species, it seems that scale-up of non-native species should be performed in pilot plants and production facilities as this stage of research.
Growth of Algae in plastic bags with osmotic membranes is being researched as a means of containment, but hopefully not with non-native Algae. A genetically modified algae should be investigated and risks assessed before carelessly contaminating the Ocean's with significantly altered DNA. That's one massive experiment that could not be undone easily.