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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When one considers the advantages of algal fuel, it’s a wonder it came so late to the alternative energy mix. The humble, one-celled organisms that compose algae are extremely efficient at converting sunlight to energy. Where corn ethanol produces about 250 gallons of fuel per acre per year and sugar cane produces 450 gallons, algae could yield more than 2,000 gallons.

And algae thrive on carbon dioxide (CO2), which means that cultivation can function like a sink to reduce greenhouse gases. Some imagine algae cultivation around coal plants, sucking up CO2 before it can begin its deadly journey into the atmosphere.

Algae can also remove nitrogen and phosphorus from rivers and lakes, and convert agricultural runoff into “a much cleaner product,” says Darzins.

There is one drawback, however: The effects of mass cultivation of genetically modified strains of algae are unknown. Darzins wonders about the “environmental impact of growing a certain species of algae” over thousands of square acres where it may release into the wild.

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