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Algae-oil breakthrough leads to fuel, food?

January 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Could algae soon be a common fuel for your car? A local company called OriginOil claims to hold breakthrough technology that uses carbon dioxide and algae in order to generate fuel. Imagine a world where factories wouldn't be dependent on an energy source, but instead could locally generate their own energy simply by utilizing their excess carbon dioxide.

This means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a way for our own sewage to be turned into reusable fuel.

With this new technology scientists can now simulate algae growth, which could take up to six months in nature.

"We optimized, as you can see, the frequency of the light to be exactly what algae wants," said OriginOil Chief Executive Officer Riggs Eckelberry. "It grows phenomenally fast. We get a daily harvest out of it.

"Inside each algae cell is a little drop of oil. Now the challenge is how to get that oil out of the algae so that it can be used as fuel," said Eckelberry.

When algae reaches its optimal pH level, carbon dioxide is added to create fuel. Then that fuel is separated into two types of fuel. One is an oil, which could be used to fuel our cars. The other is a heavier green biomass, which can be used as a natural gas to heat our homes or operate factories.

"Algae is going to make, obviously, fuel," said Eckelberry. "It basically can do everything petroleum can do, plus it's nutritious."

OriginOil says that same oil can be used as a cooking oil with all the benefits of omega-3s. That gives us a healthy dose of omega-3s without the mercury commonly found in fish.

All of this is currently in the pilot phase, but the company says in about five years it could be a part of our daily life.