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Algenol's Algae-Based Biofuel: The Next Generation in Renewable Energy (VIDEOS)

May 12, 2014 11:04 AM EDT

Algenol, an up-and-coming company that specializes in algae-based biofuels, has developed and perfected its revolutionary technology, likely securing its spot as the next generation's leader in renewable energy.

In collaborating with University of Toronto scientists, CEO Paul Woods developed Algenol's patented Direct to Ethanol technology, which enables the production of the four most important fuels (ethanol, gasoline, jet, and diesel fuel) for around a mere $1.27 per gallon, according to the company's website.

A combination of algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide (CO2), saltwater and non-arable land yields a whopping 8,000 total gallons of liquid fuel per acre per year - that's way more than the 420 gallons of fuel per acre per year that corn biofuel produces, Woods told Nature World News (NWN).

Despite corn biofuels' contributions to the renewable energy industry, Woods is excited to make way for his revolutionary methods.

"So like all natural progressions we'll move away from, or at least add on top of, taking food and making fuel out of it, into something that I think is a lot more advanced," Woods said.

Direct to Ethanol technology - what Woods refers to as the "3rd generation" in biofuel technique - is a two-step process. First, the concoction of sunlight, algae and CO2 produces ethanol, and then the leftover algae biomass is converted to biodiesel, gasoline and jet fuel. It is the only renewable fuel production process that can convert more than 85 percent of its CO2 feedstock into the four most important fuels, Algenol's website notes.

The spongy plantlike species are a type of cyanobacteria - one of the most photosynthetically active organisms on Earth - and are extremely efficient at carbon fixation (turning CO2 into organic compounds).

Algae can recycle carbon byproduct of fuel processes back into the system to then make more fuel.

After sifting through 2,300 algae strains, Woods and his team found in America a host strain that is best for producing fuel. But, Slate.com notes, optimal conditions are needed as well. Too much heat kills algae; too much cold causes it to grow slowly.

It would seem that there is no downside to this cost efficient process.

"We conclusively proved that the algae was safe," Woods assured NWN.

Even though the ingredients appear foolproof to the researchers, the same cannot be guaranteed for the public.

"When it comes down to it, Americans aren't like Europeans who tend to care more about reducing their carbon footprint," Douglas C. Elliott, who has researched alternative fuels for 40 years, told Smithsonian.com. "The driving force for adopting any kind of fuel is ultimately whether it's as cheap as the gasoline we're using now."

Algenol, whose facility is located in Fort Myers, Fla., is currently working to commercialize its Direct to Ethanol technology, advertising it as the cheapest and most environmentally friendly process for the production of biofuels.

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