"It’s very easy to get excited about algae as a source of biodiesel. Why? Algae spread really very fast. We’re talking about one of the fastest-growing organisms on the planet.
What if I told you that certain varieties of algae actually double every single day? That’s right, a 100% growth rate. I know that boggles the mind. However, it’s not only possible, but it happens all the time.
It all boils down to availability of food. This is a no-brainer because in most cases in the natural world, there is no infinite or over abundant source of food. This has to take place in a man-made setting. This has to require constant man-made supervision for this to work out.
For farmers and cultivators to achieve 100% percent growth rate, they have to have enough input into the process and manage it properly, so this 100% growth rate doesn’t happen just every once in a while, but happens like clockwork.
The good news is algae would be able to do this in a fairly low-control environment. They are able to achieve this amazing growth rate. Accordingly, a lot of scientists are excited about algae, but the problem is, while they can get that growth rate going, it requires a tremendous amount of input.
Have you ever looked up algae biodiesel projects on YouTube? It’s both mind-blowing and inspiring, while at the same time, somewhat depressing. What’s inspiring about it is that the huge scale that is possible. What’s depressing about it is that the tremendous amount of cost laid out to get an infrastructure going.
The way it is set up right now is that algae can really be grown at an attractive commercial economic level if carbon dioxide is managed properly. For this to happen, you would actually have to grow algae in specialized tubes in the middle of a desert somewhere. Not only is the location problematic, but necessary due to the huge sunlight involved, but there’s also an issue with harvesting.
If biodiesel from algae was such a no-brainer and such a slam-dunk, it would be the number one source of biodiesel right now in the world, but it isn’t. There are serious hurdles that have yet to be overcome.
When will all this happen? Is there a breakthrough in the horizon? The short answer, unfortunately, is no. You have to understand that biodiesel and other alternative forms of fuel energy only become attractive when oil is at record high prices. Now that we are actually going through record low prices or a sustained period of low fuel prices, it seems that a lot of the investor attention, as well as academic attention, to biodiesel algae has been diverted.
I suspect, however, that low oil prices would not persist for far too long, and then we will have a renewed attention paid to biodiesel. The key here is to capitalize that renewed attention so that the technology, as a whole, reaches a tipping point where it becomes economically feasible sustainably across all geographic regions.