From the mountains, to the prairies, to the estuaries green with scum, researchers are all trying to find the next best biofuel. In a study published today in Nature Communications researchers identified an enzyme in the overwhelmingly common algae Botryococcus braunii as being one of the keys to that algae's remarkable ability to create all sorts of hydrocarbons, which could be used in a variety of fuels (think substitutes for kerosene, diesel, etc). The algae can be found in water of varying degrees of freshness across six continents and is very good at producing hydrocarbons that can be burned in the place of fossil fuels. Using these kinds of biofuels still requires burning things to generate energy, so it's not as clean as say, solar or wind, but it's still a step towards keeping oil and gas in the ground, and can easily be used in existing infrastructure and technology. The problem is that these tiny algae don't produce enough oil to make them viable sources of biofuels, which is why researchers were looking into the biological methods that allow the algae to produce hydrocarbons.
Satellites in space and a robot under Lake Erie's surface are part of a network of scientific tools trying to keep algae toxins out of drinking water supplies in the shallowest of the Great Lakes. It's one of the most wide-ranging freshwater monitoring systems in the U.S., researchers say, and some of its pieces soon will be watching for harmful algae on hundreds of lakes nationwide. Researchers are creating an early warning system using real-time data from satellites that in recent years have tracked algae bloom hotpots such as Florida's Lake Okeechobee and the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay. Satellites in space and a robot under Lake Erie's surface are part of a network of scientific tools trying to keep algae toxins out of drinking water supplies in the Great Lakes. The system in development will cast a wider net at a time when many states can't afford to monitor every lake threatened by harmful algae.
Algae are a varied category of aquatic plant-like creatures. Phytoplankton is a term used to describe oceanic algae. These basic creatures generate energy from sunlight through photosynthesis, which allows them to manufacture carbohydrates, oils, and proteins. These can then be processed to produce a third-generation biofuel. Biofuel is any fuel derived from living things or living things' waste products (like fecal matter or urine).
Algae has such immense potential as a biofuel source that scientists have long been studying it for sustainable energy. They even created 3D printed artificial leaves out of algae to produce oxygen for our investigations of Mars. Now, scientists from Texas A&M AgriLife Research are using artificial intelligence to break a new world record for producing algae as a reliable biofuel source, so that a greener and more economical fuel source for jet aircraft and other kinds of transportation could be achieved. The research project is conducted by Joshua Yuan, PhD., and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Fossil Energy Office. One of the major problems with algaes' prominence was their growth limitations due to mutual shading and the high cost of harvest.