AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

The power of scum

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 5, 2012

BIOFUELS are yet another example of how good intentions create unintended results that cause more problems than the one they set out to solve. Farmers in both developed and undeveloped countries can get more cash for their grain crops by selling them for fuel conversion rather than as food. Food shortages caused by the lack of affordable grain was one of the reasons for the political unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.

Some scientists are examining the use of other materials for biofuel use, and one of those materials is algae. They generate hydrocarbons when they grow and when their cells divide. But algaculture for fuel use has been impractical because the process of obtaining oil in quantity from them is slow and difficult.

That might be changing. Two years ago, Prof. Enomoto Taira of Kobe University discovered a variety of the botrycoccus alga that reproduces by photosynthesis alone and multiplies 100,000 times greater by volume than other botrycoccus in one month. It also produces a quantity of hydrofuel equivalent to 30 times its weight. In fact, it has the highest energy production of any alga in the world and more than 100 times the energy production per unit of area cultivated than other biofuels.

Prof. Enomoto is working with the Japanese companies IHI Corp., Gene and Gene Technology, and the Neo-Morgan Laboratory Inc. to improve and commercialize the process of fuel conversion using the alga that has been named after him. The hydrocarbon produced is said to be suited for use as fuel oil. Another advantage of the alga is that it’s said to be robust, which means that it could be grown in the open in ponds instead of photobioreactors.

Problems remain to be resolved, and they’re still in the process of developing cultivation techniques and facilities. It’s not economically competitive yet, because the fuel product now costs JPY 1,000 yen per liter. If science has its way, however — making everything smaller, cheaper, and faster — those problems will eventually be ironed out.

Neo-Morgan Laboratory President Fujita Tomohiro agrees:

“We want to reduce the price to 10% (to JPY 100) in ten years. It shouldn’t be impossible.”

No, it shouldn’t. And that might help Japan reduce its level of energy dependency. It would also allow grains to be used for food again, instead of biofuels — which gobble up 40% of the American corn crop and nearly 20% of British wheat and corn production. People don’t eat algae.

Well, yes they do. It is an ingredient in some food products, including ice cream, and it’s used for supplements. But you know what I mean.

*****
Speaking of slime, it’s time to let some rip with Rip Slyme.

The group chose that name because RIP were the initials of the names of three founding members, and the Mattel-manufactured toy product Slime was popular at the time.

I prefer the name Sunshine and Bikinis, which is the name of this song. It’s also got a pink Cadillac, if you can tear your eyes away from the other performers.

So fine!

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