‘Dead zones’ in the ocean are called such for a reason. Every year agricultural run-off, especially fertilizer, floods the oceans with an abundance of nutrients leading to algae blooms, i.e. massive explosions of phytoplankton. The demise of these blooms, and the rise of bacteria feeding on them, eventually starves the entire area of oxygen creating a ‘dead zone’ where the vast majority marine life can’t survive. Considered by most to be an environmental catastrophe, a new company is looking at dead zones in a different light: fuel and profit, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
LiveFuels Inc. sees the dead zones as a potential bonanza for algae-based biofuels. Such biofuels are currently being developed by a number of companies who plan to raise algae stocks in onshore facilities for fuel. But LiveFuels sees such an approach as cost-prohibitive.
“It is too expensive for humans to grow algae, harvest it and get the water out and then convert it into a petroleum-like substitute,” said LiveFuels Chief Executive Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones.
Instead LiveFuels has developed a plan to feed the algae in dead zones to fish, which will then be processed into oil. After gorging themselves, algae-eating fish will be captured, cooked, and then pressed to harvest their oils. This is the same process used to create Omega-3 oil in pill form, but LiveFuels also believes these oils can be turned into fuel. In other words: cars would run on ranched fish.
LiveFuels is currently studying which fish, or grouping of species, would work most effectively as fuel-based life in the Gulf of Mexico, home to the world’s second largest dead zone.
After finding the species that fits its requirement, the company intends to release massive quantities of fish into the area to feed on the algae, over 25,000 pounds of fish per acre of water. The fish would be kept in cages to keep predatory fish from feasting on them and keep them away from oxygen-starved areas where they could suffocate.
Not everyone is supportive of the initiative. “Our preference is not to wait until the Gulf of Mexico is a giant dead zone and then have someone go out and collect the algae,” Ed Hopkins, director of the environmental-quality program at the Sierra Club, told the Wall Street Journal. Hopkins would rather see funds and energy spent on dealing with turning dead zones back into areas where marine life can thrive.