Backed by millions of dollars in venture capital, researchers are producing fuel oil from algae by feeding it carbon dioxide and growing it near CO2-producing power plants -- a renewable biofuel.
A Really 'Green' Energy Source: Algae
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
When you sit down and make a list of the issues we'll be dealing with over these next few years, there's the economy, there's our security and there's energy pretty much at the top of that list. And because the search is on for any source other than oil, that brings us to our closing story here tonight, what can safely be called an alternative fuel. Our report from NBC's Kerry Sanders in Miami.
KERRY SANDERS reporting:
Thirty years ago when American drivers were outraged as gas spiked to 55 cents a gallon, government scientists wondered if somehow...
Mr. BILL GRIECO (Chemical Engineer): This is an algae paste.
SANDERS: ...algae could be used as fuel. It was one of those tiny federal research programs mostly ignored until gas hit $3 a gallon.
Mr. BRIAN WILSON (Solix Biofuels): There's no doubt we can get oil from algae. The challenge is scaling it up to very high productivity at very low cost.
SANDERS: Nationwide more than 70 private labs backed by hundreds of millions in venture capital and in oil companies like Chevron and Shell, scientists are now reporting successes, squeezing enough biodiesel from slimy algae to make this a viable enterprise.
Mr. AL DARZINS (United States Department of Energy): Algal oil has the capability of really replacing or displacing quite a bit of the petroleum diesel that we produce here in the United States, which is to the tune of
66 billion gallons.
SANDERS: Researchers discovered when this primitive organism is exposed to extreme sunlight or cold water, it creates stress, which causes the algae to produce oil.
Mr. FRED TENNANT (Petroalgae): The great thing about algae is Mother Nature made it to grow very, very fast. So instead of harvesting once a year or twice a year, we harvest every couple days.
SANDERS: While it grows faster than corn used for ethanol, giving algae enough to eat has been a problem. Every pound of algae consumes more than two pounds of carbon dioxide. One solution: grow it where there's an abundance of CO2--power plants. In one small-scale test in Arizona, the power plant pumped its carbon dioxide into water where the algae then absorbed it.
Mr. GRIECO: We're able to convert a renewable product like algae into fuel, and at the same time consume C02. It's a perfect story.
SANDERS: Algae to oil, literally the greenest of fuels. Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Fellsmere, Florida.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
And that's our broadcast for this Tuesday night. Thank you for being with us.
And by the way, we were reminded today that it was four years ago tonight when we first got together like this. So on behalf of the hardest working team in television, thank you for watching over these past four years.
I'm Brian Williams. We hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening.
That's the night they light the tree we keep out back. Good night for all of us.
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