Petrol, Diesel, Algae?

Biofuel is fuel made from fresh living matter [1]. It currently makes up 3.8% of fuel used globally [2]. Today, around 0.5% of the world’s farmland is used for growing biofuels, but the IPCC says that this should increase by 10x to help keep global warming below 1.5°C [3]. This is a risky business because we also need this land for growing food [4].

Recently, a new tactic has been used in the biofuel industry: investment in genetic modification (GM) [2]. This has already had a lot of success [5]. For example, GM yeast can make much more biofuel than normal yeast, 80% more in fact [6]! This means we can use less land to produce the same amount of fuel.

GM algae (like tiny plants that live in water) are also attracting attention [8]. They are pretty efficient at photosynthesis and store products rich in energy [8]. Another bonus is that algae can be grown in places where food crops cannot [8]. Although currently 20,000 square miles of algae would be needed to power all the transport in the USA [9], GM algae can already be twice as efficient [10].

In 2009, algae partly powered an airliner for a 90-minute flight [11]! Who knows what algae can achieve in the future – maybe you’ll fill your car with fuel made from algae!


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