Pond Scum and The Future

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posted on Mar, 11 2006 @ 11:13 PM
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When we think of algae, the first thing that comes to mind is pond scum – that slimy green stuff that clogs up drains and leaves a slimy green slush on the surface of an otherwise clear and tranquil looking pond. The next thing that comes to mind are methods of removing it. After all, who would want to cultivate ponds of that stinky green mush?

But how many of us realize that these simple, resilient, single-cell plants are so important to life on Earth in so many ways? In many eco-systems, algae and diatoms form the foundation of the food chain. It provides food for lesser species, which are in turn eaten by progressively larger species of animals all the way up to the top of the food chain.

East Asian cultures have been relying on algae as a food source for ages now. Seaweed, a macroalgae, has been the ingredient of many food products, from sushi to jelly and even as the emulsifier in ice-cream. And for years now, health fanatics have extolled the virtues of nutritional supplements containing microalgal strains that will increase the body’s health, vitality and energy.

Air Supply

Aside from being the foundation of various eco-systems’ food chain, a lesser known fact is that these simple plants provide between 50-70% of the oxygen we all breathe and depend on. How is this possible, one might ask? We all know that forests are important features in the planet’s oxygen cycle, but algae?

The answer lies in the fact that more than 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Most marine algae may be almost invisible to the naked eye, but just because they are not as prominent as tropical rainforests or the evergreen forests of the northern latitudes, it does not mean they are any less important.

Now, as we step into the dawn of a new millennia, our friends the algae may become more important to us than we realize. With fossil fuel reserves continuously depleting, the search is on for a viable source of renewable energy. It is in our best interest to push for clean and green sources of energy.

At the forefront of these renewable sources of energy are hydrogen fuel-cells and biodiesel technologies. Although hydrogen fuel is touted as the energy source of choice, with water vapor as the only emission, currently the infrastructure for its widespread usage is not yet in place. That leaves biodiesel as the next viable alternative.

The Misunderstood Diesel

When we think of diesel engines, the image that often comes to mind is that of large trucks and buses spewing a dirty black cloud from its exhausts. But this is common misperception. Modern compression-ignition (diesel) engine are much cleaner than its polluting predecessors and is actually more efficient than the best spark-ignition (gasoline) engine. Some 40% more efficient. Coupled with the fact that biodiesel fuels are fully compatible with the modern diesel engines without the need for any modifications, clearly the best alternative fuel for the present would be biodiesel.

Critics to biodiesel often cite resource limitations as a dampening factor to the development of biodiesel alternatives. They say that the land needed to grow biofuel crops would compete with land needed for food crops. They say it will compete for water and nutrients. This is certainly true for most biodiesel crops. But this is where our friend the algae comes in. Since it grows in ponds and could possibly be cultivated at sea, land issues are out of the way.

It has been estimated that the per unit area yield of oil from microalgae culture systems is as high as 19,000 to 76,000 liters per acre, per year. That is between 7 to 31 times more productive, compared with the next best crop, palm oil at 2,400 liters per acre per year. Oil derived from algal sources processes into biodiesel as easily as any other terrestrial crop.

As for nutrient problems, this is clearly a non-issue as algal cultivation systems can be tied in to many other processes, such as waste streams from human or animal wastes to coal power plants, as a method of scrubbing the carbon dioxide emissions.

The only difficulty present with algal cultivation systems is finding the right strain with a high lipid content that grows fast and a cost-effective cultivation method that best suits the strain selected. A lot of research and development is currently underway to overcome this obstacle, but the future looks promising.

Into the Future

When the time comes and hydrogen fuel becomes the alternative energy source of choice, our friend the algae may still provide us with the answer. As early as 1939 scientists discovered a strain of algae that sometimes switches production from oxygen to hydrogen. They found that by depriving the algae of sulfur, normal photosynthesis within the plant would be disrupted and it would start producing hydrogen.

