Biofuels Technology Update

Here are some recent advances in biofuel technology. I’ve long held that if we apply ourselves to innovating in the area of alternative energy, we can and will succeed. Jazz, over at TMV highlighted a new technology involving bioengineered bacteria that produce petroleum oil. It is yet another example of how American ingenuity can free us from dependence on foreign oil if we really set our minds to it. More importantly, if we really allocate our resources to innovation rather than continuing to pour them down the same big oil rat hole that we are currently feeding.

While this new bioengineered bacteria is interesting, we are much closer to application with biodiesel from microalgae. This does not have to be done in big fermentation tanks, and uses current technology such as that used to grow spirulina. It will yield more than 30 times the oil per acre than corn or soy and does not require clean freshwater (in fact, salt water will do, something we have plenty of). Take a look at the first facility, which will produce 4.4 million gallons of oil and 110 million lbs of biomass a year. Better still, such algae production facilities could be placed at the mouths of big polluted rivers like the Mississippi, and could convert nutrients from agricultural runoff into fuel. Currently these nutrients create an enormous “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, the algae can be used to consume CO2 from power plants. Cleans up the river, sequesters carbon from polluting industries and turns it all into fuel. Oh, and the exhausted algae can be used as fertilizer after extracting the oil.

Another exciting technology in this area is a starch to hydrogen technology developed by Virginia Tech, that can convert a safe, non-toxic and nonflammable starch and water slurry into hydrogen to drive a vehicle. These are only the tip of the iceberg. We can lead in green energy and clean tech if we commit to doing so instead of bowing down to petroleum and coal interests.

We limit ourselves when we think that every problem has to be solved with current technology. This is a great failing of our current energy policies. We have shortchanged research budgets into alternatives and still, our tenacious scientists come up with new leads all the time. Meanwhile, the GOP and some of their supporters wail that the sky will fall if we don’t start drilling in Alaska today. That’s not the solution. Let’s turn the page on that old thinking.

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