Energy Wizard

Mar 29, 2007
Outside Magazine

Alternative Energy Wizard
When biotechnology engineer Isaac Berzin devised a process for turning algae into alternative fuel in the late nineties, many of his fellow scientists dismissed the idea as bizarre; after all, the Department of Energy had rejected the plan as economically unfeasible. But the Israeli inventor knew the science was sound: The single-cell microorganisms are the world's fastest-growing plants—photosynthetic dynamos that ingest carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and emit oxygen, producing oil, sugar, and protein as by-products. He just had to refine the process. Nearly eight years later, Berzin, 39, and his Cambridge, Massachusetts-based GreenFuel Technologies Corporation have come up with more than $20 million in seed money and a plan: to install several algae farms on unwanted land adjacent to CO2-spewing power and industrial plants. They'll trap the CO2, extract the algae's oil, process it into biodiesel, and ferment the remaining sugar-rich liquid into ethanol (see recipe, right). Its largest algae incubator to date, a one-third-acre plot 55 miles west of Phoenix, was launched in February, and GreenFuel already has clients in Australia, India, and South Africa who will use Berzin's technology to process their own algae. (The company also now has 20 competitors worldwide.) The projected cost of algae-based biofuel per gallon is still to be determined, but Berzin hopes to have it at the pump by 2008. Does this mean our roads will stink like neglected fish tanks? "Oh, no!" he says. "Freshwater algae smells kind of sweet!"

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