• Apr 25, 2011
Approximately 17 percent of oil imported into the U.S. to be burned in vehicles could be replaced by algal fuel by 2022, according to a study conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). That is, if the U.S. makes a commitment to reduce its dependency on foreign oil by focusing on production of algal fuels. Mark Wigmosta, lead author of the study and a PNNL hydrologist, said in a statement that:
Algae has been a hot topic of biofuel discussions recently, but until now no one has taken such a detailed look at how much America could make and how much water and land it would require. This research provides the groundwork and initial estimates needed to better inform renewable-energy decisions.
After analyzing 30 years of meteorological data, the PNNL research team concluded that 21 billion gallons of algal fuel could be produced by 2022 in the U.S. To achieve that amount of output, algae would have to be grown on land equal to the size of South Carolina. While that's a massive chunk of Earth, the U.S. does have loads of unused land.

[Source: Autopia, Domestic Fuel | Image: Wikimedia Commons – C.C. License 2.0]


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  • 13 Comments
      harlanx6
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have no idea whether this is BS or not, but if it can be done, it should be done!
      russellbgeister
      • 3 Years Ago
      you don't need salt water to grow algae it tends to like stagnant warm water with lots of fertilizer you can make the **** in your pool in summer its the same crap that builds up in fish tanks at home
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sounds like all the wasted space in Nevada could be put to good use.
      erhcanadian
      • 3 Years Ago
      We can keep using gasoline if we add some ethanol... We can keep using gasoline if we add some algae... These seem like lame attempts to maintain petroleum's status quo.
        Gordon Chen
        • 3 Years Ago
        @erhcanadian
        I think it's better to have several alternate options than one 'right' answer. I love EVs, but imagine if we lived completely free of gas cars and only used charging stations. Then corporations will eventually exploit this, and the electricity infrastructure will get corrupt as well.
          EJ
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Gordon Chen
          My solar roof bows to no one...
      mylexicon
      • 3 Years Ago
      It is believable, but it isn't a simple task. We'd have to build pipelines to ship saltwater from the coast into non-arable land in the interior of California, Nevada, Texas, and Arizona. Then the US would have to build a distribution network. Growing ethanol directly (no "refinement" process to separate plants from fuel) has been going on for quite a while on a limited scale. I'm not sure what kind of gallons/acre yield they are assuming, but those numbers are always changing as new algae and new production techniques are pioneered. This is one of the few times I wish an oil company would buy out some of these startups, build some seawater pipelines, and get cracking. There is desolate land all over the Western US that could be converted for growing fuel. The arrangement is better than fossil fuels b/c CO2 is sequestered during the growing process, and growing fuel requires less power than drilling, pumping, and refining.
      skierpage
      • 3 Years Ago
      To reduce America's oil imports, increase efficiency. The most efficient way to move a car is with electricity. I hope plug-in cars cut oil imports by more than 17% by 2022. Like hydrogen, fuel from algae is a possible solution for the minority of vehicles that can't transition to battery electric. Also, I suspect solar panels on land *smaller* than the size of South Carolina could provide all of America's energy needs. We'll see whether fuel for algae or solar electric generation gets cheaper faster.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @skierpage
        Not reducing, but replacing American imports of fuels much be a multi-factor approach. Efficiency, vehicle electrification, and alternative fuels should all be addressed. Even if half of automobiles are electric by 2022, likely a majority of them will be PHEV vehicles rather than true electrics. We will still need fossil fuels. They will not last forever. While it is projected that we may have 200 years worth of coal available, not all of it will be readily accessable, and that 200 years assumes a smaller incline than we are currently experiencing. We could end up having less than 30 years of usable coal, and then where will we be? Having to result to alternative forms of energy. I believe that algae technologies like Phytonix and Joule Unlimited are developing could be a black swan if they pan out like they are intended. Diesel and butanol are fungible fuels in most vehicles. Tests have shown that butanol can be used in an unmodified ICE vehicle since it is less corrosive than ethanol. Hydrogen may turn into a feasible storage medium for electricity, but current efficiencies are too low. Also, storage is too expensive. There are many technologies in development for energy storage, and one of them may be a black swan, but I expect slow gradual progression for energy storage. If hydrogen vehicles are proven cost-effective, then I would recommend vehicle manufacturers to add plugs to the vehicles since they are hybrids anyways. That would lower consumer fuel costs. We are in a very interesting time right now, and I am really anxious to see how some of these technologies pan out.
      • 3 Years Ago
      By 2022, most of you who read this will be dead, about 90%
      briang19
      • 3 Years Ago
      This sounds totally impractical.
        Gordon Chen
        • 3 Years Ago
        @briang19
        compared to what? drastically increasing food prices to make an itty bit of ethanol? drive electric cars? start riding on trains? Fuel from algae seems the most promising of all alt fuels. Also remember most algae biotech are creating designs to save space. Some companies have slats that are tall and thin. Others are cylindrical. the key is getting the area *equivalent* to South Carolina without actually taking that much space. moving to fuel independence is always going to look rough compared to 100+ years of gasoline habits.
      • 3 Years Ago
      lets move away from gasoline! the corporations don't want us to, they don't want to lose profits
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