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The simple organism that turns energy from the sun into the same type of crude oil that fills American refineries.

Let’s take a quick step back. Every type of energy is generated by the sun, as you may have learned in high school. Solar radiation causes wind to blow, tides to roll, and once provided the building blocks for the hydrocarbons that make up oil, coal, and natural gas. Some of that energy has taken millions of years to form.

Algae, on the other hand, almost instantly converts photons into energy. “It’s the most efficient way we know of to create liquid fuels,” says Tim Zenk, vice president of corporate affairs at Sapphire Energy, a company bringing algae energy to scalable production. Whereas other types of plants spend energy building trunks and leaves and flowers, algae can produce almost pure energy from photosynthesis.

Currently, algae produces a few hundred barrels a day, far short of the 19 million barrels America consumes daily. “We think that algae can be the solution for the entire Department of Defense’s fleet [of ships, jets and vehicles] when we’re at larger scale,” says Zenk.

Does the fuel produced by algae produce CO2 when used?

Yes. However, the CO2 released when the algae-created fuel is burned is CO2 that the algae just absorbed, so there is no net release of CO2.

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