Algae may be viable form of alternative energy for Fukushima

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 by

After a tsunami laid waste to three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site in 2011, nuclear power plants throughout Japan were shut down. The country is very poor in natural resources, relying on imports for an estimated 80 percent of its primary energy requirements. In the quest to find non-nuclear energy, microalgea may be a viable option for Japan.(1)

A Japanese think tank, among other groups in the area, are currently in the process to mass produce an algae native to Fukushima. The lure of algae is its ability to produce fuel. In particular, algae takes in carbon dioxide to churn natural oil, which makes it an attractive form of biofuel. The US Department of Energy reports algae fuel is so efficient that it could be used as a substitute for machines that use diesel.(2)

Using algae as a substitute for nuclear energy isn’t as far fetched as it may seem. In 2011, for example, United Airlines took credit for the first algae powered passenger flight from Chicago to Houston. In addition, a start up in Japan known as Euglena has joined forces with Isuzu Motors to produce eco-friendly buses fueled by algae. They also hope to have their own commercial flight powered by algae fuel for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.(2,3)

On the benefits of algae

Algae has many benefits over nuclear energy. The fuel harnessed from algae is light and doesn’t solidify at cool temperatures in the sky. This would make the carbon sprayed by jets less harmful to the environment. In addition, algae can grow in places that are typically hostile to life, like wastewater.(3)

Algae even out-competes its biofuel brethren. The Department of Energy reports that algae can produce 60 times more oil per acre in comparison to plants grown on the land.(1,2)

So why haven’t more people jumped on board the micro algae bandwagon? Part of the problem is that algae is universally expensive. At Fukushima, a liter of algae oil costs up to 300 yen, or about $2.50. In order to make algae economically feasible, a liter of algae needs to drop down to 100 yen, or about 83 cents.(2,3)

Not just any old algae can power a Boeing 787, however. A rare blend of algae, known as super algaes, is the kind of scruff necessary to power major airline jets. Scientists must therefore find a way to produce super algaes on a mass scale, while simultaneously making it economically feasible.(3)

The goal among biotech firms is to get algae fuel down to $3 a barrel. In order to do this, researchers select a strain of algae and then genetically modify it. They make the algae produce as much oil as possible by changing its environment and putting it through stress tests. This is known as strain improvement, which enables scientists to determine in which conditions algae flourishes best.(2,3)

Other viable options

Algae isn’t the only viable alternative energy source at Fukushima, however. Wind power could get the job done as well. Last June, the largest floating turbine in the world was finished at Fukushima. Efforts to build the turbine were fueled by a larger plan to increase the wind power at the Fukushima site.(1)

Although there are viable, alternative energy sources on the table, Japan reactivated No. 1 reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, despite mass public protest. The reactors was the first one to be reactivated since the Fukushima disaster.(4)

The race between nuclear and non-nuclear energy is on. For more breaking news on the continuing Fukushima disaster, check out, powered by

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