There has never been a better time to explore other forms of renewable resources being used for fuel. Because our oil resources are depleting and our needs for oil keep growing looking into algae farming as a potential source of fuel seems like common sense. To construct a deeper understanding of algae farming we look to mapping. Using Daniel A. Barbers text Hubbert’s Peak, Eneropa, and the Visualization of Renewable Energy where he speaks about using mapping to historically visualize the needs and supply for new forms of energy, we use this map to visualize the needs and supply for algae farming in the United States.
Much like the map of ‘Eneropa’ this map “exemplifies a broader trend in architectural strategies that aim towards efficiency: that energy systems will, through carefully applied technological innovations, be reconstructed in such a way that we won’t notice a difference” (6). The common theme of invisible infrastructures shows through this type of mapping exercise.
The map below displays the location of any algae-related businesses, research facilities, labs, trial, and industrial campaigns as well as any other initiatives carried out by the ABO in the United States that are going undetected by our people. There are many algae farming facilities that are unknown to the public eye. Since algae farming is a growing industry that people are unaware of it has the expand from coast to coast without running into any political issues.
Since algae farming does not need special conditions to grow there are many possibilities in combining facilities for a larger purpose.
Microalgae offer an interesting step for wastewater treatment facilities and the wastewater treatment process because “they provide a tertiary biotreatment coupled with the production of potentially valuable biomass which can be used for several purposes” (7). Wastewater treatment systems are designed by nature to remove nutrients; when removing these nutrients from the water it allows unwanted plants like algae to grow. Combining this type of biotreatment with microalgae is “particularly attractive because of their photosynthetic capabilities, converting solar energy into useful biomasses and incorporating nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus cause eutrophication.” (7). “Waste- grown” microalgae are potentially important for biomass and biofuel production. Biofuel is a term used for fuel that has been extracted from plants and crops. Of these the most common fuel to be extracted is bioethanol. Bioethanol can be blended with gasoline and can be used as an alternative for regular fuel. Although combing wastewater treatment plants and algae farms are still under development researchers are considering this a step in the right direction. Algae can be used in wastewater treatment for a multitude of purposes including; the reduction of BOD (biochemical oxygen demand), the removal of N and or P, and the removal of heavy metals. Because of the high concentration of N and P in most wastewaters, it means that these wastewaters have the potential to be used as nutrient sources for algae biomass production. These waster waters algae farms could be used for; methane production, composting, production of liquid fuels (vegetable fuels), animal feed and aid in the production of fine chemicals. Since wastewater treatment facilities already exist researchers are looking into the possibilities of combining these technologies for a greater purpose and by doing so, they are allowing algae farming to stay under the radar.
In order to think about algae at different scales, we must break it down into three categories. Micro, being the smallest scale, meso the scale being currently used today and macro which is what researchers are aiming to do. When thinking about algae we generally use the terms micro and macro. Microalgae apply to single -cell or groups of cells joined together but cannot be seen without the help of a microscope. Macroalgae come in a variety of forms and colors – some growing tall, with others growing like a mat. Currently, we are still in the research phase of using algae as a renewable resource so companies are afraid in investing their money and time into making it into a macro scale idea.
Scaling up the production of biofuels made from microalgae is sparking concern. It needs to meet the demands of at least 5 percent of the oil we use today which is approximately 39 billion liters of U.S. transportation fuel. These concerns, however, are not causing problems on research or future production. Biofuels that are made from microalgae are used as alternative fuels sources that can help the U.S meet its energy security needs and reduce greenhouse emissions, such as carbon dioxide. The number of companies developing these types of fuels has grown significantly and even several oil companies are investing in them. For example, the company Exxon thinks it can use algae to create biofuel at a massive scale. In California at Exxon Mobil and Synthetic Genomics facility, they have several acre size algae ponds hoping to continue to scale their facility and use algae to its full potential. “The goal here is to get to a sustainable, renewable biofuel that can be cost- competitive with pumping oil out of the ground, but can scale to levels that go far beyond demonstration levels,” says Oliver Fetzer, chief executive officer at Synthetic Genomics. “We see this step as a very important step along the way to scalability.” (10).
As research continues on algae and what makes it grow best Exxon believes that it will be able to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel a day. Although that number seems tiny that is just one company pushing the idea of scalability. “To produce hundreds of thousands of barrels a day, Fetzer says, would require less than 1% of the land is currently used for soy and corn farming.” If this is the case why aren’t other companies making the move to go large scale when it comes to algae farming? There are still many unknowns when wanting to advance into the algae farming field. Is the cost of making these large facilities worth the amount of fuel they would actually produce? Large companies with the finances and assets need to pave the way for researchers and smaller facilities.