Monday, June 29, 2009

Algae farm to convert CO2 to ethanol for fuel and plastic

Algae to be used for cheap ethanol production.

In an effort to fuel the world with clean and cheap energy, Dow Chemical and Algenol Biofuels have partnered to build algae farms that can convert carbon dioxide into ethanol, which can either be used to power vehicles or can also be used to produce plastic by replacing the use of natural gas. The team has announced that they will build a demonstration plant that would effectively convert CO2 into fuel.

The plant is worth applause not just because of the end result, but also because algae cultivation doesn’t require much space and the output can be produced in an efficient manner. The companies plan to grow algae in “bioreactors,” which are actually troughs covered with flexible plastic and filled with saltwater. The water is saturated with carbon dioxide, which helps algae grow. The algae that grows inside these bioreactors uses photosynthesis to convert CO2 and water into ethanol, oxygen and fresh water.

The oxygen generated can be used to burn coal in a power plant in a much cleaner way, and the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of coal can in turn be fed into the algae bioreactor for the process to continue in a carbon neutral way. Currently the company has about 40 bioreactors in Florida and they plan to install 3,100 units on a 24-acre site at Dow’s Freeport, Tex., site. Algenol Biofuels believes that their demonstration plant can produce over 100,000 gallons of ethanol each year with the cost being as low as $1 a gallon.

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