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Algae Biofuel Production Could Soon Be Viable, Rice Scientists Suggest


Algae biofuelLove the idea of a green car? Soon we could be using truly green biofuel from oil-rich algae. Researchers at Rice University have found a neat way to solve a number of environmental issues in one fell swoop.

Nutrient Overload

One of the most expensive environmental issues in the US is nutrient pollution in waterways particularly from nitrogen and phosphorus. While nitrogen makes up most of the air we breathe when it hits waterways it acts like a fertilizer (because it is a fertilizer). Much of the overload of nitrogen and phosphorous comes from wastewater, causing unwanted algae blooms in waterways. Apart from being unsightly large volumes of algae deplete the oxygen levels in the water threatening fish and other aquatic life.

Wastewater Treatment

At the moment there is no cost efficient way to remove nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater – one of the biggest producers of nutrient overload in waterways.

Use of Chemical Fertilizers

Algae farmers (yes, that is a thing) rely on chemical fertilizers to grow algae for use in pharmaceuticals and food products. This vastly increases the cost of algae production as well as putting them in competition with farmers involved in food production.

The Solution

By growing algae in wastewater (instead of freshwater and added fertilizer), researchers found that nitrate levels in the wastewater was reduced by 90% and over 50% of phosphorous was also removed by the algae.

A single species of algae could be used meaning that algae farmers could use this cheap, plentiful water supply without adding extra fertilizer. By removing this cost, algae producers can now think about investing in biofuel, a subject that was put in the ‘too expensive’ basket five years ago.

Clean wastewater, no algae blooms, happy algae farmers, awesome biofuel. It’s a win win situation all round.

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