Fueling Your Car with Seaweed?


By Lacey Cirinelli

The phrase “Good things come in small packages” certainly applies to algae. Over 20,000 types of algae, found in both fresh and salt water, collectively produce around 60 percent of the earth’s oxygen. While some algae can grow up to 200 feet long, others are only the size of a single cell. This microscopic algae, known as microalgae, is high in fish oil and grows quickly with little maintenance, making it a potential biofuel.

Goodbye, petroleum! Hello, plants?

Currently, much of the world relies on fossil fuels like petroleum and coal for energy. Fossil fuels are the result of decomposing plant and animal matter trapped in the earth for millions of years. Although fossil fuels are an effective energy source, as a finite resource their availability is limited and their use gives off harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming.

Alternatively, biofuels come from plants like corn, sugarcane and soybeans. But many biofuel crops need time and acres of land to grow, and are harvested by equipment that runs off of fossil fuels.

Microalgae, on the other hand, can be grown in enclosed spaces with minimal equipment. And as an added benefit, most microalgae feed off of nitrogen and phosphorous (two common contaminants in waste water) and carbon dioxide, so they can help reduce pollution from other processes.

Microalgae also grow rapidly and can be converted from a single cell to biofuel in a matter of hours. To do so, microalgae is grown in tanks of water, exposed to sun light, and harvested hours later. Once harvested, microalgae are crushed to release their oils. The oil is then mixed with a catalyst and alcohol to create biodiesel and a glycerol byproduct.

With their ability to simultaneously clean wastewater with fewer chemicals, produce oxygen while reducing greenhouse gasses, and possibly create renewable biofuel, microalgae are proving that they are small yet mighty. And they just might be key to a brighter, more environmentally friendly and sustainable energy future.


What other crops are used for biofuels around the world?

What are other types of alternative energy?

What are the pros and cons of microalgae over other alternative energy sources or other biofuel crops?


  • Fossil Fuel
  • Biofuel
  • Wastewater