What are the prospects of biofuels from algae? My posting of 5November2009 provided a wide range of possibilities, from $1/gallon to more than $10/gallon. The most credible was $4/gallon (or $168/barrel...which means oil would need to cost much more than $200/barrel to be commercially competitive).
Microalgae (above, upper half) are today the focus of algae research for biofuels, but all these efforts occur on land, are energy intensive, could consume precious water, and are under the watchful eye of various environmental groups. Someday, ocean bioengineers will be able to grow microorganism in the open ocean, but I personally can't imagine how.
However, getting to the reason for the above title, a relatively recent potential of macroalgae for energy was in 2008 reported by a group from the Netherlands (Ecofys), and here is a quote from Environmental Research Web:
Earlier studies have indicated that large-scale use of seaweed as an energy source could in theory supply the world's needs several times over
ERW went on to say:
Natural seaweed species grow very fast – 10 times faster than normal plants – and are full of sugars, but it has been very difficult to make ethanol by conventional fermentation
The new microbe research, published today in the leading journal Science, represents a "critical" technological breakthrough, but the challenge of making the approach commercially viable remains.
genetically modified solution, which will immediately draw certain concerns. But already 40 different farm commodities are totally approved for the marketplace, and you regularly eat GM corn. At least you won't be drinking this liquid, although ethanol is the biofuel of choice for marine biomass. But it is not the macroalgae that is being modified, it will be E. coli to more effectively ferment the fiber.
There are other developments. While I have a sinking feeling that the moisture content of any marine biomass will be too high to gasify, below is a process from Cornish Seaweed Resources:
ocean is a nutrient desert, so the efficiency will be meager. I won't explain that ocean nutrient map to the left, but you can click on that portal to better understand it. But, yes, the open ocean, especially in much of the band around the equator (like Hawaii), is a "desert."
On the other hand...
This is where ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) with the prospects of utilizing the deep cold water can be the future of food and energy:
range of other products, including biopharmaceuticals, green chemicals, hydrogen, ammonia, fertilizer (especially phosphates for terrestrial farming), seafood, air conditioning, and so on.
So is this a significant breakthrough? Well, that genetically modified bit of news is at least an advancement. There is much work to be done to compete with some of the other options: low efficiency terrestrial biomass, peaking oil, coal and tar sands.
The Dow Jones Industrials fell 22 to 12,735, but major world markets were all up. Gold increased $12/toz to $1721, while the WTI oil is at $100/barrel and the Brent Spot is at $110/barrel.
There remain two cyclones in the Indian Ocean, with Funso at 130 MPH, but threatening no one, and Iggy, heading for northwest Australia: