Powered by Pond Scum: Could biodiesel from algae be a viable transportation fuel?

There are over 26 million cars on the roads of the UK and the vast majority of these are fuelled by fossil fuel derived oil. As well as the price of fuel steadily increasing, climate change and geopolitical issues have also hastened the search for more sustainable sources of oil. Biodiesel has the potential to be an alternative as it is derived from pure vegetable oil and can generally be run in conventional diesel engines without modification or as a blend with standard diesel. However there are several environmental and ecological issues such as competing land use especially concerning food crops.

Algae are similar to plants in that they produce lipids through photosynthesis which can be recovered to produce oil. They have the potential for higher yields as they require less surface area to grow and more of the oil is recoverable. They could potentially be grown, harvested and converted into biodiesel on marginal land without displacing food crops. The biofuels lecture given at the A4 module showed that transport energy requirements represent a large proportion of total energy use in the UK which is growing yearly. Alternatives such as algae have the potential of reducing dependence on fossil fuels which may be extremely beneficial both politically and environmentally.

I am going to begin this essay with an introduction to biodiesel and some associated environmental issues. I will then discuss algae, looking at the history over the course of the 20th century. I will also look at current and future technologies before seeing
whether this micro-organism could be the fuel to keep our transport system running.

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