Fueling the Future

“Microalgae are the most efficient solar energy-converting plants known,” says Henry Baxter, COO of Miller Mold in Saginaw.

When discussing viable alternative energy sources, solar energy will undoubtedly enter the conversation. A key component to this conversation is how to produce more efficient solar collectors (i.e., panels) and storage units (i.e., batteries). However, what is often overlooked is how solar energy can be harnessed through natural processes such as farming algae for use as biofuel.

Algae-based biofuel

“Microalgae are the most efficient solar energy-converting plants known,” says Henry Baxter, COO of Miller Mold in Saginaw.

Miller Mold is a manufacturing facility with expertise in thermoform tooling, and the company recently moved into producing commercial-grade lab units for environmentally-friendly companies.

In partnership with South Carolina-based Renewed World Energies, Miller Mold developed a photobioreactor that produces fast and efficient algae growth.

“Previous systems were open pods,” says Baxter. “Ours is a closed-looped system that produces pure algae growth.”
Pure algae growth means biofuel can be created in greater quantities and at a cheaper price. However, even with this new advancement, algae as a viable fuel source still faces one considerable hurdle: the marketplace.

According to Baxter, a gallon of gasoline produced from algae would currently cost about $6, but he sees that coming down to around $3 a gallon as production efficiency improves.

“When photobioreactors do take off, refining fuel from algae will be a huge industry,” says Baxter.

Additional benefits of algae farming

Beyond converting it into biofuel, algae farming offers other practical benefits. According to Baxter, Miller Mold has produced photobioreactors for biomedical companies and universities. The result has been the production of products such as biomeds, vitamins, health foods, and compressed logs for fireplaces, and has led to extensive research in algae growth and the development of new algae strains.

“I see a day when most plastics will be derived from algae,” says Baxter.

So, the next time you are cleaning your pool, consider that the substance clouding its liner, while certainly a nuisance, may be a viable alternative for fueling our future.

Fast facts about algae biofuel

The benefits of microalgae as a solar energy-converting plan are that it:

  • reduces carbon emissions
  • is the fastest-growing photosynthesis organism
  • has the highest oil content available

The environmental benefits of algae biofuel are that it:

  • produces no sulfur
  • is non-toxic
  • is highly bio-degradable

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