Algae-based fuel is the energy of tomorrow.
As each day goes by, we see more and more negative side effects of our intense reliance on fossil fuels. The power of oil fuels our increasingly global lives and facilitates hitherto unimaginable levels of world development, but at an extremely high cost to economy and the global environment. The price of oil and its derivatives rises by the minute, and the environmental effects of fossil fuel reliance are becoming ever more evident. Furthermore, oil reserves won’t last forever, and when they finally give out, we will need an alternative energy source to sustain the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed.
From an environmental perspective, the costs of oil are both widespread and well known, global climate change being perhaps the most common catchall phrase of the day. And well it should be: the past 12 months has been a period of record temperatures throughout much of the United States. This has been noticeable right here in Ithaca, where for once we weren’t buried under mountains of snow for much of the spring semester. I can’t say I missed hiking up the slope through glacial amounts of snow, but I also can’t help but be concerned when an Ithaca winter is as temperate as the one we just had.
In no small part this comes from the fact that human reliance on fossil fuels has never been greater than at the present moment. We are coming closer and closer to reaching peak oil and depleting Earth’s fossil fuels reserves. We have reached a point where we must find alternatives to oil power, for our present lifestyles simply cannot accommodate a loss in availability of oil without drastic implications.
That being said, help is on the way. The Washington Post recently reported  a new $144 million grant has been given to Sapphire Energy by a group of private investors to work on developing algae-based fuels as an alternative to oil. Many companies are working on developing such products, and have been for several years. However, none have ever received this type of funding, either from private or public investment.
Scientific American reported on  Sapphire’s developments in 2009, noting that the company was well ahead of the curve in technology and production. Essentially, Sapphire has developed a system in which they use natural photosynthetic-like processes to convert carbon dioxide into sugar, which algae then converts into lipids, or oils. In the past, a major concern has been the huge amount of water that required for the conversions. However, Sapphire uses non-potable water in their process, putting to rest the one major algae fuel concern.
The future of algae biofuel is bright. Sapphire has signed contracts with Boeing and Continental to begin producing jet fuel, and has partnered with Toyota to begin designed an algae-fueled Prius. What is need now is money, preferably from public sources as well as private ones. Right now, Sapphire relies heavily on investments from Bill Gates, the Rockefeller family, and the Monsanto Corporation. But in order to compete with traditional oil, companies like Sapphire will need the same kinds of public subsidies that have boosted the fossil fuel industry since its inception.
If the government puts the same weight behind biofuels that they have put behind companies like B.P., Shell, SUNOCO, and so forth, we will be ensured of a future in which we can sustainably maintain our exciting global lives. Let’s make that happen.
Teal Arcadi is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com . The Missing Link: Policy appears on appears on Thursdays.