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Subject: Re: BIOENERGY: Algae saving the world?
From: Steve Harris <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Steve Harris <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 6 Jul 2008 11:18:14 +0100
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Dear all,

I would like to respond to Dr. Raymond's post regarding large scale
biofuels from algae being a delusion and a wank. I think it is an
issue worth debate because as we can all see, alternatives to fossil
fuels are worth investigating.

Obviously Dr Raymond has figures on the photosynthesis efficiency, but
the two factors I think are important are:
1. How quickly does algae grow compared with land based plants, in
particular how much oil can be extracted from an acre of algae
cultivation compared to biodiesel or ethanol from an acre of corn or
sugarcane.
2. The sea obviously has a huge surface area. Even if the growth rates
are not spectacular, perhaps putting to use the vast areas of the sea
could make up for the growth rates. Here in England land is at a
premium. We simply don't have the land available to set aside for
biodiesel corn, sugarbeet etc.

Obviously marine plants can grow quickly, I don't know how their rates
of growth compare with land based plants, but the recent algae blooms
in China show they can grow very well under certain conditions. I was
trying to find out how quickly that algae bloom developed, and I found
this article:
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2008/07/01/2008-07-01_chinas_mean_green_algae_problem_is_troub.html

The article says the algae blossomed around June 1st, and it looks
that by July 1st it was a massive growth requiring a huge cleanup
effort. Does anyone have the hard facts on how quickly this algae
grows when the conditions are right? I read somewhere that 100,000
tons of it was being taken away and that some of it would be used for
animal feed. To me, 100,000 tons seems a significant quantity,
especially if it grew in a month.

I have been doing some simple home experiments and realised that algae
can be coaxed to grow far more quickly than under natural conditions.
The great advantage is that the cultivation is done in a closed
system. In other words, once the optimal conditions are established
they can be maintained more easily than in an open system such as land
based farming.

Algae for fuel may not be a perfect solution, but I can't help
thinking it still merits research.

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