How algae could fuel your car one day

Scientists at TU Delft in the Netherlands may have made some progress in the world of algae as a biofuel. By cultivating only the fattest – in this case the best – sea plants, researchers could extract the most oil possible and make algae oil a viable fuel alternative, PhsyOrg reports.

Researchers have been examining algae's potential as a biofuel since 1978 when gas prices rocketed, prompting the search for fuel alternatives. But the TU Delft study, which will be published in the scientific journal Energy & Environmental Science this week, builds on the possibility of large-scale production.

"The ultimate goal of our research is to make oil-producing  as fat as possible, then press the oil out of them and finally produce  suitable for cars from this oil," PhD student Peter Mooij told PhysOrg.

Algae produces oil to store carbon and energy – in fact, half of its composition by weight is oil.

According to HowStuffWorks, "algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products such as palm or corn."

One major problem with cultivating oil-producing algae has been the invasion of thinner plants. Methods to deal with this so far have been expensive and complicated.

"Our method is more suitable for large-scale algae production. We try to select for a particular characteristic and not for a particular species of algae … all algae are welcome in our system," as long as they are fat, Mooji told PhysOrg.

Through a reproduction process in the lab, the team is able to make only the fattest algae multiply – a phenomenon Mooji calls "survival of the fattest."

One important caveat is that the test environment isn't yet optimized for storing oil.

See the full PhysOrg report here.

Creative Commons image by: Texas A&M AgriLife