One Way Carbon Emmissions are Making it Harder to Research Biofuels

Sr. Jerry Brand directs UT's Algae Culture Collection.

Back in the seventies and eighties, algae, a biofuel, was viewed as a possible path to energy independence. Federal money flowed to research, and science made some progress understanding how the stuff could be used.  Then, the money stopped flowing.

For about 20 years.

Now that researchers are taking another look at algae, they’re also learning how much knowledge was lost in the decades when funding dropped off.

“That has resulted, in many cases, in having to re-visit many of the same questions that were out there when the federal government was pursuing this type of work in the seventies and eighties,”
Paul Zimba, Director for the Center of Coastal Studies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, tells StateImpact Texas.

For one thing, he says, research technology is different. But perhaps the most worrying changes have been environmental. There’s more carbon dioxide in the earth’s air and water than there was 20 years ago. Zimba says that increase encourages some types of algae to grow and inhibits other types.

“As you increase the carbon dioxide concentrations, you also change the PH of the water and that can also effect the algae that are growing there,” says Zimba.

Algae eats carbon dioxide which is actually one of the reasons scientists are studying it in the first place. They’re hoping it could be used as a carbon neutral fuel source, to help cut down on all that carbon dioxide pollution.

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