Robots could grow your future fuel

If researchers in California are right, in a few years, robotic submarines might be growing a green slime that is then processed into fuel.

No, this is not the storyline ...

Tagged: biofuel, kelp, alternative energy

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Robots could grow your future fuel

Cartoon robot in flotation rings

Researchers believe that kelp could be an economic answer to biofuel. It doesn’t have some of the same challenges that corn has to make ethanol.

Key Points

  • Kelp could be a significant energy source in the future.
  • Researchers are working on a way to make more seaweed.
  • This seaweed would be made into a biocrude and used as gasoline or jet fuel. 

If researchers in California are right, in a few years, robotic submarines might be growing a green slime that is then processed into fuel.

No, this is not the storyline for an Amazon aliens-take-over-the-world-pilot episode.

Founders of Marine BioEnergy are starting a two-year study that tests a new way to grow kelp that could then be turned into biofuel.

The seaweed usually only grows along the coast. But for it to be a real player in bioenergy, we’d need a lot more of it.

The challenge is getting the weed the right combination of sunlight and nutrients it needs to thrive.

The sunlight is available in shallow water, and the nutrients are on the sea floor. To get seaweed to grow farther out in the ocean where there’s room to farm it in mass, a solution was needed to get it all the perks of the coastline out in the deep blue.

That’s where Marine BioEnergy comes in.

The startup is using robotic submarines to move a long line of seaweed up and down. Think of it like when your kids push every button on the elevator and just ride up and down without getting off. If kelp were a kid, it would be having the time of its life. This movement lets the weed get the best of both worlds.

But why the push to even make kelp an energy player?

Researchers believe that kelp could be an economic answer to biofuel. It doesn’t have some of the same challenges that corn has to make ethanol. Corn has lots of lignin or cellulose. This means it takes more steps to process it into a usable fuel. Kelp doesn’t have nearly as much lignin or cellulose, so once you have it, it would be easier — and cheaper — to turn into fuel.

The company is working with one of the Department of Energy’s national labs to figure out the most cost-effective way to make the kelp into a fuel.

Now, we just need to see if the weeds can grow.

And maybe grow so much that they take over the world and cover the entire earth in green slime.

I think I’ll pitch it to Amazon.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Your Christmas tree could someday fuel your holiday flights

Whether you bought your tree in the hardware store parking lot or hiked into the forest to cut it down yourself, I’m sure your Tanenbaum is beautiful.

But trees aren’t ...

Tagged: jet fuel, biofuel, christmas trees, airline industry

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Your Christmas tree could someday fuel your holiday flights

Fueling a puddle jumper

The airline industry has experimented with biofuels in the past, but this is a big deal because wood waste is one of the most challenging materials to turn into fuel because it is so fibrous and has a lot of impurities.

Key Points

  • Some smart people figured out how to turn trees into jet fuel.
  • They use a secret sauce that includes enzymes and yeast to make it happen.
  • The sugar from wood waste is especially challenging to turn into fuel, so this is kind of a big deal. 

Whether you bought your tree in the hardware store parking lot or hiked into the forest to cut it down yourself, I’m sure your Tanenbaum is beautiful.

But trees aren’t just a holiday decoration.

Wood waste could soon be the main ingredient for jet fuel.

Alaska Airlines recently completed the world’s first commercial flight powered by a wood-based biofuel. The airline industry has experimented with biofuels in the past, but this is a big deal because wood waste is one of the most challenging materials to turn into fuel because it is so fibrous and has a lot of impurities. So if they can make it work with wood, they can easily make it work with other sugar sources like beets or corn.

The experiment was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The secret is in a magic enzyme and patented yeast that speed up the fermentation process. The alcohol created through the process is then processed into jet fuel. Jet engines are finely tuned machines, so turning a wood sugar into a fuel that is good enough for one to use is a major milestone.

