Feeds

Gas crunch: Jatropha, kudzu, algae and magic to rescue

American ingenuity and exceptionalism transforms weeds into, er, pork

Build a business case: developing custom apps

It was a remarkable thing to print since the consumption of any carbon-based fuel, whether it comes from algae or kudzu, produces greenhouse gas. One could actually make similar grand claims about miscellaneous weeds in your yard, if you could squeeze enough oil or starch from them. Plants produce oxygen and bind carbon in different compounds - basic science for the delight of young children. Johnny raises his hand: "Couldn't we use potatoes to make biofuel, too?"

At this point, this journalist should admit to growing algae in a water bucket on the porch for the last ten years and also running a public swimming pool as a college student. For the latter, the job was to filter the water and minimize, if not eliminate, the growth of microalgae. The filtering properties and general benefits of man-made cultivation of it, whether accidental or purposeful, are exaggerated for the sake of the current renewable energy script. If one can imagine each algal cell in the porch water bucket producing a microdroplet of oil, the one gallon pail is still a long way from being full, no matter how green and filamentous.

The dynamic surrounding algae has also drawn in coal. The carbon dioxide emitted by coal furnace plants would be paired with an algae facility for carbon sequestration and production of still more fuel in vague schemes which smack a bit of the old plans for perpetual motion machines. There are, however, really big flies in the ointment, one being the staggering mass of carbon dioxide which must be processed (according to the Depart of Energy, the US produces about 2,000 million metric tons in power generation from coal per year), or the small problem of its temperature as a hot effluent gas and the impact on a microorganism. Basically, it's nuts to expect farmed algae to sop up any significant portion of the staggering figures on C02 production.

Left out of American dreams of renewable energy cutting the country loose from oil addiction are numbers. Published by the Energy Information Administration, they're merciless. Ethanol contributes about three percent to the supply of motor fuel and biodiesel is such a trivial contributor it's barely worth mentioning.

"And while biodiesel was supposed to reduce Americans' dependence on foreign oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions, the domestic market has not materialized," reported an eastern Washington newspaper in late May. Imperium, a local company which had provided biofuel that was part of the mix for the Virgin Atlantic 747 which flew from London to Amsterdam in February had let go some of its staff. Its CEO admitted the company faced "challenging times."

While the oil of castor, babassu palm and coconuts have all been explored, too, one "oil" has not been directly mentioned. The stuff that comes from snake farms. All it would take is a pinch of magic. ®

George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.