Ed Yeates Reporting
A new fuel for your car - made not from oil that comes from the ground, but scum! That's what could happen as Utah researchers make plans to build what could be the most unusual refinery ever.
Oil refineries, we know what they look like and what they do, but this may not even fit the word "refinery" anymore.
Utah State University researchers are looking at biodiesel fuel made from pond scum. That's right, the green, slimy stuff that grows virtually anywhere appears to produce as good, if not a better, quality biodiesel fuel than soybeans.
Lance Seefeldt , USU Biofuels Program: "For soybeans, you get about 48 gallons per acre. And right now, the idea is for algae, we could get about 10-thousand gallons of oil per acre. So you can see it's about 200 times more oil per acre compared to soybeans."
Instead of prime agricultural land needed for soybeans or corn, pond scum can be grown rapidly on meshes or grids inside huge structures, fed by rooftop solar dishes. It's not a refinery, but a bioreactor.
Bright light comes through fiber optics from one single solar dish on the roof of the lab. Now, imagine what thousands of dishes could do in a massive bioreactor. Bioreactors built not on productive farmland, but on remote desert soils with thousands of grids inside growing the pond scum from solar energy.
"For every square meter of parabolic dish, we can illuminate 10 square meters of algae surface."
Byard Wood, USU Biofuels Program: "We're talking about thousands of acres with these kinds of bioreactors to produce in quantity the amount of liquid fuel that we need to make an impact."
From prototypes, to a fuel, to the pump, the technology appears so promising it's got the backing of the Utah Science and Technology Research Initiative to the tune of six million dollars in seed money.
The first large experimental facility would be built in Utah. USU expects pond scum biodiesel fuels could become cost competitive by 2009.