Cooksey doesn't plan to resume his research, but said his lab in the 1980s figured out how to increase oil production from algae. It developed a system that screened algae for their oil content and greatly reduced the sample size needed for their research. It developed a stain for algae, called Nile Red. When treated with the stain, the algae became fluorescent under certain conditions, making it easier to measure their oil content.
Algae grows naturally along rivers, the seashore, and in the mangrove swamps of southern Florida, Cooksey said. They also grow in wastewater treatment ponds and can be grown commercially in manmade ponds. One design that was tested in the 1980s is a shallow pond that looks like a raceway. Another is a system of deeper ponds. Algae can be grown especially well in desert states that have plenty of sunshine and access to water unusable for traditional agriculture or drinking. Because of its salt content, salt water is more economical than fresh water for growing algae, so southwestern states with saline aquifers might find it easy to grow them.
"In principle, lipids from microalgae are suitable for refining into conventional liquid fuels," said a 1983 annual report from the Solar Energy Research Institute that provided Cooksey's funding and some algal cultures. "Indeed, in the past, biological oils have been refined to fuels during shortages in petroleum supply."
Joseph LaStella, president of Green Star Products, Inc. in San Diego, Calif., raved about the potential of algae in a recent phone call. His company built a demonstration pond in Hamilton, Mont., last spring.
Soybeans produce about 50 gallons of oil per acre per year, and canola produces about 130, he said. Algae, however, produces about 4,000 gallons per acre a year, and he predicted it will go far beyond that. He said algae requires only sunshine and non-drinkable water to grow. The demonstration pond sh
|Contact: Evelyn Boswell|
Montana State University