Monday, May 4, 2009

Beaming Solar Energy to Algae

I came across an article in the Seattle Times, written by Michelle Ma, on a novel way of growing algae for biofuels. As we know from Dr. Webber's class, and David Wogan's lecture, algae needs water, CO2 and sunlight to grow. There is, however, a debate in the scientific community on which is the better way to grow algae: whether it is the controlled environment of a bio reactor or the more "natural" algae pond.
According to the article, a Redmond-based company, called Bionavitas, is tipping the scales of the debate in favor of the algae pond. The major drawback of growing algae in a pond is that one needs a large surface area to get a sizable crop, because algae only grows on the top of the pond, where sunlight is abundant. Bionavitas has suggested inserting glass rods into the pond, allowing light to pass through the top layer, in order to create a whole new layer where algae can thrive. That means that the production of an algae pond can increase many-fold and bring algae-based biofuels one step closer to a large-scale implementation.

Although inserting glass rods seems like a great, idea, I don't believe that the will provide enough light to increase the output of pond drastically. It seems to me that algae located below the sun-lit top layer would only grow around the glass rods and nowhere else, since light will not be available there. Although some improvement does seem plausible, I don't believe this technology will offer that big of a gain to the overall output of the algae pond.


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