Clearly, algae are more important and useful than we give it credit. Not only do we owe much of our oxygen supply to it, these amazing plants may someday provide us with another reason for our dependence on them – as a source of fuel. So the next time you see a patch of green slime stuck to the wall of drainage ditches, don’t simply dismiss it. We depend on them more than they depend on us.



References:

Hall, J. (2004) Ecology.com: The Most Important Organism in the World
www.ecology.com...

Wikipedia (2006) Wikipedia.com: Algae Culture
en.wikipedia.org...

Bengston, R. (2005) American Energy Independence: Biodiesel
www.americanenergyindependence.com...

Shehan, J., Dunahay, T., Benemann, J., and Roessler, P. (1998) A Look Back at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Aquatic Culture Program – Biodiesel From Algae pp. 3-4, pp. 248-251. www1.eere.energy.gov...

Briggs, M. (2004) UNH Biodiesel Group: Widescale Biodiesel Production From Algae
www.unh.edu...

Originally posted at: www.xanga.com...

[edit on 3-18-2006 by Valhall]




posted on Mar, 12 2006 @ 05:52 AM
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In a related news story, a Massachusets start up is developing algal biofuels technology to cleanse the pollution from smokestacks. Inspired from technology to develop life-support systems for NASA, Professor Isaac Berzin was working on a project to take humans to other worlds.


It Comes From Space to Solve our Energy Problems

GreenFuel Technologies Corporation, a start-up company in Cambridge Massachusetts, wants to use little green algae to cleanse the smoke from polluting smokestacks, converting it back into bio-fuels such as diesel or ethanol.


Originally inspired by NASA studies into regenerative life-support, the technology incorporates specially shaped tubes of water and site-specific algae at the end of large-scale sources of Carbon Dioxide such as coal-burning plants, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 40% and NOx by up to 86%, according to the company.

“This is a really big idea.” said GreenFuel founder and MIT Aeronautics Professor Isaac Berzin during a recent interview with Scientific American.

While the idea of using algae to clean smoke is not new, GreenFuel has made two breakthroughs that it believes will make the concept viable. First, it developed techniques to tailor algal species to specific sites, increasing efficiency and reducing problems such as die-off that have plagued other attempts. “There are a lot of variables which go into selecting a given strain of algae, from basic environmental factors such as climate and light levels, to power-plant factors like the nature of output gases, to post-processing requirements.” explained Marty Goldenblatt, VP of Sales, in a recent interview with PhysOrg. “We use rapid adaptation devices which allows us to find what set of algae is best for different conditions.”

Please visit the link provided for the complete story.


I really like this idea of using algae to help reduce our fossil fuel dependence and cut pollution emissions. As I have mentioned in my previous post, most of the technology is there, it just requires some slight R&D development and the right push from energy companies.

That second reason is the bigger hurdle. The big players in energy are usually quite reserved when it comes to investing in high-tech initiatives.



posted on Mar, 15 2006 @ 03:26 PM
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Excellant Article. What I want to see done with this technology is bring up the sequestered pollution up to 99.99%. It should be possible with a combination of techniques both old and new alike. Maybe we can bioengineer some specialised algae to reduce inefficiencies.



posted on Mar, 17 2006 @ 06:18 AM
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What I want to know is.
Will the governments give out a subsidy for places using these ?
and can I get one for my house ?

I have been toying with the idea of buying an old landrover (so that it would be road tax exempt) and running it on duel fuel and biodiesel.

The problem with the algae in the uk is it hasn't gotten much press.
The thing has has had the most press is the biodiesel coporsation.
I don't know which crops they use but as I know a major investor in the company when it all comes online I should be able to get a nice little tour.


[edit on 17-3-2006 by flibble]



posted on Mar, 17 2006 @ 07:10 AM
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Originally posted by sardion2000
Maybe we can bioengineer some specialised algae to reduce inefficiencies.


That's not without its dangers. If I'm not mistaken, Caulerpa Taxifolia is also engineered, is it not?

