Eco-Living Magazine

Known for Going Big, Texas Places Large Bet on Algae

Posted on the 13 October 2011 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Known for Going Big, Texas Places Large Bet on AlgaeAustin is supposed to be great. I’ve never been but I fall into that category of people who have heard great things, yet never gotten around to going. For those who have been, did it live up to your expectations? Did you get the college vibe, the artsy vibe, the music vibe? How about the algae vibe? No? You must have missed it.

The University of Texas is hoping it doesn’t miss what could be the next boom in energy by investing (some would say gambling) on a potential blockbuster green fuel: algae. Using hundreds of 12 foot high tubes collectively holding 15,000 gallon of algae, UT is trying to find the breakthrough that will finally make algae a viable fuel source. According to a New York Times article,

the university opened the shadehouse at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus three weeks ago with the objective of mass-producing algae for use as biofuel and other byproducts. AlgEternal Technologies, a company based in Austin, whose chief executive is Representative Rob Eissler, [...] collaborated with the UTEX Culture Collection of Algae — one of the largest such collections in the world — to develop the technology to grow the organisms for the project. Another Texas company, OpenAlgae, works with the Center for Electromechanics at U.T. to extract oil from the organisms in a cost-effective manner.

Algae can be used to make products other than biofuel, including animal feed, food supplements and pharmaceuticals. One of the techniques that makes this approach intriguing is the use of those tall vertical tubes. Instead of large open ponds, the tubes allow scientists to grow a lot of algae in a small space while limiting contamination that can reduce algae production. Evaporation is also reduced and the overall quantities of water needed is less than the ponds. This means that algae could be more feasible to grow in sunny, dry areas. This could be because the three main ingredients needed to grow algae in the first place include sunlight, carbon dioxide, and dirty water.

Texas, the enormous state that takes day and night to drive across, was once the site of an epic black gold rush. Will Texans soon be striking green gold? You got me. If not, you better know when to fold ‘em.


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