Algae is the New Fast Food Grease

Algae via Shutterstock

Because ethanol is regarded as a less than perfect substitute for gasoline (and a terribly non-delicious form of corn), many scientists are researching new methods for reducing our dependence on oil and limiting the amount of farmland used to make fuel. The beauty — we thought–of ethanol is that it is produced from a renewable resource (corn) that is already grown in abundance in America. Of course, when the farmland typically reserved for growing food is suddenly growing fuel, food becomes more scarce and the price of corn rises. And since farmers feed livestock tons and tons of corn (because it’s usually cheap) instead of the grass they’re accustomed to eating (because grass doesn’t cause cows to grow at alarmingly fast rates, thereby delaying the metamorphosis from walking cow to delicious steak), we’re suddenly stuck with more expensive dairy products, meat, and pretty much everything else.

Ethanol sounds like a great idea on paper. At a local gas station, E85 is more than a dollar cheaper per gallon than standard gasoline. However, the environmental costs and increased prices in other areas cripple ethanol’s supposed savings. Sapphire Energy thinks it’s found a suitable alternative. The company will use algae to power our vehicles (after some refinement, of course). Just listen to the beneficial claims, as relayed by the industry’s PR website, Green Crude Production . The end results “are made directly from CO2 using photosynthesis, do not result in biodiesel or ethanol, enhance and replace petroleum-based products, are ASTM compliant, do not require food crops or agricultural land, are carbon neutral and renewable, [and] support domestic energy independence.” It sounds too good to be true.

The environmental benefits are obvious, namely a completely renewable and safe fuel source. But the economic benefits would be tremendous as well. More money would be going into the pockets of American businesses and workers, food prices would drop, and fuel prices would drop. The biggest problem at this point is cost. Estimates put a gallon of fuel produced from algae at over $20, but scientists are confident that they can drop prices below $2 per gallon . When the science is perfected, all budget-minded environmentalists will benefit. In fact, Sapphire Energy has just raised another $100 million and looks like a viable candidate to shake up the energy industry. A green plant might soon make an even greener impact.