In the course of casually browsing around online, and looking up "biodiesel" on Wikipedia, I came across a rather stunning figure. While traditional agricultural crops like corn and soybeans are being aggressively promoted as feedstocks for biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, this research report suggests that algae may be a far more effective and efficient feedstock. Corn, it turns out, is the dismal loser in the productivity scale. It will yield a paltry 18 gallons of oil per acre per year. Soybeans are slightly better at 48 gallons. But the potential yield for micro algae is 5,000 to 15,000 gallons.
Why isn't this making headlines? Not to get all Oliver Stone on you, but there is an entrenched, wealthy agricultural lobby in the U.S. whose interests are heavily invested in corn and soybeans. Besides, from a marketing perspective, what's sexier? Quaint farmhouses next to bucolic fields of corn waving in the Midwestern wind, or a bunch of white coat-wearing geeks in the Arizona desert looking over acres of green, slimy goo? Whether or not this fits with our idealistic vision of agricultural Americana, the differences in production yields are too big to ignore.
If we're truly serious about liberating ourselves from the grips of third-world crackpots like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, we need to look past the easy, convenient answers presented to us by the big agri-lobby, and start taking a closer look at these heretofore obscure reports and studies on alternative fuels.