One thing that gives algae an edge over other biofuel sources in terms of production is that it grows in water. So it does not need to compete with land where agricultural crops are grown for the production of biofuel. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that if all the petroleum fuel used in the United States would be replace by algae, then it would need about 15,000 square miles of algae.
Algae are extraordinarily adaptable creatures. They can grow almost anywhere, including land utterly unsuited for agriculture. Since they don't have to compete against food crops for land, they avoid the problems this can cause: spiraling grain prices, food shortages, and conversion of tropical forests and wildlife habitat to plantations and cropland.
When algae are harvested, their lipids can be turned into biodiesel (main product), starches into ethanol, and proteins into animal feed.
Algae is attractive to other industries because it can be grown using carbon dioxide emissions.
According to the Department of Energy for algae biofuels to replace petroleum fuels they would require 15 thousand square miles which is just 0.42% of US land. This is about a seventh of the area used to cultivate corn in 2000 but it should be noted that algae doesn’t
require any arable land to be cultivated since it can be grown anywhere. This is one of algae fuels advantages since other forms of biofuels have been accused of driving the prices of food up (i.e. corn and soya).
Algae are essentially carbon neutral. What this means is that carbon dioxide released when we use them to produce energy can be reabsorbed by producing more algae to replace it. As a result, algae biodiesel doesn’t burden the environment and given the fact that a large percentage of carbon dioxide emissions come from the use of fossil fuels used in transportation it can help reduce environmental pollutions.
The U.S. Navy has quietly tested 20,000 gallons of algae biofuel on a decommissioned destroyer, carrying on its mission of transitioning to renewable energy even as the end phase of the fossil fuel era begins to play out. Though oil fields are booming in the western U.S., the Keystone tar sands oil pipeline has stalled and natural gas drilling is roiling communities in other regions.
The test is part of the Navy’s Green Fleet initiative, which calls for shipping out an entire fleet running on alternative fuels by 2016, with a locally-operating Green Strike Force in the water by 2012. The fleet will also rely on nuclear energy which may disappoint some clean energy fans, but after all this is the military and the Navy’s main goal is to keep itself at peak fighting capability.
The process for making algae into fuel at a very base level is this: Sunlight and CO2 are the source of energy and carbon dioxide, rather than sugar or other organic material. By applying the principals used in biotechnology, Sapphire has produced oil in algae that is highly branched and undecorated - the way that traditional crude is – to get a biological crude molecularly similar to light sweet crude. This Green Crude is then processed at a refinery just as traditional crude to make all three major distillates – gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
Algae is one of nature′s most prolific and efficient photosynthetic plants; in fact, it is the source of the earth′s crude oil when algae bloomed millions of years ago. Nearly all of algae′s energy is concentrated in the chloroplast—the engine that turns sunlight and CO2 into organic carbon, resulting in oils easily refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.