A prototype algae biomass farm. Will it work in the super dry Middle East?
Biomass, a renewable energy source based on biological material from living or recently living organisms, is hailed as a possible fuel source to provide power for everything from cars and aircraft to electricity for homes, businesses and factories. Previous articles on this news site have shown the possibilities of producing biomass based fuel using everything from algae grown in special lakes in Iran to genetically altered algae to produce food as well as biofuel, and even the creation of biomass fuel from human and animal feces.
Can biomass replace oil and gas?
When it comes to producing large quantities of biomass fuel in the Middle East, the big question is how serious this technology can become in a region that still contains a large portion of the world’s remaining petroleum supplies, and where new fields of natural gas are being discovered in the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf, and other locations.
In the Middle East, water is so scarce that desalination, although very expensive and environmentally damaging, has now become one of the main producers of fresh drinking water; as such, the amount of biomass fuel from alcohol producing plants such as wheat, corn, sugar beet and cane, sorghum, and other crops is definitely limited.
This leaves algae and other marine-based plant life as the main type of vegetation that can be produced. Human and animal excrement, although plentiful in overpopulated countries like Egypt, is still too problematic due to the expense of processing it and ridding it of harmful bacteria.
Already mentioned in this article, Iran is conducting a project at Shirhaz University which involves producing “green fuel” from the algae strain Chlamydomonas. The algae is being grown in paddy fields in Fars Province, and in the Maharlu Salt lake located 27 km southeast of Shirhaz.
Although the Iranian interest in developing alternative energy sources like algae based bio-fuels, the emphasis that the Iranian government is placing on nuclear energy (now that their Bushehr nuclear reactor is being “fueled”) detracts somewhat from their good intentions.
Biofuels are no panacea
Even if various environmental issues stem from oil and natural exploration and production in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and in the Persian Gulf, bio-fuels in themselves, no matter what they are made from, are not 100% environmentally friendly either.
Taking all of these issues into account, a bigger emphasis on renewable energy, especially solar and wind energy, seems like a much better idea than making fuel from algae and other biological material, including human and animal wastes. There is no shortage of sunshine in this part of the world, and solar energy is in the works for provide electricity for desalination plants in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.