Anyway, from GreenFuel Tech's website:


Independent testing firm CK Environmental, Inc. conducted continuous measurements for one week, using EPA standard methods for NOX and CO2 emissions monitoring. The CK test report documents that the GreenFuel beta system delivered 50% CO2 reduction on rainy days, and 82% CO2 reduction on sunny days, along with 86% NOX reduction under all conditions. These results represent combined performance unmatched by any other systems currently on the market.


Not bad, but I wonder, can't they pipe the excess back into the system for readsorbtion? Or is that reabsorption? I always confuse the two. With more R&D I'm sure the technology can scrub 99.99% of the emissions.

I'll be keeping an eye on the latest developments. In fact, I'm hoping this thread can be sort of a place to gather any and all news regarding algae and its use as a source of biofuels.

flibble:

I'm not sure about subsidies, but the profits that can be made from trading carbon credits should count for something, right? I don't know if it will be worthwhile to install this thing in your house though... the company said,


Potential customers in the US and in other countries include power generators, steam plants, and manufacturing facilities, among others.


I don't think home users fit the bill. Anyway, it seems that algae-based biodiesels haven't got much press anywhere. I only stumbled upon the idea while doing research on the viability of cultivating kelp farms for the purpose of renewable energy sources.



posted on Mar, 17 2006 @ 08:22 AM
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The only algae cultivation I have heard of was from a friend who does process control engineering and it's a place up in Scotland.
Well seaweed
Did you know they use it in pies and it's also part of radar absorbant paint as used in stealth fighters.
I've only ever read research papers on the subject regarding using algae as a fuel source never seen or heard of any practical applications.



posted on Mar, 17 2006 @ 08:53 AM
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Certain algae's produces H2O2 (Hydrogen Peroxide) which is used in certain engines.


MBF

posted on Mar, 17 2006 @ 11:44 PM
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Originally posted by Beachcoma

Coupled with the fact that biodiesel fuels are fully compatible with the modern diesel engines without the need for any modifications, clearly the best alternative fuel for the present would be biodiesel.


The first diesel engine was run on peanut oil not diesel, I don't think that people know about this fact.



As for nutrient problems, this is clearly a non-issue as algal cultivation systems can be tied in to many other processes, such as waste streams from human or animal wastes to coal power plants, as a method of scrubbing the carbon dioxide emissions.


I'm a farmer and we raised hogs years ago. The lagoon where the hog waste went still has algae growing and we haven't had any hogs in a good 15 years. Also, methane could be collected from the waste so you could produce two forms of energy at the same time.



posted on Mar, 18 2006 @ 12:00 AM
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Originally posted by MBF
Also, methane could be collected from the waste so you could produce two forms of energy at the same time.



Actually, there's another form of energy that can be obtained: biomass for burning. The algae growing in the pond can be sieved out, dried, turned into pellets and burned as a coal substitute!



posted on Mar, 18 2006 @ 11:17 AM
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There is this company out there called Green[color=limegreen]Shift Corporation (now owned by Veridium Corporation) that uses algae to convert the carbon dioxide produced in the production of corn-based ethanol to produce additional biofuels. The algae they use is comprised of 94% starch and 6% oil. The starch part can be converted into more ethanol while the oil bit can be turned into biodiesel.


Veridium Technology Converts Exhaust Carbon Dioxide from Fermentation Stage of Ethanol Facilities into New Ethanol and Biodiesel

MOUNT ARLINGTON, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 23, 2006--Veridium Corporation (OTC Bulletin Board: VRDM - News) today announced its new patent-pending technology for the conversion of exhaust carbon dioxide from the fermentation stage of ethanol production facilities back into new ethanol and biodiesel.

