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Originally published February 20 2011

Alternative algae fuel still a pipe dream, suggests study

by Jonathan Benson, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Engineers and scientists from around the world have been exploring the possibility of producing "green" fuel using natural algae, and they say that one day it could revolutionize the fuel production industry and lessen or eliminate reliance on petroleum-based fossil fuels. But a study presented by the Rand Corporation, a global policy think tank, suggests that, despite the research efforts, little has been accomplished in actually making algae fuel a reality.

Various research facilities around the world have taken up the task of developing a system that converts algae into lipids and oils using natural sunlight and carbon dioxide. The hope is that these algae liquids can be converted into large enough quantities of usable fuel in order to help offset fossil fuel use.

"There are probably well over 100 academic efforts to use genetic engineering to optimize biofuel production from algae," said Matthew C. Posewitz, an assistant professor of chemistry at the Colorado School of Mines, to the New York Times. "There's just intense interest globally."

While testing and experiments conducted on algae in laboratories have shown some promise, scientists are a long way off from actually producing algae-based liquid fuel in usable quantities. And Rand says that even ten years from now, the technology will still hardly be able to produce significant quantities of the fuel.

"We think algae is great, but it's a research topic," said Jim Bartis, lead author of the Rand study. "There is no evidence that we can produce it economically any time soon. The less you know about a technology, the better it looks."

According to some, though, the technology is already viable. In 2008, a company called Sapphire Energy claimed to have produced usable quantities of crude oil from algae. The company said that production costs are roughly the same as those associated with petroleum extraction, and the process successfully produces diesel, jet fuel, and premium-grade gasoline (

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