Friday, March 19, 2010

Algae and Energy in the Northeast Conference

A conference entitled “Algae and Energy in the Northeast” was held at the Davis center on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington Vermont on March 17 and 18. This conference, which had approximately 150 attendees from across the US, was cosponsored by the University of Vermont, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, and Vermont EPSCoR. Its intent was to bring together experts in algae, biofuels and sustainable energy practices with the goal to foster interactions between these separate groups. The keynote speaker, Dr. Al Darzin, is a Program Manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden Colorado.

Talks and discussions at the conference revolved around the use of algae as a means to produce biofuels to offset the use of fossil fuels for transportation. Algae are a much better alternative than either corn or soybean for the production of biofuels. Algae can produce as much as 100 fold more fuel per acre of land than either of the currently being used sources and does not compete as a human or animal food source. The extreme density at which algae can grow requires large amounts of carbon dioxide, which exceeds the capacity of normal gas diffusion from the air. As such, commercial endeavors are generally intimately associated with natural gas or coal fired energy production plants, which produce copious amounts of CO2 as a waste byproduct. The CO2 is piped to the algae farm where it is bubbled into the production ponds. The production of an energy source from a greenhouse gas waste product has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation by offsetting the use of more fossil fuel. In addition to fuel production phytoplankton algae can also be used for several different waste water processes including farm waste, human and gray water remediation.

The meeting ended with a round table discussion lead by the conference speakers. Despite the information provided at the conference the field of algae farming as a commercial process is still in its infancy. Descisions on land usage and the overall goal need to be made. While some infrastructure exists, this needs to be expanded considerably before it is a viable option to conventional fossil fuels.

By, BioTek Instruments

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