Earlier this year, Veridium announced its patented bioreactor process for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuelled combustion processes. The new technology is simple, robust and scalable, and was designed to stimulate additional revenues for power plant operators while decreasing plant emissions. Veridium's bioreactor is based on a new strain iron-loving blue-green algae discovered thriving in a hot stream at Yellowstone National Park. The algae use the available carbon dioxide and water to grow new algae, giving off pure oxygen and water vapor in the process. Once the algae grow to maturity, they fall to the bottom of the bioreactor where the algae can be harvested for other uses several times per day. One such use is conversion into clean fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

Ethanol is made from starch-based feedstocks and biodiesel is made from animal fats and vegetable oils. Corn, the primary feedstock for ethanol production today, contains about 66% starch and 3-4% oil.

Veridium's new BioStarch Recirculation System(TM) routes exhaust carbon dioxide from the fermentation stage of the ethanol production process through Veridium's bioreactor where it is consumed by algae that are comprised of about 94% starch and about 6% oil.

"The algae convert exhaust carbon dioxide and sunlight into biomass," said David Winsness, chief executive officer of Veridium's industrial design division. "This biomass is a very efficient feedstock for ethanol production and is itself a concentrated source of the primary ingredient of ethanol. It doubles in mass several times per day - a rate much faster than plants, and it does all of this on a footprint that is orders of magnitude less than the surface area required for crops. That said, this technology is by no means a replacement for crops. Traditional ethanol feedstocks are still required to generate the quantities of carbon dioxide needed to make our bioreactor effective."


The technology used is similiar to the one developed by GreenFuel Technologies but Veridium is pushing their technologies more towards the agricultural sector, instead of the energy sector.

Related Internet Links:
Veridium Technology Sequesters Exhaust Carbon Dioxide
Veridium and Mean Green BioFuels Turn Livestock and Poultry Waste into Biodiesel



posted on Mar, 18 2006 @ 12:40 PM
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Good posts and sourcing BC.


The question as always is why not even small energy dependent nations is willing to go this route when they have to plant cash grops (one of the major reasons why so many starve in Africa) just to get that desperately needed USD to buy oil with. It really beggers the imagination what sort of control they must have to keep the third world on such a short leash.

Stellar



posted on Mar, 18 2006 @ 03:00 PM
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Beachcoma,

Could you please respond to my u2u concerning this thread? Thank you so kindly for your cooperation.


MBF

posted on Mar, 18 2006 @ 10:37 PM
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Originally posted by Beachcoma

Originally posted by MBF
Also, methane could be collected from the waste so you could produce two forms of energy at the same time.



Actually, there's another form of energy that can be obtained: biomass for burning. The algae growing in the pond can be sieved out, dried, turned into pellets and burned as a coal substitute!


You are right, that would be three forms of energy. Also, the dried algae might could be used for cow feed if you didn't want to use it to burn.

I have always said that there were many forms of energy all around us, all we have to do is recognize what they are and how we can use it.



posted on Mar, 18 2006 @ 11:44 PM
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Ive been in awe of simple Algae AKA (Pond Scum) since I first found it it could produce hydrogen thanks to its metabolic switch on the Discovery channel.

Alot of Hydrogen critics say that hydrogen really aint clean because we still have to pour large amounts of energy to get the Hydrogen out of water in the first place. But simple Algae could do all the work for free and without any harmful byproducts.

The production rate aint quite up there enough to be "viable commercially" but with rising fossil fuel prices that changing quick. Researchers also believe that yields could rise by at least 10 fold with further research.

link

If they can really do that we could finally have a clean and practically limitless energy source. As long as the Sun keeps shining and we have water we would be all set.


I didnt know just how good a biodiesel pond scum could be, that makes this simple plant even more amazing thanks for the information on that Beachcoma



posted on Mar, 19 2006 @ 04:43 AM
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Originally posted by ShadowXIX
Alot of Hydrogen critics say that hydrogen really aint clean because we still have to pour large amounts of energy to get the Hydrogen out of water in the first place. But simple Algae could do all the work for free and without any harmful byproducts.

The production rate aint quite up there enough to be "viable commercially" but with rising fossil fuel prices that changing quick. Researchers also believe that yields could rise by at least 10 fold with further research.

link


I think I found a follow up to that Feb 2000 article on Wired News -- Feb 23, 2006


Mutant Algae Is Hydrogen Factory

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have engineered a strain of pond scum that could, with further refinements, produce vast amounts of hydrogen through photosynthesis.

