The Science

Between 1978 and 1996, the US Department of Energy funded research into technologies that could have significant impacts on the consumption of fossil fuels. The focus of this research became the Aquatic Species Program, which investigated renewable fuel production (bio-diesel) from high-oil algae species, fed by the waste CO2 from coal-fired power plants. Researchers whittled down over 3,000 strains of micro-organisms into the most productive 300, and constructed 1000 sq. meter test ponds outside of Roswell, NM.

The ponds were set up as sort of algae ‘race-tracks’, where algae were circulated around shallow, oval-shaped ponds as carbon dioxide bubbled through the mixture. Results were successful and in some ways encouraging, but the program was abandoned after almost two decades, as a result of budget constraints and a preference for allocating resources to researching ethanol as a substitute for low cost fossil fuels.