Jeff Muhs, a director of strategy and business development at USU Energy Dynamics Laboratory (EDL) in Logan, Utah, offers four advantages to algae as a biofuel: food price stability, insulation from energy price shocks, reduction of oil imports, and wastewater reclamation.
First, algae does not increase the price of foods like wheat, corn, or sugar ethanol. Second, it provides stable energy prices because production can be controlled with greater ease than fossil fuels. Third, the US can improve its balance of payments if algae is produced domestically. Fourth, if it is harvested with wastewater, it can clean the water as well as provide an energy source.
The difficulty, however, is finding a method that is both relatively low cost and large scale. The big push to do so has come within the past five years, but there’s still awhile to go. It could take twice as long to make an impact on the energy markets compared to shale oil, for example.
But it’s clear that USU has the ambition to be one of the first to find a commercially viable solution. Kevin Shurtleff, branch lead of the algae energy systems at USU EDL, says that it is growing two acres of algae but hopes to have thousands of acres by [fourth quarter] 2012-2013. One acre can provide between 2,000 and 15,000 gallons of biofuel a year, according to the video.
Notice how Greg Townsley, a facility manager at the USU algae biofuel research facility, describes the algae at one point in the production cycle as having the thickness of pancake batter. Nice, green pancake batter as biofuel.