Biofuel: The Algae Alternative

The search continues for cheaper more efficient alternatives to corn and other food substances used to make gas additives and biofuel. Some researchers believe the answer to higher fuel prices will come from algae. In her University of Washington lab, Rose Ann Cattolico has been working with algae for decades.

From single cells, to fields of kelp, there are many varieties of algae. Cattolico is developing a process to turn certain algae strains into biofuel. The research is funded, in part, by the Allied Minds investment company.

“That whole process can be done,” says Erick Rabins, vice president of Allied Minds. “I wouldn’t say everywhere, but in many places.”

Cattolico is focusing her research on several types of algae with the greatest potential. Her team grows small flasks of algae under carefully controlled conditions to extract the oils, or lipids, from it.

“What we are looking for is [the needle in the haystack], that particular organism that will give us the highest amount of lipids per unit time,” ” Cattolico says. “The organism will grow really fast and the organism that has the quality of lipids that we want.”

Algae grows rapidly, does not require farmland, and uses wastewater making it potentially an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.

“Instead of drilling in the Arctic here is where we should be putting our money. That is my personal opinion,” Cattolico says.

Cattolico believes algae based biofuel will one day be part of the solution to today’s energy problems.