From Dan Boyce at Montana State University comes word that researchers there have found a way to get four times as much biofuel from a given amount of algae by adding baking soda, a concentrated source of carbon dioxide, to the algae.

“Our grad student Rob Gardner has been investigating what we did 20 years ago,” said MSU Research Professor Emeritus in Microbiology, Keith Cooksey. Dr. Cooksey tried the same thing in the ’90s but said he “missed the timing.”

Gardner found the exact point in the growing process to add the baking soda after a year and a half of research. “It doubles the rate of production of oil,” Dr. Cooksey said. According to Gardner, not only does the process double the amount of oil that can be extracted from the algae, it grows the algae in half the previous time, producing four times as much fuel. “We fought this for a long time in trial and error, and finally stumbled across the right answer. That was a really good day.”

The University is applying for a patent on the method and is now searching for someone to license it. Dr. Cooksey researched algal biofuel 20 years ago and published more than 40 papers in the general area, but said the government eventually lost interest and withdrew its funding. The trend has reversed itself, however, and the field is now exploding.

Dr. Cooksey is now in demand for his expertise, but he is still miffed about the lost years. “It’s great, but it’s frustrating,” he said. “Why the hell didn’t we do this 20 years ago, because we would be where we’d like to be by now.”