America's Fuel Source of the Future Could Be 'Pond Scum'

This NASA satellite photo shows algae blooms swirling on Lake Erie.

This NASA satellite photo shows algae blooms swirling on Lake Erie. NASA/AP

Rejoice, America: Researchers say the nation is equipped to produce "serious amounts" of algae biofuel.

Would you drive a Ford Scumliner? Or how about a Chevy Kelpette?

Autos from the black lagoon could be a reality in the coming decades, if experiments to transform algae into a fuel source prove successful. And if they do, America could be king in a new energy landscape dominated by algal biofuel. That's because our placid waterways and warm lakes are looking better than ever for the massive cultivation of slimes, oozes, glops and other kinds of green gold.

America's potential headstart in the algae-fuel sector was recently heralded by researchers who found that the country is ready to grow "serious amounts of pond scum." In particular, the scientists are giddy about the possibilities of the Gulf Coast, which has a "good combination of warm temperatures, low evaporation, access to an abundance of water, and plenty of fuel-processing facilities," according to Mark Wigmosta, a hydrologist at the government-run Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Algae are an attractive prospect for futurists looking into the days past coal and gasoline's dominance. They're oil-rich organisms that grow in great abundance and could be relatively cheap to harvest, once muck-farmers get the process down. Algal oil isn't totally ideal, because like fossil fuel it produces climate-changing carbon dioxide. But algae naturally mitigate those emissions by sucking C02 out of the air during photosynthesis. It's an exciting-sounding dreck, one that even the Commander in Chief got pumped about during a 2002 speech at the University of Miami.

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