The latest from President Obama is that we will solve our fuel needs by getting it from algae. If you believe this is the next ticket to energy paradise, I have some Soyndra shares to sell you.
For many years as a mechanical engineer I have looked for viable alternative energy projects both as targets for invention and for investments for myself. I have also become involved in writing for the 'prepper' community with my book "Going Galt: Surviving Economic Armageddon. I consequently took a hard look at putting money where my mouth is on algae biofuels. That money is still in my pocket.
The question isn't whether you can produce biodiesel from algae, you certainly can. You can even do it somewhat efficiently - in the lab with specific purebred strains of algae. And it isn't like the government hasn't spent a dumprtuck load already researching the subject, more than $100 million in fact, producing a major report in the 90s. The subject isn't real esoteric, you can do a lot of the calculations on the back of an envelope once you've done a few test runs. And heaven knows it isn't that hard to grow, as many foreclosed homes with slime covered stagnant pools attest. The problem is in the scalability to industrial scale. Here's a short list of problems:
It isn't as efficient as solar cells, so you need large areas of sunny land to produce measureable amounts of fuel stock.
You have to first dry and then process many tons of the sludge in an industrial setting, a scale problem in itself as those dryers don't currently exist. In fact, it is easier to just burn the algae in a powerplant than convert it to biofuel, but then you are competing with cheap natural gas so why bother growing algae?
Open ponds are cheaper by far than closed systems, but then you have the problem of your hybrid algae strain being infected by other low yield species.
Weather can seriously disrupt the whole production, either through clouds, or cold, or storms. Weather changes, exposure to biological agents in the atmosphere and solar irradiation have the potential to significantly disrupt production.
Climatic conditions also play an important role when determining the best locations for algal production sites. Sunny and warm growing conditions are achieved in desert areas during the daytime are optimal for algal growth and bio oil production, however, the abrupt drop in temperatures at night are prohibitive to sustaining the best growth rates.
This is just the short list of problems and I will expand this article with time.
So once again what the Obama administration is proposing are ideas rehashed from the Carter era which have dubious potential other than as sinkholes for the funding of academics and crony Greens. Algae biofuels is not rocket surgery, you can grow the stuff in a puddle in your back yard. Turning it into usable quantities of oil though requires payoffs to politicians and friends of the administration and is a vote-getter from the ill informed. When will people wake up and do some basic high school level science reporting?
For alternatives to the collapsing welfare state, see my book, "Going Galt".
The United States of America is now bankrupt. It does not matter which political party will be in power over the next decades, the over-hang of $100 Trillion in unfunded liabilities from the local to Federal level, plus a hollow banking system, means there is no way to tax ourselves enough, or even cut spending enough, to have any chance to grow our way out of our problems.
What this means is that the productive elements of society will at some point go on strike, whether by choice or because they are forced to pack up their bags and hide. From Ayn Rand's famous novel Atlas Shrugged, comes the phrase "Who Is John Galt". Galt is the character who epitomizes the productive entrepreneur so fed up with the restrictions of the bureaucrats and corporatists that he decides to start a revolt of society's creators. In our current financial dilemma, Rand's theme has lead to the suggestion that productive citizens may only be able to survive by "Going Galt" and dropping out.
But how does one survive if one drops out of society, even for a short period? That's what this book is about, how to survive the upcoming economic collapse everyone knows is coming. What this book is not is anti-government, or anti-tax, or an anarchist cookbook, those are armchair discussions for the idle class. What "Going Galt" is about is surviving No Matter What Happens.