Enterprise Institute Explores Potential of Algae-Based Fuels
By Lee Broughton
The words pond scum and potential don’t usually go together.
But they are a natural fit at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis – one of the world’s leading plant science research facilities. Scientists at the Center’s Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels believe pond scum, aka algae, has a critical role to play in our energy future. Sponsored by a $25-million founding gift from the Taylor family, Institute researchers have spent the last six years working to identify and cultivate the next generation of alternative fuels derived from sustainable, renewable plant sources.
Dr. James Umen in his Danforth/Enterprise algae lab. (Photo taken by Jim Motavalli, courtesy of the Danforth Center)
The team’s insights on what it will take to unlock to promise of algae-based fuels also captured the attention of blogger and journalist Jim Motavalli, who made a visit to the Danforth Center. In his article for Car Talk.com, “All about Algae, Danforth’s Quest to Turn Pond Scum into Gasoline,” Motavalli noted the promise of early-stage findings: “Half of algae’s weight can be oil, so it’s simply a matter of extracting that oil from the cell walls. There are several ways of doing that, and the challenges aren’t insurmountable. Finding the right algae is the big hurdle now.”
Fuel derived from algae potentially packs a triple punch:
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
Limiting dependence on fossil fuels
Building energy independence from foreign fuel sources
But for that promise to be realized, there must be consumer demand for this clean, new fuel. We at Enterprise know that it’s not enough to be at the forefront of alternative fuel science if there isn’t a viable market for the alternatives that flow from that research. For that reason, we’ve placed a high priority on incorporating alternative fuels and new engine technologies into our fleet whenever they make business sense, and providing “test drives” of the new vehicles that will build the market demand for those fuels.
Just a few months ago, NBC News reported on a small-scale test of consumers’ appetites for algae-derived fuel by offering limited availability to consumers on a trial basis at several California fueling stations. The results of the test will shed further light on the business case for algae as a fuel source.
With promising advancements like these, the day you arrive at an Enterprise location and drive off powered by algae-based fuel might be closer than you think.
New developments in the field of synthetic biology have put new interest and energy behind algae as a viable alternative fuel source. Thanks to the work of Dr. Sayre and others, you could be filling your tank with algae-based fuel sooner than you might think.