Friday, 1 August 2008

Scum to the Rescue?

The claim (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/31/biofuels.travelandtransport) that the American company Sapphire has raised about $50m of venture capital (some of it apparently from the Wellcome Trust) to extract 'green crude' from algae could be a real salvation (if it works). The company claim that the oil is "up to 100 times better than biofuels" and it certainly has several advantages. The process does not take up acreages of agricultural land (needed for food production), would not require any major changes in automobile technologies (unlike ethanol), generates a product that does not (unlike real crude) contain significant quantities of sulphur, nitrogen and benzene and, most importantly, only returns carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that was removed by the algae in photosynthesis. The process does not use drinking water and is said to produce fuels similar in cost (at what price, precisely?) to those generated from fossil fuels. Sapphire are vague about the identity of the algae used but claim they could be in commercial production within 3-5 years (interestingly, eating substantially into the claimed '100 months needed to save the world' (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/aug/01/climatechange.carbonemissions?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront). There are, of course, many unanswered questions about this proposed process.

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