Alternative fuels have been proclaimed as a way to help the environment and reduce our overall carbon emissions. However, while many environmentalists and liberals wholeheartedly support these new fuels, their approval oftentimes automatically makes conservatives suspicious of the alternatives. Also, supporters of alternative fuels have in some cases completely ignored the questions and concerns people have about these new fuels, further compounding the problem. However, if both sides were to toss away the politics for a moment, they would see that a new fuel source is everyone.
For example, algae biofuels are essentially carbon neutral, their growth has a very small impact on the environment, and algae can actually help to enhance wastewater treatment. Therefore, environmentalists aren't the ones that need to be convinced about the benefits of algae. Conservatives and those skeptical of alternative fuels are the ones that need to be convinced of the benefits of algae. In order to do this, the following two issues will have to be addressed with regards to algae: how it will benefit national security and the economy.
First off, using algae as a fuel source will actually help strengthen national security in the following four ways.
1. Algae can produce more fuel than any other biofuel source. The shear amount of fuel that can be produced by using algae will strengthen national security. With yields close to 6,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year, a country like the U.S. would only need the area the size of Maryland to produce 100% of its liquid fuel needs, essentially ending its dependence on foreign oil and petroleum in general. Having the ability to produce all the fuel needed domestically will allow the country to offer greater protection to its domestic supply infrastructure than relying on the otherwise fragile world supply structure.
2. Algae production doesn't take up any cropland. This eliminates the food-for-fuel dilemma that converting food crops like corn and soybeans have caused. While countries like the United States have plenty of food, many have argued that increase corn ethanol production has caused destabilizing food riots in other countries. This regional destabilization could threaten national security if it were to occur in a region vital to that country's interests (IE the Middle East, China, or Mexico for the United States). Therefore, since algae can be grown on marginal land, it will eliminate the need to take cropland and convert it to grow crops for fuel.
3. Algae can be produced practically anywhere. Since there are two methods of production, either closed systems like bioreactors or open systems like ponds, a technique can be adapted to any region or climate. This means that fuel production can be spread across a country and not centralized allowing local refineries to produce the fuel needed for the local population. The decentralization will also offer greater protection from attacks or natural disasters like Hurricane Ike which damaged multiple refineries on the Gulf Coast causing gas prices in the southeast to soar. With a decentralized structure, If an attack or disruption does happen to one algae production/refinery plant, only that immediate region might suffer and not the whole country.
4. Algae oil also offers many benefits for the military. For example, jet fuel makes up the majority (roughly 70%) of the U.S. Department of Defense's fuel needs. Unlike other alternative fuels like ethanol, algae can produce aviation fuel that is ASTM qualified for current engines. In fact, several successful test flights with algae as one of the key fuel components have taken place just in the past year. With these advances, the Department of Defense has already signaled that algae is seriously being considered as part of the U.S. national security plan by investing $35 million towards researching algae as a military aviation fuel. Algae oil will ensure the U.S. military a constant supply of aviation fuel.
Algae biofuels also offer many economic benefits as well:
1. Algae oil can essentially be refined into any comparable petroleum based product. This means that algae oil can be refined into aviation fuel for military or commercial planes or gasoline for cars. The best part is that the fuel refined from algae oil would be able to run in current car engines without any changes to the engine structure. This would allow a seamless conversion to this new oil source without the economic disruptions converting to other alternative fuel sources like hydrogen would cause.
2. Algae production can be coupled with other processes in a way to add value to previously viewed waste products. For example, many algae oil companies are considering coupling algae production with coal plant emissions. This means that the CO2 which would otherwise be viewed as a waste product, will now have value. Another area where algae will be able to add value to ‘waste' items is in wastewater treatment. By using algae in the wastewater treatment process, plants will have the ability to harvest and sell the algae used in the treatment or convert it into fuel to run the operations of the plant. One process developed by Algaewheel says that energy costs are 30% less by using their algae system as well as creating 95% less solid waste which is both environmentally and economically friendly (less waste means lower costs in disposal).
3. Products other than oil can be produced from algae as well. For example, the algal biomass remaining after oil extraction can be converted into feedstock for fish, poultry, pigs, or even cows helping to reduce the overall costs of food. Algae also has the potential to become a food source directly for human consumption. Algae, while unappetizing to many, is actually very nutritious and the Japanese have been eating algae in the form of seaweed for centuries. Additionally, chemical or pharmaceutical products can be created from algae. One example is an $800/gallon chemical (propyl butyrate) that can be produced by feeding algae to microbes. This particular use will be perfect for algae produced in wastewater treatment facilities that, due to the exposure to potentially harmful substances, might not be fit for feedstock or human consumption.
These few examples don't cover every way algae production can benefit national security or the economy. However, hopefully these examples show that algae, an alternative fuel supported by environmentalist, also offers broad benefits to those with a conservative mindset as well.
Jonathan Williams is a conservative blogger at www.BlatantReality.com and www.SCStatehouseBlog.com. He is also the founder and current president of the nonprofit organization Need by Need, Inc. He can be reached at Jon@BlatantReality.com.
Other cool stuff on Celsias:
Follow us on Twitter: Celsiastweets