Oil-rich plants such as soy may offer a cleaner energy alternative to diesel fuel, but Jim Sears says these food crops can’t meet all our diesel needs. The Colorado-based entrepreneur says, even in America’s bountiful croplands, farmers couldn’t grow enough oilseed crops to meet demand.
Fortunately, Sears says, an unconventional crop could produce 100 times more biodiesel per hectare than either canola or soy. It can thrive in places where other crops can’t grow at all, and it only requires the equivalent of 5 centimeters of rain a year. It’s algae, a small but familiar plant, usually seen as a green scum that forms on ponds or aquarium glass.
Biologist Nick Rancis lifts a favorite specimen. “Here we have a species of green algae that grows in fresh water. As you can see, it grows very high density. You can’t even see through it when you hold it up to the light.” He says this strain produces enormous amounts of fat: up to 50 percent of its body weight. And while producing oil from soy or canola generally requires a three to five-month growing season, some algae are so prolific, over half a batch can be harvested for oil production every day. “They can double or triple overnight,” Rancis says.
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New Mexico State University researching biodiesel made from Algae (green.mnp)