The New York Times reports today on an emerging, yet relatively unknown, energy source – algae farms. Dow Chemical and Algenol Biofuels are working together on an algae farm that uses algae to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol as a fuel source or a component in plastics. The biggest challenge has been harvesting the hydrocarbons in commercially viable volumes.
Instead of producing ethanol, it looks like Dow plans to use the primarily to replace natural gas as an ingredient in plastic. For its part, Algenol looks more interested in producing ethanol. Algenol is working with Dow, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Membrane Technology and Research, and the Department of Energy to improve how oxygen and water are separated from the ethanol.
Not just any company can pursue algae as an energy source. Significant resources are needed. The Dow/Algenol project will cost about $50 million. Technological barriers must still be overcome, and that requires scientific expertise.