Biodiesel From Pond Scum

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
biodiesel from pond scum

With all of the downsides of corn-based biofuel now widely known, eco-friendly motorists are anxious to hear a little good news from the developers of so-called second-generation biofuels. One of the most promising of these new, non-food-based fuels comes from algae, which scientists have been breeding and researching since the Carter Administration. The March cover story at Green Fuels Forecast tells of the National Renewable Energy Labs Aquatic Species Program (ASP), which has been looking for biodiesel-producing algae since 1978, and is now providing the backbone of technology for some frenzied venture capital activity. When the program started, it was estimated that all of America's transportation and home-heating needs could be met by 15k square miles of algae farms. Of course in the 90's as petroleum costs dipped, the Clinton Administration axed the ASP in favor of further ethanol research. Now, the government's abandoned investment is attracting the big boys: Chevron, Shell and others are forming partnerships with start-ups who are building on the ASP's knowledge base. The upsides? Algae needs only sun and C02 to produce the oil which can be burned as fuel or used in a number of other applications which currently require petroleum products. In other words, the perfect fuel source for your favorite Waterworld-esque, post-apocalyptic fantasy.

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4 of 22 comments
  • Tech98 Tech98 on Mar 29, 2008
    Who is going to make the first “no shortage of pond scum in Detroit” joke? Plano, Texas also has a massive supply, judging by my former employer.

  • Mfgreen40 Mfgreen40 on Mar 29, 2008

    I am not an expert on corn but here is my take. Ethanol is made from field corn, corn flakes are made from a different type. Farmers are going to plant which ever pays the most so the price of your cereal will go up as field corn prices are at record levels.

  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Mar 30, 2008

    There are still a lot of hurdles with algae, more than with cellulosic. For example, if it's in open water, how do you stop other, wild algael species from interbreeding? Closed systems are expensive. etc.

  • Engineer Engineer on Apr 01, 2008

    David, The hurdles are certainly there. But more than cellulosic [ethanol]? I don't think so. If you do algae->gasification->hydrocarbon fuels (same as we use today), wild species won't matter. You would just be interested in the fastest growers. The high lipid content algae -> biodiesel strategy is deeply flawed, hence my opposition to it. OTOH, the way to launch cellulosic [fuels] would be waste cellulose -> gasification -> liquid hydrocarbons. And to make it even more politically toxic: watch as Big Oil gets in on this...