Research & Resources: Algae Power

Spring 2009. Retrieved online October 6, 2009 by Mario A. Montes NMSU Research & Resources

Simplest plant could bring solution to complex problem

Abundant sunshine and an ample supply of brackish water make eastern New Mexico a good location for growing algae. (Photo by Jesse J. Ramirez)

Abundant sunshine and an ample supply of brackish water make eastern New Mexico a good location for growing algae. (Photo by Jesse J. Ramirez)

Alternative energy – a couple of words charged with calls to action, politics, skepticism and even the pop culture disdain of “whatever.” Its composition reads like a comic book tale that unleashes the forces of life – earth, water, wind and fire. And like in every comic book tale there is a hero: In this one it could be algal biomass.

What is it? Simple. It’s the same green slime that accumulates in your dog’s water bowl. And believe it or not, this slime, more commonly known as algae, produces lipids, or oil, that can be refined into biofuels.

New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center at Artesia is the location for two large ponds where algae is being grown. The brackish water in the ponds is gently stirred by paddlewheels powered by electricity. (Photo by Jesse J. Ramirez)

New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center at Artesia is the location for two large ponds where algae is being grown. The brackish water in the ponds is gently stirred by paddlewheels powered by electricity. (Photo by Jesse J. Ramirez)

New Mexico State University researchers are combining efforts to see if algal biomass is a viable substitute to the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Researchers in disciplines including biochemistry, agriculture, chemical engineering, civil engineering and economics are each doing their part to come up with the best equation, substance and process to produce economically feasible biofuels from algae.

…. Along with knowing the chemistry of algae and how to manipulate it, grow it and process it to run a combustion engine, a monetary reality must be established. In other words – is it cost effective? At $25 a gallon, biofuel is not practical, even though it appeared the price of a gallon of gasoline was headed that way last fall. For this analysis you need an economist, and C. Meghan Starbuck is that person.
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