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Will oil produced by algae save the planet?

Toronto Road by Alex
Toronto Road by Alex

In our green real estate section we usually try to focus on environmentally friendly ideas for our homes. But oil is an essential part of our everyday lives. Half the adult population in the developed world has a car. Some of the biggest car users are realtors. We have to drive around their neighbourhoods on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we all know the two main problems related to driving: unsure oil supplies driving prices up and down and the environmental damage caused by fuel burning and the related carbon dioxide emissions.

Craig Venter is an American biologist and also a successful businessman who founded The Institute for Genomic Research. He mainly deals with genetic engineering and his latest project has caused a great deal of heated debate.

Algae are known for creating natural oil, which is already part of several experiments with biofuels. Venter wants to go further. He is trying to change the genomic make-up of algae in order to produce oil, which is almost identical to traditional crude oil. This option is so much better, as you can use existing oil industry infrastructure like refineries, and even produce plastics in the same way as from crude oil refining using the same production plants that are currently being used. It is no wonder that Exxon Mobile, one of the largest oil producing companies on the planet, gave him a $600 million subsidy to further his research.

And where is the ecological benefit, you might ask? It’s right there. Oil production based on algae could quiet possibly be the answer to one of the most serious threats facing the world today. Plants take the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, use it in a photosynthesis process to create the oil and then the oil is burned and turned into oxalates. Naturally, we can’t expect this miracle solution to be available this year or next, but perhaps science will be able to put an end to the oil shortage. Craig Venter and his team have a very good chance of succeeding where others have tried and failed.

Why controversial? There is a risk with all algae that growth will go out of control. Wild algae producing oil could end up polluting our oceans so this experiment has to be handled very carefully.

One Comment

  • David Leonhardt

    It’s not just that algae growth might get out of control (sci fi thriller, here we come!) but also that there is only so much oli we can get from this source. I think the energy production of the future will depend on a very diverse mix of sources, including wind, solar, tidal, hydro, biofuel, etc.

    I cam across theis post on Tipd – a strange place for this topic, but a fascinating one nonetheless.

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