Sunday, January 15, 2006

Growing Algae for Clean, Green Energy

Via The Energy Blog, a Christian Science Monitor article on MIT's Isaac Berzin and his process for using algae to clean power plant emissions and make biodiesel and ethanol:
Fed a generous helping of CO2-laden emissions, courtesy of the power plant's exhaust stack, the algae grow quickly even in the wan rays of a New England sun. The cleansed exhaust bubbles skyward, but with 40 percent less CO2 (a larger cut than the Kyoto treaty mandates) and another bonus: 86 percent less nitrous oxide.

After the CO2 is soaked up like a sponge, the algae is harvested daily. From that harvest, a combustible vegetable oil is squeezed out: biodiesel for automobiles. Berzin hands a visitor two vials - one with algal biodiesel, a clear, slightly yellowish liquid, the other with the dried green flakes that remained. Even that dried remnant can be further reprocessed to create ethanol, also used for transportation.

Being a good Samaritan on air quality usually costs a bundle. But Berzin's pitch is one hard-nosed utility executives and climate-change skeptics might like: It can make a tidy profit.

"You want to do good for the environment, of course, but we're not forcing people to do it for that reason - and that's the key," says the founder of GreenFuel Technologies, in Cambridge, Mass. "We're showing them how they can help the environment and make money at the same time."
That's a healthy combination, and it's garnered Greenfuel $11 million in venture capital. There's competition, too:
Last month, Greenshift Corporation, a Mount Arlington, N.J., technology incubator company, licensed CO2-gobbling algae technology that uses a screen-like algal filter. It was developed by David Bayless, a researcher at Ohio University.

A prototype is capable of handling 140 cubic meters of flue gas per minute, an amount equal to the exhaust from 50 cars or a 3-megawatt power plant, Greenshift said in a statement.

Fascinating stuff! I'd call this real "ecoimagination...."

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