The Other I

December 16, 2010

A giant full circle?

Several billion years ago – that is when Earth was about half as old as it is now – algae was one of the most common visible forms of life on the planet.  This kind of pond life was a key player in generating the oxygen that made it possible for life to leave its ocean home and set up a permanent home on land.  Algae remains an essential part of our eco-system, providing food for many sea animals and contributing significantly to the oxygen supply for those of us who breathe on land.

Algae may now be posed to make another significant contribution.    The US Navy has taken delivery of 20 thousand galls on jet fuel produced by – yes, algae.

If it works, and if algae-based jet fuel can be scaled up so that it can be produced cheaply and in sufficient quantity,  it can transform life once again.

As an alternative to fossil fuel, the contribution of algae-based fuel to the environment could be immense.  The political implications could be equally monumental.  Countries whose economies rely on oil exports as well as those relying on its import to meet their energy needs could find that they are dealing with completely revolutionized variables.

Will it happen?  It would require a lot of water under cultivation.  An area the size of South Carolina would be required to meet America’s transport needs alone.  Algae farms covering a country the size of Portugal would be need to service the transport needs of Europe.

The farms would not, of course, have to all be located in a single vast pond.  But if they are divided up into many small puddles, the algae would then have to be transferred to central refineries for processing.  And that, of course, would add to the fuel.

I am not benignly confident, but I am hopeful.

The human species, along with a number of arguably less admirable qualities, is marvellously inventive.

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