General Question

Rock2's avatar

Is algae the answer to our energy problems?

Asked by Rock2 (1067 points ) March 15th, 2012

How would we get it and how would we convert it to fuel?

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18 Answers

Qingu's avatar

There is no single “the answer” to our energy problems.

Algae is a good partial answer, because it can potentially be a large source of cheap, renewable fuel. We already grow renewable “biofuels”—corn, soybeans, sugarcane, and to a lesser extent switchgrass, which are processed into ethanol that is eventually used in gasoline. The problem with these biofuels is that you generally need to grow them on land that could be used for food crops (or they are food crops, like corn and sugarcane). Thus, growing plants for fuel ends up crowding out the food supply, which makes food more expensive.

Algae, on the other hand, can be grown in water tanks on non-arable land. So they don’t crowd out the food supply. The problem is the science of extracting algae oil and converting it into fuel is still in its infancy. Growing and processing algae would also use energy, which would have to come from another source.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Qingu great points. Another advantage of Algae is that you can use selective breeding techniques, and take advantage of their ability to adapt to produce species that are even better.

Rock2's avatar

@Qingu
Nice answer.

tedd's avatar

Technically, algae has been the solution to our energy problems for a hundred plus years. Virtually all of the oil we pump today is the remains of algae that died and piled up at the bottoms of the oceans millions and billions of years ago.

As far as what you’re actually referring, algae could be a pretty good choice to look at. But from what I know the technology isn’t to a point where it could sustain our energy needs alone. But it could at least be a part of the solution.

mattbrowne's avatar

A barrel of saltwater microalgae oil costs about $800 these days. Lowering the price by making production more cost efficient is an engineering problem. Price of crude oil is expected to rise so we might see the day with microalgae oil being the winner. The approach would also create millions of jobs in Northern Africa in unused desert areas.

likipie's avatar

Like @Qingu said, there’s no answer to our problems. In my opinion, the only way anything is going to get better is if we all move into hippie compounds, eat homegrown vegetables, live in mud huts and all become nudists. That’s my opinion on the matter.

Rock2's avatar

@likipie
OK but I hate tofu.

The free love stuff sounds interesting.

likipie's avatar

@Rock2 I freaking love tofu!! :D And yes, it does indeed.

Rock2's avatar

@likipie
I have noticed that no vegetarians live forever. Therefore I conclude that vegetarianism kills.

likipie's avatar

@Rock2 No, we just live longer and healthier. Nobody lives forever. Just saying.

Rock2's avatar

@likipie
My mother in law is 100 years old, in relatively good shape and has eaten meat all of her life. How many vegetarians can say that?

likipie's avatar

@Rock2 I’m just saying that meat is not healthy (red meat in particular) and that we would all be a lot more healthy (not saying that people who eat meat can’t be healthy) if we quit consuming it. I’m really sorry if I offended you, I had no intentions of doing so.

Rock2's avatar

@likipie
Make up your mind, is meat healthy or not?

Note that out of our ancestors on the meat eaters survived.

likipie's avatar

@Rock2 I don’t consider it to be healthy, no. I’m saying that it won’t kill you, but in reality, it isn’t good for you.

Rock2's avatar

@likipie
I don’t agree.

likipie's avatar

@Rock2 Well luckily for you, it’s not necessary that you agree. We are all entitled to our own opinions, are we not? But thank you for not making any personal attacks towards me because I don’t agree with you. I really appreciate that (others on here seem to have trouble with that at times).

Rock2's avatar

@likipie
I’m really a nice guy.

likipie's avatar

@Rock2 Good. The world needs more nice guys. And girls.

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