There are, quite literally tens of thousands of species belonging to the algae family. Algae takes many forms, but the type most commonly used for manufacturing fuel is actually what you may know as “pond scum” – the type of algae that sits on top of water. If you have ever left water in a sunny place for a few weeks or if you have ever owned an aquarium, you have probably seen algae grow.
Once scientists figure out how to produce fuel from algae in huge quantities at a reasonable price, algae will be a near-perfect fuel. It grows virulently, without any need for chemicals. While it is growing and living on the water’s surface, it pulls carbon dioxide out of the air and consumes it for more growth. It can be cold pressed using equipment already common in the production of olive and other oils. The byproduct of the pressing can be used as feed for livestock or it can be dried and that dried product can be used as a biomass fuel.
The cold pressing process takes about 75% of the oils out of the algae. There is an additional process that uses hexane that can get another 20% of the oils from the algae, but the process itself negates the “carbon neutral” aspect of the algae by introducing a petroleum product with known health and environmental problems. Hopefully scientists and engineers can come up with a better, safer way to garner that additional oil without the use of hexane.
To read about the complete process with details and further explanation, click here.