December 9, 2008

My unromantic algae

THERE IS A LOT of talk these days about making diesel fuel out of algae. Scientists point out that algae can produce more oil in an area the size of a two-car garage than can an entire football field of soybeans.

Now, if you're like me, you have a hard time imagining how algae can produce oil. After all, algae is the brown scum on top of a pond or the green film on the inside of your fish tank. Or, in my case, the sticky blobs of goo that thrive in my diesel tank and keep clogging my fuel filters. But this is how it works:

In the normal world, when one alga meets another alga, it politely takes off its little hat and suggests that they get to know each other better over drinks in a cozy bar. One thing leads to another and it's off to a warm dark corner to practice vegetative procreation.

Yes, I know, it seems very sudden, but this Nature in the raw. They don't bother with rings and special dresses and wedding ceremonies. They don't have time for all that.

Pretty soon they're the proud parents of a lovely little bundle of sludge. And this sludge consists mainly of what scientists call lipids--fat or oil, from which springs diesel fuel.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Alga don't rest on their laurels. They go straight back to the bar, knock back some more cocktails, and make immediate plans for another little bucket of sludge. Algae are very small, of course, but there are thousands and millions of them at it at the same time. It raises the temperature quite a bit, and it produces lots of valuable sludge.

Now, for the abnormal world: What's going on in my diesel tank? I suspect I have developmentally handicapped algae. They've got it back to front. In my tank, algae don't turn into diesel; diesel turns into algae. I guess their mommies never told them the true facts of life. They probably still think the stork brings buckets of sludge.

My algae don't practice procreation. They just hang around there looking morbid and waiting to achieve their life's ambition, which is to suck up to my primary filter and clog its little pores.

I don't know how my algae got so turned around. It would be wonderful if they learned a lesson from the world's scum ponds and fish tanks, and turned themselves into diesel right there in my fuel tank. But I can't see that happening. Maybe I need to figure out how to make a cocktail bar small enough to fit in my tank. Sometimes it takes a little liquor to spark romance.

Today's Thought
The study of Nature is intercourse with the Highest Mind. You should never trifle with Nature. —Jan Louis Agassiz, Agassiz at Penikese.

Tailpiece
“Are you crazy? You tipped the parking attendant 50 bucks?”
“Sure. But look at this nice new Jaguar he’s given us.”

1 comment:

Antecipation said...

Hey John, I think the light is the answer. In the dark tank you can't make photosynthesis, i.e. produce sugar. So the algae that grown in the tank is a different type, which actually eat the oil.