Friday, October 12, 2007

hydrogen from algae: a new biofuel?

Genetically modified algae could soon be efficient producers of hydrogen and biofuels. A promising source of biofuel and easy to grow and handle algae are rich in oils. Algae naturally produce a small amount of hydrogen during photosynthesis, but Anastasios Melis, a plant and microbial biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that genetically engineered versions of the tiny green organisms have a good shot at being a viable source for hydrogen. Melis has created mutant algae that produce three times the normal amount of hydrogen by thinning out their chlorophyll using sunlight more effectively. Startups such as Solix Biofuels, based in Fort Collins, CO, and LiveFuels, based in Menlo Park, CA, are trying to extract oil from algae; so that the oil can be refined to make diesel and jet fuel.

The process is still at least five years from being used for hydrogen generation, but the researchers have found that depriving the algae of sulfur nutrients forced the cells to make more hydrogen. Melis estimates that when refined they can produce 80 kilograms of hydrogen commercially per acre per day. With 50 percent capacity, one acre of algae could produce 40 kilograms of hydrogen per day. That would bring the cost of producing hydrogen to $2.80 a kilogram. At this price, hydrogen could compete with gasoline, since a kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent in energy to a gallon of gasoline.

via Technology Review

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