The work, led by plant physiologist Tasios Melis, is so far unpublished. But if it proves correct, it would mean a major breakthrough in using algae as an industrial factory, not only for hydrogen, but for a wide range of products, from biodiesel to cosmetics.

The new strain of algae, known as C. reinhardtii, has truncated chlorophyll antennae within the chloroplasts of the cells, which serves to increase the organism's energy efficiency. In addition, it makes the algae a lighter shade of green, which in turn allows more sunlight deeper into an algal culture and therefore allows more cells to photosynthesize.

Please visit the link provided for the complete story.


The engineered strain has gone beyond the need 10 percent increase in solar energy conversion efficiency to make it economically viable. Add to that, this strain currently produces 100,000 times more hydrogen than the original strain. But they still need to increase it by a factor of 100 to make it commercially viable.

Even the famous bio-entrepeneur J. Craig Venter has got himself involved in this project.

Related Internet Links:
The Register, UK: Pond life: the future of energy
Autoblog.com: Bioengineered algae bringing hydrogen fuel-cells closer?


Anyway, speaking of engineered algae, I spent nearly 3 hours on Google looking for any info I can get on the lipid or starch content of Caulerpa Taxifolia, the infamous 'killer-algae'. I wasn't very successful, though. This is the only bit I could find:


Seasonal variations in fatty acid composition of Caulerpa taxifolia (M. Vahl.) C. Ag. in the northern Adriatic Sea (Malinska, Croatia)

Abstract text

Fatty acid composition was monitored in Caulerpa taxifolia collected from January to December 1998 in the northern Adriatic Sea. Saturated (45.2–73.7%), monounsaturated (10.3–25.9%) and polyunsaturated (16–34.3%) fatty acid proportions varied considerably during the period investigated. The Caulerpa growth cycle proceeded through a) minor changes during the latent and growth recruitment phase in spring, b) a gradual increase in unsaturated fatty acids during maximum growth in the summer/early autumn period and c) an abrupt increase, particularly of polyunsaturated fatty acids, during biomass maintenance and survival as lowering temperatures approached the lethal level. These variations were similar to those found in native algal species of temperate regions. Stimulation of growth and spreading can be partly explained by successful adaptation of C. taxifolia to the seasonality of environmental parameters (primarily temperature).


To access the full research text one needs a payed subscription, and I couldn't find a free copy of the report anywhere on the net. I'm not gonna pay $27 dollars just to know what the percentage is... all I want to know is how much lipid and how much starch is in that seaweed?

Since it's such a pest, and it's not particularly edible, what is the viability of turning it into a source of biofuel? Those two figures, lipid and starch content are necessary to determine that.

Also, I couldn't find any reference to using c. taxifolia as a biofuel feedstock. Which is strange, considering there are numerous articles detailing how fast this plant grows, how easy it propagates and how it stores carbohydrates efficiently... all the hallmarks of a good source of ethanol. The few leads I managed to find lead to '404 file not found' errors.

Is someone keeping this info away from the public?



posted on Mar, 19 2006 @ 03:12 PM
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100,000 times more hydrogen than the original strain and its still not "economically viable"


I hope this isnt like Wave power generators. When they first looked at that technology somebody happen to miscalculate by a factor of 10 it cost and they labeled it as not "economically viable"




Although it can produce energy extremely efficiently it was effectively killed off in the mid 1980s when a European Union report miscalculated the cost of the electricity it produced by a factor of 10. In the last few years, the error has been realised, and interest in the Duck is becoming intense.


Even countries like the UK which would be perfect for these generators didnt spend a single buck into R&D of this tech for ten years from 1989 until 1999. Perhaps due to this early "mistake" in the estimated cost.

