The Science of Algae Fuel Research

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Emmett Duffy of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science explains the science of algal fuel research.

Duffy and students from the College of William and Mary are cultivating natural algae on a pond. He says the algae are efficient and removing nutrient pollution from water. The students aim to repackage those nutrients and bring them back to soils, and produce fuel in the process.

Duffy says the large quantities of biomass that algae produce can be converted to biodiesel, fermented into ethanol or digested into natural gas. He says the algae are also taking organic material out of the water that can be used as an organic fertilizer. He says the program has not yet researched how much energy goes into the fuel production, but he believes it's relatively better than other biofuel processes.

Duffy says wild algae had an advantage over genetically modified algae is that they will grow anywhere, and that their fuel production is tied to reducing pollution in the water, which can't happen with algae in a bioreactor. The wild algae also don't have to be fertilized. They can use the nutrients that are already in the water.

He says the general approach to producing algae has been used on a larger scale, but it has yet to produce fuel. The challenge, he says is finding out the most appropriate fuel to come from this biomass.
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