Growing green, with an eye down the road

Touchstone Research Lab’s new biofuel algae farm in northeast Ohio, which includes OARDC as a partner, is mentioned in last week’s Energy Efficiency News.

Meanwhile, Ohio State scientist Allison Snow, in a story carried by UPI on Monday (8/20), sounds a cautionary note about the possible future genetic engineering of algae. She holds an adjunct appointment in our college.

Algae: Using Pond Scum to Fuel Change at OSU

With increasing gas prices, dependence on imported oil, and depleting resources worldwide, finding alternatives to petroleum-based fuel is considered an urgent priority.

One alternative, biofuel, is a controversial issue because the sources that are most commonly used to produce biofuel are soybeans (for biodiesel) and corn (for ethanol). These crops require large amounts of land and energy for both growth and refinement.

In contrast, algae are easy to grow and can be manipulated to produce huge amounts without disturbing any natural habitats or food sources. As far as the food-versus-fuel debate is concerned, algae are the clear winners for biofuel.

Algae also fit into Ohio State’s One Framework Plan for sustainability because they are carbon neutral. Algae are microscopic organisms, which, like plants, use photosynthesis to convert light into chemical energy while at the same time absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Ohio State has the opportunity to also become more carbon neutral by using B100 (100 percent biodiesel) algae fuel in its Campus Area Bus System (CABS). The university currently uses B20 (20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent petroleum diesel) from soybean oil. B20 is cleaner than conventional fossil fuel, but we believe that Ohio State should transition to B100 in all of the CABS buses and become a leader in alternative energy.

Ohio State’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio, has already begun research on algae as a biofuel replacement. With collaborative interdepartmental research projects, the lofty vision of a domestically produced fuel supply could become a reality.

This graphic, used with permission from Cellana LLC, depicts how algae can be converted into energy and other useful resources.