The US government used to run a massive algae farming project between 1970 and 1996. Called the the Aquatic Species Program, the Department of Energy only closed the project down because the researchers involved concluded that algae were not cost competitive with petroleum. Yet times have changed. The oil price is three times as high now compared to when the project was aborted.
Algae farming has the future. More and more parties come around to this view. A recent conference of coal industry leaders highlighted strong interest in algae farming as a solution to curb carbon dioxide from coal fired power plants. It’s likely that in the future we’ll see the development of algae farms right next to many coal fired energy facilities throughout the US.
Building algae farms will help to drastically reduce carbon dioxide in the flue stacks of these plants, according to speakers at the Louisville Coal-Gen 2008 conference/. They went in depth, explaining how the chemical processes work which turn coal generated carbon from a hazardous material into a profitable product. If it all works out the way it’s anticipated, this is incredibly promising news for the coal industry, which is currently at the heart of the global warming debate.
If algae farms are effective, they will be the most viable alternative to capturing carbon and storing it underground, currently tipped to be the number one future method of reducing carbon emissions. Specialists say carbon capturing and storage is about the most effective of available methods but it’s also one of the most expensive procedures. That is mostly due to the costs associated with underground storage of the carbon.
But farms could turn the expense into a profit by growing algae in the coal plant fumes. Algae thrive amid this filth and are known to soak up carbon dioxide naturally. The conference speakers said that a 100-acre algae farm can produce 4 million gallons of fuel a year. That is a better ratio than other biodiesel crops including soybeans.
Robert Healy, who’s an engineering construction consultant at Burns & McDonnellMo., addressed the conference, saying that algae crops are a thing of the future. Healy said that in addition to the use of algae in the coal burning sector, the substance can be processed in biodiesel fuels. But Healy also warned that algae are not 100% effective scrubbing power utilities’ carbon emissions.
Healy said that algae are more attractive than oils for use as biodiesel fuel. Another added bonus is that the leftover material can be converted to animal feed or other products.
Companies already testing algae farming include NRG Energy, the Princeton N.J., and GreenFuel Technologies, who are using algae to recycle power plant CO2 emissions safely and economically into a continuous supply of clean, renewable fuels at a 1,489-net-megawatt, coal-fueled power plant in New Roads, La. E.On, the German power company, is also testing the method Louisville Gas and Electric Co. and Kentucky Utilities Co., two of its operations.