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America’s dependence on foreign sources of fuel creates economic and security hazards. Even a brief war which would make the Persian Gulf inaccessible to tankers would drive the cost of oil to more than $150 a barrel and significantly damage our economy. Add to that the large emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of petroleum-based fuels and it is clear that we need “home-grown” alternative energies. Biofuels, or fuels created from plants and renewable sources, could offer be a significant replacement for fossil-fuels. Already, the U.S. is working on biodiesel from soy oil and ethanol from corn.
Corn and soy both have higher value applications as food. And as we have seen, using them as a fuel has led to significant higher food prices. What is needed is a biomass material that does not have a competing food use – such as algae. Microalgae can be grown faster and more efficiently, especially with the use of bioreactors, than any other plant. Ohio University is working on technology to increase the fuel value (oil fraction) of algae in multiple stage reactors, and to use the algae as a feedstock for gasification, to make fuel using Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.