Can we bioengineer a renewable fuel?

The resulting bacterial Frankenstein, when fed a soup of common brown seaweed, rapidly brewed the mixture to a 5% alcohol concentration. It proved to be twice as good as currently existing algae fermentation procedures for seaweed and achieved more that 80 percent of the theoretical maximum obtainable yield of alcohol. All the wastes from such an operation remain fully biodegradable and, unlike switchgrass, wood or corn, the process does not require land that would otherwise be valuable for growing food crops.

The drawbacks to this process include the following: Growing enough of the appropriate algae would require large areas of the ocean along marine shorelines (in order to allow easy transportation of the fuel stock either by sea or by land). Furthermore, the ocean area required to grow enough algae to supply all the fuel for the United States is reported to be about half the size of the State of Maine, or approximately 15,000 square miles of ocean, enough to remove a significant area from supporting either near-shore fishing or the growing of oysters, clams, mussels and lobsters. However, neither of these drawbacks would seem sufficient to negate using this process altogether.

Questions and suggestions from readers are welcomed and will be responded to in future editions of this column. Contact me at cwdingman2@frontier.com.

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