Why Algae?

A major aspect of algae that makes algal biofuels a reasonable area for further biofuel research is their high production of lipids.  Algae are photosynthetic plants that harness solar energy for rapid biomass production, a great amount of that mass being formed as carbohydrates.  Under specific conditions, many algal strains have the ability to produce lipids, which are precursors to fuel. Scientists have found that growing algae under stressful conditions (i.e. restricting nutrients) is one way to influence the algae to produce lipids.  (Menetrez 7074)

In addition to the production of lipids for biofuels, the ability of algae to grow in a variety of habitats, many of these being unfavorable for most agricultural products, has kept the interest of environmentalists pursuing algal biofuel research.  Algae have the ability to grow in wastewater, seawater, and brackish waters.  This eliminates the biofuel’s competition with arable land for agricultural uses, which has been a major problem for corn ethanol use for biofuels.  (Ferrell, Starisky-Reed  3)

Not only can algae be grown in numerous, otherwise unusable, areas, there is also a high oil production per land used.  Scientists at the University of Michigan recently estimated that land the size of New Mexico could potentially be used to produce enough algae fuel to replace the United States’ petroleum use (University of Michigan).  This high oil production for land use is a strong aspect to aspiring algal fuels, as it may be reasonable to produce mass amounts of the biofuels for commercial purposes.

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