By year’s end, an Indiana company says it will be making plastic from algae, substituting up to half of the material normally derived from fossil fuels with biomass from the aquatic plants, and selling the product to manufacturers.
As the bioplastics industry surges, a search for alternative feedstocks led Cereplast CEO Frederic Scheer and his colleagues to algae, which he says is close enough to the starches the company already turns into plastics—like corn, wheat and tapioca—to go commercial after just 18 months of R&D. There’s just one hitch: getting enough of the green stuff to make it in quantity. Given a big enough source of algae, Scheer says, “we could have introduced this product probably last year.”
Algae has long been hailed by many as the best hope for an alternative to fossil and food-based fuels, but difficulties growing and processing it cheaply have kept it just over the green horizon for decades. The myriad companies running at algal biofuels today, for example, must first find and cultivate a precise strain of algae from among thousands, harvest and dry the stuff, and then somehow extract oil from the plant on a cost-competitive basis with now very cheap crude.
But Scheer and his colleagues are betting not only that someone will soon crack algae once and for all, but that, once they do, they’ll be stuck with a green mountain of biomass left over after the algae’s oil has been extracted and turned into the diesel or jet fuel of tomorrow. Today, that biomass is fed to cattle, among other things. Tomorrow, Scheer hopes, it will be an integral part of the trillion-dollar industry that is plastic…
[continues at Popular Mechanics]