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Studies show that corn based ethanol may nearly double greenhouse gas emissions instead of reducing them. Does Algae pose the same risks as corn? Are biofuels the wrong way to go when it comes to identifying fuel sources?
by Julia Verdi
In the past, corn has been the most popular feedstock for biofuel. However, with the food vs. fuel argument and the recent 2008 study arguing corn based ethanol may nearly double greenhouse gas emissions instead of reducing them, ethanol’s popularity may start to fade. So, if corn-based ethanol falls through, what will happen? Will we continue to pursue biofuel in general? And, if so, what kind of feedstock are we going to use?
I believe that biofuel, combined with wind and solar, is a much needed resource in the United States, especially in the transportation sector. In order for the US to have a secure energy future, a cleaner, more efficient biofuel needs to be made for our vehicles. However, a cleaner and friendlier feedstock than corn must be used for this biofuel, and algae, may very well be the answer.
So, why algae instead of corn?
1) Algae doesn’t need fresh water or land to grow:
Like corn, algae uses sunlight and water to grow. However, unlike corn, which needs to be grown on land that could produce food and needs fresh water, many algae species that grow oil-producing lipids that we need in order to make biofuel, can grow in brackish, salty water. Therefore, algae would not compete with land that can be used for food or even use fresh water, like corn grown for ethanol does.
2) Algae can reduce its impact on our environment and clean up our waste while it grows:
Another reason algae may be superior to corn, is it actually requires CO2 to grow. So, while it is growing, it could potentially mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions that it will create when it is turned into biofuel. Algae also have the potential to actually clean up sewage while it grows, so ultimately we could decrease the impact of biofuel in our atmosphere, find a better way to throw out our sewage and grow a feedstock for biofuel all at the same time.
3) Algae grows faster than corn:
Algae is harvested multiple times a year, therefore, it has the potential to produce 1,200 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. One acre of corn can be processed into approximately 328 gallons of biofuel.
4) Algae-based biofuel is denser:
Algae based biofuel has a high energy density per acre than any other feedstock for biofuel. Because of this high energy density, a higher amount of algae based biofuel will be able to be used in motor vehicles than corn-based biofuel.
The benefits of algae-based biofuel far outweigh the benefits of corn-based biofuel. With algae, food and water will not be an issue, it is cleaner than corn-based biofuel, it grows faster and it will be more useful in vehicles.
© 2010, Julia Verdi. All rights reserved. Do not republish.
Author: Julia Verdi (3 Articles)
I have a Masters in Natural Resource Law from University of Denver Law with two specializations, one in Environmental Law & Policy, and the second in Sustainable Development & Renewable Energy. I am especially interested in energy and environmental public policy.