Sep 18, 2009 | 26
You really can drive across the country on algae--and a 700-pound battery pack--or so proved the crew behind the documentary Fuel . Embarking on September 8 and pulling into New York City today, just in time for the film's premiere, the Algaeus covered 3,750 miles.
"It got 147 miles per gallon in the city," says Fuel director Josh Tickell of the converted to plug-in Prius hybrid that he drove on a mix of battery power and algae fuel blended with conventional gasoline. The Algaeus did less well on the highway: 52 mpg, because of the lack of regenerative braking that recharges the battery, among other things.
Apr 9, 2009
The algae floating in the sea are microscopic plants of great consequence on a global level. They conduct a big chunk of the world's photosynthesis (turning sunlight into chemical energy); they control the carbon cycle (taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away), and they form the base of the ocean's food pyramid, allowing other plants and animals to flourish.
To gain a better understanding of how algae do all this, a large team of scientists led by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Insitute (MBARI) have unraveled the genetic code of two Micromonas algae: one from the South Pacific and one from the English Channel. The tiny plants, just two micrometers in diameter or roughly 1/50th the width of a human hair, boast genomes containing approximately 10,000 genes.
Apr 2, 2009
Officials in coastal states are worried that the high upkeep of boats in the depressed economy has mariners literally abandoning their ships in droves — a practice that could threaten the environment.
There's no official tally of cast-off boats, but an unusually high number are reportedly being dumped in waters off the coasts of Florida, South Carolina and Washington State; California is mulling a measure that would let owners surrender their vessels to the state, according to the New York Times. Other media reported last summer that more than 200 boats had been left in New York's Jamaica Bay. "Our waters have become dumping grounds," Major Paul Ouellette of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the Times. "It's got to the point where something has to be done."
Mar 26, 2009 | 5
As home biodiesel brewers know, it's a time-consuming and chemically intensive process to transform French fry grease into a fuel. And then there's the problem of burning something in your truck that could have fed people; canola oil can be used for food or fuel, for example.
That's why many biodiesel devotees—including DARPA, the Defense Department's research arm—have turned to plentiful algae: it grows like a weed and certain strains can be turned into buckets of oil. Plus, it's not a nutritional staple like soy or palm oil.
The question is: How do you convert algae oil into biodiesel efficiently?
Mar 16, 2009 | 5
The element arsenic, infamous in history as a poison – perhaps claiming the life of Napoleon Bonaparte – is a modern problem as well. The U.S. government lists arsenic as the most common toxin in the natural environment.
But what is poison to humans may be chow for so-called extremophiles, creatures that thrive in harsh environmental conditions unsuitable for nearly all other forms of life, including hot, acidic springs or oceanic thermal vents. Last year, for example, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey found bacteria making a hardy living in Yellowstone National Park by using arsenic to conduct photosynthesis, the chemical process that converts sunlight into usable energy. Mind you, in humans arsenic in large quantities can kill in an hour, and smaller doses can lead to illnesses including cancer and foot growths known as keratoses.
Feb 20, 2009 | 1
A mystery came to Monterey Bay in 2007: Hundreds of seabirds washed ashore looking and even smelling as though they'd run into an oil spill. The slimy substance that covered the struggling and dead birds smelled "like linseed oil," says Raphael Kudela, an associate professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
But after water testing, the researchers found no indication of excess oil, pesticides, acids or commercial products that might have caused the foam and gooey coating on the birds. All told, 207 birds were found dead and 550 were stranded.
Then the slime disappeared.
Now, the "mystery spill" has been solved. It wasn't the Cosco Busan oil spill in nearby San Francisco Bay or a controversial aerial pesticide spraying along the Central Coast. It was harmless-looking foam from an ordinarily nontoxic algal bloom churned up by November waves, according to a study coming out in PLoS ONE on Monday.
Jan 19, 2009 | 3
Bird experts suspect that California Brown Pelicans that have been mysteriously dying and turning up ill may have become sick and disoriented in a severe winter storm last month off the coast of Oregon that forced them to fly south in search of food and warmth.
Since last month, some 460 of the birds have shown up thin and confused – or dead — in Oregon and California, far from the coast where they typically feed. Domoic acid, a poison in algae that causes brain damage if ingested, was an early suspect.
But Dan Anderson, an avian ecologist at the University of California, says the birds were probably disoriented because they’d flown 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) after getting cold and wet when temperatures dipped below freezing and 60 mile-per-hour (97 kilometer-per-hour) winds slammed into East Sand Island in the Columbia River, where the Pelicans were roosting. “They just flew a thousand miles and had their tails frozen off,” Anderson tells the New York Times. “They probably weren’t feeling so well.”
Nov 13, 2008 | 1
Making a few stops along the way, BioJet 1 went 1,776 miles of a 2,486-mile journey from Reno, Nev., to Leesburg, Fla., exclusively on biodiesel. The fuel in question, made by Lake Erie Biofuels, was a blend of soy and animal fats turned to diesel.
The Aero L-29 jet kept the biodiesel from congealing at high altitude by continuously heating it—and landing every 300 miles or so to refuel. The flight is a proof of principle, according to Green Flight International CEO Doug Rodante, and is aimed at addressing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning jet fuel -- roughly 3 percent of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but released in a very bad spot—high in the atmosphere.
Oct 22, 2008 | 1
That's the subject of the second annual Algae Biomass Summit starting today in Seattle. The conference will explore the great question of whether microscopic plants could cut out the geologic middleman of time and pressure and just deliver fuel directly. The number of companies pursuing this idea is exceeded in magnitude only by the number of different strains of algae and the ways to genetically manipulate it.
Solazyme in San Francisco grows its puny plants in the dark and Fort Collins, Colo.–based Solix partners with breweries to keep costs down. GreenFuel Technologies in Cambridge, Mass., meantime, plans to build the first "commercial scale" algae farm near Jerez in southern Spain—in an effort to turn carbon dioxide spewed by a cement plant into renewable fuel.
Sep 9, 2008 | 10
No, not flight, not yet. But Solazyme—the mavericks who make their algal oil in the dark—have produced a jet fuel that passes the ASTM's standards for "aviation turbine fuel," otherwise known as jet fuel. This makes it the first such bio-kerosene from algae, being earnestly sought by the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (better known as DARPA) as well as the U.S. Air Force.
In addition to not freezing at high altitude as biofuels are prone to do, the testing by the Southwest Research Institute shows that it has the same flashpoint, viscosity and stability as regular Jet A. Most importantly, it has the same density—a key characteristic that other alternative fuels, such as those derived from natural gas or coal, lack.
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