a friend recommended a facebook meme all about algal lamps. Before I get all down on them, look how cool they are! I mean, these things are seriously steampunk!
I also need to say I love different scientists trying really out-there ideas! I really do. But (sadly) the algal lamp thing seems to be a hoax. They look great! So steampunk! But the energy claims just don’t add up. Just check the comments from real scientists after this vaguely-glowing article here. Or check this reddit science thread. The outrage at this scam is palpable.
Algae are fragile, require nutrients and energy to grow, and are constantly growing and dying. They need plumbing to feed water and nutrients, and the plumbing alone in this installation would make most people question what they were doing. Are the algae even the source of light? How are they disposing of the dead algae? What are the nutrients? How much plumbing and pumping does this require? How do they mix the water? Why are there actual light bulbs in there surrounded by an algae aquarium? How much light do they actually produce? If this is about sequestering CO2, why not use Polyface’s clever cattle “mob, mow, and move” grazing to sequester far more CO2 with the wonderful win-win of also producing delicious beef and chicken and pork and turkey! Why not use biochar to sequester CO2 and create rich black soils to grow crops?
LED light bulbs have a more natural light, look warmer, and last longer. And they just plug in to an existing light fixture without all that plumbing!
Besides all this, the main hope for algae has traditionally been around it replacing petroleum, not lighting. But there’s the rub. Algae needs to be 10 times cheaper to have a hope of replacing oil in America. It’s around $2.80 per litre to produce, but Americans won’t buy it until it’s under $1 per gallon. Convert $2.80 Litres into gallons, and algae is over $10 a gallon. It must be 10 times cheaper. Where’s the cost? Why is algae so expensive? Part of it is the infrastructure. Growing America’s 20 mbd of oil consumption would require converting 39,000km2 of land into algal ponds. That’s a lot of infrastructure! But with a few extra power-boxes installed, electric cars just plug into today’s electricity grid which could support about 85% of today’s driving. The secret is reliable night time power – just under half the cars are charged overnight. This of course requires nuclear power. Next year Tesla Motors bring out their more affordable family car at about $35,000 American.
So in short: I remain hopeful about algae. But not for energy: we’ve already solved that with breeder reactors that eat nuclear waste for abundant power, and a combination of ‘rechargeable’ EV’s, boron trucks, and maybe even synfuels and hydrogen for jets. No, I don’t think algae is going to be about energy. It’s going to be about food. Algae could eventually cause the next agricultural revolution, as it could grow our protein on 1000 times less land than grazing! And as 3d printing of vat-grown meat substitutes improves, this next revolution could be huge!