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Sludge saves the day!

Our world is slowly deteriorating. A bold statement but nonetheless true. Ever since the issue of global warming was brought to our attention, many groups and professional organisations have been desperately trying to backwards the effects of greenhouse emissions on our planet.

Scientists and politicians have looked at several ways to tackle the issue of climbing carbon emissions such as carbon tax, carbon storage, planting more trees and sludge. That’s right sludge. A new area of environmental science research has discovered that sludge might possible save the world from global warming (rising carbon emissions). The sludge is naturally algae, and from these algae can carbon be transformed into oil (algae biofuel), providing energy. But how is this possible?

The process is quite simple. First algae is grown which will naturally draw in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The oil from the algae is then extracted in which the residues will safe house a certain amount of carbon. The secret, therefore, lies within the residue where carbon can be stored; providing conditions favour that the residue does not decompose or return to the atmosphere. This is more commonly known as ‘Carbon negativity’ as no carbon is expended to store the carbon.

algae 1

Source: How Stuff Works: Algae Biodiesel Works

algae 2

Source: Home Brew Power 2010

Carbon negativity is by no means a long term solution to an ever growing problem, but does provide a short term solution which can combat an increasing carbon emissions problem.

Traditional biofuels have been a long time player in the fight to convert carbon dioxide to useable energy, the most common being ethanol from corn. There is a problem with this however; these biofuels are ‘Carbon Neutral’ meaning that for every 100 carbon atoms drawn in from the atmosphere, 100 carbon atoms are given back to the atmosphere. Not only this but the ethanol plants need a heck more energy to run, so we can hardly call them ‘Carbon Neutral’ processes.

The reasons for using an algae biofuel method are not short of amazing. Firstly they grow a lot faster than any crop would, providing 20 times more biomass each day than a crop would. Secondly, through genetic engineering they can produce more oil, and lastly they can grow in diverse locations where they won’t interfere with land needed or already containing food production.

Unfortunately there are several drawbacks. With the costs of setting up such a system to capture carbon dioxide, quite possibly into the millions, many companies and entrepreneurs will simply not invest in such ‘natural’ technology since the supply does not meet the demand for energy requirements. Even if all biofuel was taken from algae it still would not be able to keep up with the growing demand for transport fuel.

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