9 November 2007

Algae: The cheap and efficient dream fuel?

Though extremely productive and frugal, algae need optimal environment

Algae are set to eclipse all other biofuel feedstocks as the cheapest, easiest, and most environmentally friendly means of producing liquid fuel for cars, homes and power generators, according to a report by market analyst Kiplinger.

Algae require only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to grow. They can quadruple in biomass in just one day. And, what’s more, they suck up harmful pollutants such as nitrogen from waste water and carbon dioxide from power plants as they grow.

Some strains of algae contain over 50% oil and an average acre of algae grown today for food and pharmaceutical industries can yield around 19,000 litres of biodiesel, compared to just 265 litres for one acre of soya beans or 1,600 litres of ethanol for an acre of corn. “Your bang for your buck is just bigger because you can really do this on a much smaller amount of land and yet yield much, much higher biomass,” Michael Atkins, CEO of Ocean Technology & Environmental Consulting (OTEC) told Kiplinger.

However, the difficult part is creating an optimal environment for algae to grow, states the report. Indeed, open ponds can easily be infiltrated and contaminated by other species and parameters essential to growth, such as temperature, light and salinity levels, cannot really be controlled.
Large-scale photobioreactors – enclosed systems that produce algae in layer upon layer of tubes or shallow ponds – can offer a solution to these problems, and, although they still come with a high price tag – from €3.5 million to €7 million – Kiplinger analysts consider that “super efficient production and higher oil yields help offset the costs”.

They conclude that further research will also help reduce costs so that the large-scale commercial production of algae fuel could be just five years away.

Additional information
Kiplinger’s Biofuels Market Alert: Algae: The Alternative-Energy Dream Fuel (PDF document)

(Cf. news of 2007-07-27 und 2007-07-02.)

Source: Euractiv.com, 2007-11-05.

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