I worked in the oil industry in the 1970’s, when OPEC began to flex their muscles, and Americans lined up at the gas pumps to pay inflated prices for gasoline from the Middle East. I embraced ethanol as an alternative source of energy then, but have since decided that ethanol is not a viable energy source, and moved on to other concepts since then, but never given up the quest to not be dependent on outside sources for energy.
Energy sources are abundant. Wind and solar energy are renewable and easily harnessed, but require considerable investment in equipment. With improved batteries, autos could use electricity, easier and better, but for now, we still need internal combustion engines in automobiles, unfortunately.
After I realized that ethanol was not the panacea I had hoped it would be, since it takes too much energy to produce, I turned to learning more about bio-diesel. Where ethanol requires almost nine gallons of fuel to make ten gallons of fuel, bio-diesel only requires one gallon of fuel to produce three gallons of product, it burns clean, and can be made easily from several sources, soybeans being the most common.
There is something about turning food, like corn or soybeans, into fuel for our SUV’s that bothers me, though, so I continued to search for better sources of fuel. It is possible to let water set in tanks until it becomes slimy with algae, then cook off the algae to make bio-diesel. When combined with yellow oil (used cooking oil), it becomes a clean-burning, inexpensive, readily available and renewable energy source. There is the added potential energy source of methane gas from the breeding tanks, and hydrogen by-product of the process, also.
The process still requires some more research, but the potential for any area with sufficient water to grow algae, to produce bio-diesel, is quite promising. The wastewater from the process should be non-polluting, since it is cooked at high temperatures in the separation process, so it should make good fish food or fertilizer. The initial investment would be similar to any oil refinery, much cheaper than nuclear power. It would be easily adaptable to our current distribution process, and in five years, it could provide enough fuel to make America independent of outside sources for our automobile requirements.
In a fictional novel, “Castle in the Wind,” oil-from-algae was developed in Portugal, but American oil companies were rejected from participating in the project, because of their arrogant approach to new developments. It was easy to make it work in a fictional novel. In the real world, it is not so easy to get the research and development funds and cooperation of the government and oil companies, who are making huge profits from our current system. We need to not be dependent on other countries for essential products, like food, water, and energy, but we are currently dependent on others to meet our energy requirements. It is a threat to our security as a nation, and it is not necessary, if we just realize how dangerous to our economy it is, and how damaging to our environment our consumption of a limited source of fossil fuel is.
Oil-from algae could be the next great improvement in alternative fuel, if anyone were to invest in our future, rather than invest in other countries’ exploitation of our needs. But, will it happen? Probably not.