Plankton could be key source of biofuel

A Spanish company claims it is on the verge of producing an inexhaustible source of biofuel by using phytoplankton as a raw material.

Bio Fuel Systems, based in Alicante, has been researching the potential of breeding the tiny sea-borne plants then extracting oil from vat-grown plankton.

While the company has so far been able to extract large quantities of unrefined oil – the biofuel equivalent to crude oil – it has not yet been able to refine this into a usable fuel.

It predicts it will be doing so within 18 months and the resulting fuel will be sold for about 25 cents per litre, though it will likely cost the consumer €1 by the time it reaches the forecourt of the service stations due to taxation.

Christian Gomez, a scientist at the University of Alicante, is leading the research into the new fuel which he believes opens an interesting new avenue in the development of biofuels.

While the performance of the plankton oil is expected to be similar to other biofuels with comparable environmental advantages in terms of emissions, its main benefit will be the speed at which the fuel ‘crop’ can be grown and harvested.

Bernard Stroiazzo-Mougin, president of the company, believes the product is a strong candidate in the race to find a fuel to replace petrol.

“It shares its advantages but not its disadvantages, and the price will be lower,” he said.

The fuel is expected to make significant cuts in CO2 emissions as the plankton absorbs all the CO2 which is released when the fuel is burned, although there will be emissions associated with the production process and transport of the fuel.

It is also expected to have half the emissions of carbon monoxide of petrol and no sulphur emissions.

Sam Bond

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