The world of today for most of its more technologically evolved residents, has a heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and natural gas are still what drives most of the engines of modern businesses and homes. There are exceptions of course, but the more “green” technologies of solar, wind, and water…and algae….are still very much the minority when compared to the legacy fuels.
As pond owners and aquarists we spend much of our time trying to eliminate algae, in order to keep our larger plants healthy as well as to maintain our clear view of the fish we have chosen to keep. Meanwhile in other parts of the world there are vast outdoor ponds of algae being grown for use in the creation of algae oil, and that algae oil is intended to some day be a replacement for traditional fossil fuels. In the March 2014 issue of the International Society for Applied Phycology’s Newsletter, Dr. Stephen Mayfield gives his prediction that barrels of algae oil could be economically viable vs. barrels of crude oil by as early as 2019. The viability of something like an algae oil vs. crude oil would depend heavily on whether it would be readily accepted by the population. More importantly it would depend on whether the production of algae and algae oil could be scaled up to large scale production. Doing something like that would require quite a bit of real estate for ponds of water to grow the algae and an economical solution for harvesting the algae.
The large scale production and ramping algae oil production up to the point of being practical while keeping the cost per barrel of “algae oil” lower than traditional fossil fuels seems to be one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome. According to a 2013 article on Smithsonian.com by Tuan C. Nguyen states that ExxonMobil put a great deal of money into a project to study the feasibility of algae oil as a bio-fuel and after several years of research they concluded that our ability to produce enough of it at a reasonable cost is most likely 25 years or more away from now. So, to say that different sources are reporting different future possibilities would be an understatement at the least.
Who would ever have thought that algae we work so hard to eliminate in our freshwater and saltwater aquariums and ponds could be one of the many solutions for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in the future? I know this will give me a little food for thought as I work through on cleaning my aquarium in the coming months.