Saturday, June 28, 2014

Algae Editorial: First Draft

One Word: Plastics. No, That’s Not It: Algae

by Leon Czikowsky

Imagine if there were a new, emerging industry that could locate in Harrisburg that would solve all of its financial problems.

Now imagine if that industry could solve our energy problems. In addition, it could change our international business situation by ending our reliance on foreign oil.

Further, imagine this also helps solve the climate change problem.

One word: Algae

Shell Oil was researching using algae as fuel. Marvin Odum, Shell’s President, told me exciting things about algae. It produces more fuel than does any other known fuel producing process. It is also the least expensive. (See “Reinventing Fire” by Amory B. Lovins)

One acre of algae can produce 5,000 gallons of fuel. The closest any competing fuel source can do is palm oil. One acre of palm oil produces 800 acres.

Algae can grow just about anywhere. It can grow in dirty water. It would not need to be located in any existing croplands. 13 million acres of land would equal our current oil imports. 13 million acres is about three percent of current cropland. (See “Green Algae Strategy” by Mark Edwards)

Just about the least efficient means to obtain fuel is to drill in the ground for it. That is also the most expensive way to get fuel.

The least expensive manner of creating fuel is to convert algae into fuel. Unlike cane sugar (used in Brazil and other countries) and corn, (used in ethanol) which can grow once or twice a year, algae grows by itself, year round. It does not take much to grow algae. Ask anyone who ever owned a pool.

Raytheon was developing algae for fuel. It was successfully used for flying military jets.

Then something unusual (or usual, depending upon your level of political cynicism) happened. Congress cut funding for research for studying converting algae into fuel.

Although, I have to give my respects to the military. Their researchers keep going forward. The Navy has developed a way to use sea water for fuel. (See United States Naval Research Laboratory: )

We appear to be on the verge of developing algae for vehicle fuel. If planes can fly with it, surely we can figure out how to use it for cars.

We will have the least expensive means of producing vehicle fuel that is also the most productive way to obtain the most fuel. For some reason, we are set on using the most expensive process that yields the least amount of fuel.

The first to develop algae as fuel wins the economic game. The potential payback could be enormous.

State Rep. David Kessler is a visionary who saw Pennsylvania as the place where this could be achieved. He served two terms yet was defeated for reelection to a third term.

It is Pennsylvania’s heritage to find new fuel sources. The oil industry began here. Why not the next generation of fuel?

Some believe one of our major college research facilities, at perhaps Penn State or Temple University, could be the ones that find the final, missing pieces

How not Harrisburg?

There is great talent at Harrisburg University. There are sharp minds among its students who could be just the ones able to think through the roadblocks and develop algae for fuel.

Imagine if Harrisburg became the center for algae research and development. We have the affordable land and buildings. We are near an airport with a long runway to accommodate foreign visitors.

Now for the kicker: Growing lots more algae helps the climate change problem. 60% of our oxygen is produced by algae. Algae, which is one half of one percent of our planet’s plant biomass, produces a lot of oxygen. Algae absorbs carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a major cause of climate change. (If you are a recent contestant for the Republican nomination for President, you may wish to disregard this paragraph.)

It would be great to see Harrisburg academicians, business leaders, and community members get together and explore this. Obviously, this is a long shot. Yet the initial steps are not difficult. If this takes off, great.

Many cities have grown from one new idea. New York City is current expanding business investment by providing millions of dollars of investments in engineering research and development. Algae research and development, in my non-expert analysis, should not be that difficult to complete.

Perhaps algae is not the right fit for Harrisburg. In the developing fields of other emerging fields, such as nanotechnologies, perhaps our residents may find a better economic entrant that will improve our local economy. Yet, we should begin that search and see what we may create and attract.

We are on the verge of finding several means to radically improve our national economy. Wouldn’t it be great if it  happened in Harrisburg?


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