Algae as jet fuel

Already we have discussed two innovators who are making the most of algae, both on land and in the sea. Today, algae takes to the air. According to Malia Politzer at the Phoenix New Times, Arizona State University scientists Qiang Hu and Milton Sommerfeld have discovered a way to utilize algae to produce jet fuel.

Politzer writes, “By selectively breeding algae using light, carbon dioxide gas, and nutrients, then removing the nutrients from the algae’s cell, the two scientists have created a strain of super-algae that produces oil at an extremely rapid rate.”

The project, which was ranked 11 on Time’s Top 100 Inventions of 2008 list, is one of 18 projects nominated for a World Technology Award in the Energy (individual category). It has already received $225,000 in funding from Boeing.

According to an August 2008 ASU News article:

The use of algae for multiple applications has several appeals, including:

  • Algal oil is very similar to other vegetable oils, but its yield is projected at 100 times that of soybean per acre of land on an annual basis.
  • Unlike other plants, algae reproduce quickly without roots and stems, and they never go dormant.
  • Algae can remove carbon dioxide from power plant emissions and recover nutrients from wastewater.

Hu and Sommerfeld are the co-directors of the Laboratory for Algae Research & Biotechnology (LARB) at the Polytechnic campus.

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