The air industry aims to be carbon neutral by 2020, so the race is on to find more fuel sources. And now plentiful and sustainable wood waste could be part of the solution. The company behind the fuel, Gevo, Inc., hopes to ramp up production of the fuel soon and is currently raising funds to build a new plant.

Now if they could just find a use for leftover fruitcake, we’d be all set. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Virgin Atlantic is winning at upcycling

Virgin Atlantic is winning at upcycling

If you use Pinterest, you’re probably familiar with upcycling. It’s the process of transforming unwanted things ...

Tagged: alternative fuel, biofuel

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Virgin Atlantic is winning at upcycling

Up cycling

Virgin Atlantic estimates that Lanzanol could reduce the company’s carbon emissions by as much as 65 percent.

Key Points

  • Virgin Atlantic is trying out a new biofuel.
  • It’s called Lanzano, and is made from the waste gases from steel mills.
  • It could decrease the amount of CO2 produced by the airline industry, but no word on if it will be more affordable than fossil fuels. 

Virgin Atlantic is winning at upcycling

If you use Pinterest, you’re probably familiar with upcycling. It’s the process of transforming unwanted things into something awesome. Like making a suitcase into a chair, old globes into light fixtures, or worn out T-shirts into a purse. Yes, these are all real things.

But if you thought your wagon wheel herb garden was a win, wait until you hear about what Virgin Atlantic is doing.

The airline is using the waste gasses from steel mills and making it into a special kind of ethanol called Lanzanol. The waste gas is mostly carbon monoxide. Microbes ferment it and make a fuel that can power the jets.

Virgin Atlantic estimates that Lanzanol could reduce the company’s carbon emissions by as much as 65 percent. A trial run to manufacture the gas was successful. Virgin will test the fuel in a jet in 2017. After the initial tests are done, the company will need to get approval to use the fuel in commercial flights and then scale up production.

There’s no word yet on if this new fuel will be more affordable than fossil fuels, but here’s to hoping this new technology will be a win-win for the environment and pocketbooks. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Sorry, McFly … no Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor yet

Hover boards. Flying cars. Clothes that fit you automatically (even after a regrettable run in with a pumpkin pie blizzard. Or two. Not that I’d know.).

October 2015 ...

Tagged: Back to the Future, cold fusion, biofuel, Scientific American

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Sorry, McFly … no Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor yet

Delorean

According to Back to the Future, October 2015 was supposed to be so cool.

Key Points

  • It’s Back to the Future. Now.
  • 2015 doesn’t look exactly like the movie predicted.
  • No cold fusion yet, but we are making progress.

Hover boards. Flying cars. Clothes that fit you automatically (even after a regrettable run in with a pumpkin pie blizzard. Or two. Not that I’d know.).

October 2015 was supposed to be so cool. We’re supposed to get all our energy from Mr. Fusion by now. But don’t worry. The guys and gals over at Scientific American assure us that while we haven’t achieved cold fusion, we are making progress on using biofuels.

In the movie

After a visit to the future, the DeLorean returns powered by a cylinder-shaped energy source called Mr. Fusion. Several times, Doc feeds stale beer and banana peels into it.

Where are we now?

This form of energy is created from nuclear fusion reactions that take place at millions of degrees Celsius, but Mr. Fusion appears to work at room temperature. Such “cold” fusion has never been achieved. There are no nuclear reactors powered by organic material, either, although combustion engines that use ethanol made from corn or other organic material are becoming more common. United Airlines recently purchased a refinery to supply its planes with aviation fuel made entirely from municipal solid waste and Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines and British Airways have announced plans to begin using biofuels in the next two to five years. But so far, generating an endless supply of energy from nuclear fusion only exists in the movies.

Unfortunately, Scientific American didn’t have any information on automatically fitting clothes in the pipeline. But thank goodness yoga pants and her “dressed up” friend maxi dress are here to help. On behalf of moms everywhere: Thank you, Lycra



Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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