I wonder if someone was payed to add a extra 0 in the cost estimate by a rival energy company. I could think of a few groups that might want to fudge such numbers

www.fujitaresearch.com...

www.worldenergy.org... .asp

If we could harness even a tiny fraction of the energy available in ocean waves it would meet all our energy needs. Something like 5% of the cost of the US having these things would meet all our energy needs in the US.



posted on Mar, 19 2006 @ 03:31 PM
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It is economically viable, just not commercially viable, yet. I think there is a big difference there. One means it works, pretty good at that. The other means it also makes a profit.

Anyway, I found a little bit more on hydrogen from algae:


Growing hydrogen for the cars of tomorrow

* 25 February 2006
* Peter Aldhous
* Magazine issue 2540

If we're going to run tomorrow's cars on hydrogen, it doesn't come any greener than farm fresh - New Scientist visits the gas growers

DOWN at the farm, glistening polythene tubes stretch into the distance across the salt flats of the southern Californian desert. But they aren't propagating some miraculous new crop that can grow on this barren, sun-baked earth. These water-filled tubes are teeming with countless microscopic algae that have been engineered to soak up the sun's rays and produce hydrogen to fuel the state's cars and other vehicles.

That, at least, is the vision of Tasios Melis of the University of California, Berkeley. And he's not stopping at California. "We've done some calculations," he says. "To displace gasoline use in the US would take hydrogen farms covering about 25,000 square kilometres." To put that in perspective, that's less than a tenth of what the US devotes to growing soya.

[The full article requires a subscription]


Underlined for emphasis.



posted on Mar, 19 2006 @ 04:39 PM
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A tenth of what we use for Soy man thats not really all that much in the schemes of things.


Originally posted by Beachcoma
It is economically viable, just not commercially viable, yet. I think there is a big difference there. One means it works, pretty good at that. The other means it also makes a profit.



If they really wanted to make this work couldnt they help the commercial viablity of it a great deal with things like tax breaks for the algae industry or something to that effect? Perhaps free goverment land for farms aswell



posted on Mar, 21 2006 @ 12:07 AM
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Originally posted by ShadowXIX


If they really wanted to make this work couldnt they help the commercial viablity of it a great deal with things like tax breaks for the algae industry or something to that effect? Perhaps free goverment land for farms aswell


No, tax breaks do not control weather conditions or rapidly produce algae when demand is increased. The fact is the stat of 19k-76k liters of fuel produced from an area (any volume specs) of 1 acre per year, is not that great, a volume spec would be more appreciated. What would be the benefits?

ALso, if you search hard enough you can find all sorts of green technologies like engineered ecoli that produces ethanol.

Fact is, oil and natural gas are much easier to extract and use as the technology has been around for years and is far superior to what algae farm equipment manufactures have.

20million barrels of oil per day in the US consumed, estimated. 90% for energy needs.
This is very pleasing to the eye (without forethought or afterthought), but commercially, this sounds like a pipe dream. Anyone has yet to produce anything of significance to say why these green methods are better. Just a buch of silly jibberish that we can do this and do that with whatnot. THis kind of talk has been around for decades. Put your mind to it and I am sure you can come up with something.



posted on Mar, 21 2006 @ 12:42 AM
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Originally posted by Frosty
No, tax breaks do not control weather conditions or rapidly produce algae when demand is increased.


So tax cuts wouldnt help make something more commercially viable?? So let me get this straight, making something cost less does not help its commercial viablity?? Im not quite following you there.

I never asked or said tax cuts would make it a profit maker just it could help thus making people not have to increase its production rate as high to be profitable.

What does weather conditions have to do this technology? These would have to be grown in inclosed structures like greenhouses to harvest the Hydrogen. They would be put out in useless desert land or some other sunny place since the only thing the really require besides water is lots of sunlight. The desert has that in spades and water can be pumped anywhere you want it. Its not like algae is hard to grow either weather is really a non issue.

When demand is increased you grow more algae just as any grown product, when soy demand increases you grow more soy when theres a higher demand for apples people grow more apples. People have been doing that with crops since the begining of recorded history.





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