THE ALGAE SOLUTION
Algae are the least publicized source of biofuel feedstock yet may hold the greatest potential for simultaneously tackling the problems of our worldwide dependence on fossil fuels and limiting CO2 emissions linked to global climate change. Algae can produce substantially greater oil per acre than traditional oil seeds and also cut the level of CO2 as algae consume it while emitting clean oxygen. Algae can grow in places other than on farmlands or other arable land. Many strains of algae can grow optimally using brackish water, sea water, or waste water. The economics of such a plant and process are driven by the high potential solar energy conversion efficiencies of single celled algae versus crop plants on a per acre, per day basis. For these reasons and others, microalgae have many advantages over terrestrial plants in addressing some of the world’s major challenges for energy security, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and need for sustainability.
“Put quite simply, microalgae are remarkable and efficient biological factories capable of taking a waste (zero-energy) form of carbon (CO2) and converting it into a high density liquid form of energy (natural oil).”
-A Look Back at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Aquatic Species Program: Biodiesel from Algae, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
ALGAE ARE VERY EFFICIENT PRODUCERS OF OIL
Given the right conditions, algae can double its volume overnight. Microalgae are the earth’s most productive plants –– 10 to 15 times more prolific in biomass than the fastest growing land plant exploited for biofuel production. While soy produces some 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; canola, 150 gallons; and palm, 650 gallons, algae can produce up to 15,000 gallons per acre per year. In addition, up to 50 percent (or more) of algae biomass (dry weight) is comprised of oil, whereas oil-palm trees—currently the most efficient large-scale source of feedstock oil to make biofuels—yield approximately 20 percent of their weight in oil.
COMPETITIVE WITH FOSSIL FUEL
Algae-to-oil is projected to be competitive with petroleum-based crude oil with or without government mandates or subsidies afforded to alternative energy solutions, and at a cost far below any other biofuels feedstock crop.
Government mandates and assistance and incentive programs (e.g., R&D support, tax credits, loan guarantees for the construction of commercial facilities) can, however, significantly accelerate the initial commercialization of this technology and ensure a more rapid adoption throughout the United States and other parts of the industrialized world.
MICROALGAE SEQUESTER POTENTIALLY HARMFUL C02 EMISSIONS
Microalgae naturally sequester CO2 from the atmosphere; however to support the rapid growth needs of an algae farm, additional amounts of CO2 are necessary. The solution: capture CO2 emitted from industrial sources, such as power plants, cement plants, and ethanol factories, that would have otherwise been a source of environmental pollution. Thus, a potential source of global warming is converted to a source of clean burning feedstock for biofuels.
In addition, all other methods used for CO2 mitigation only sequester CO2 ; they do not convert it into useful products or energy, making microalgae the method of choice to combat climate change.
In coming decades the world will need huge amounts of energy to support population and economic growth and to improve standards of living. Supplies of conventional energy will struggle to keep up with growth in demand and energy will need to be produced in environmentally and socially responsible ways.
The world will also need to feed this growing population. This will put increasing pressure on the environment, agricultural land, the fish stock and supplies of clean water. Algae hold great promise as a source of low carbon energy for biofuels and as an additional source of animal feed.
SUMMARY: MARINE MICROALGAE ADVANTAGES
- Carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emitted from power plants, refineries, cement plants, etc. provide high growth rates for algae, thus converting atmospheric pollutants to biofuel and other valuable products
- Cultivation can be accomplished in waste land areas which preserves valuable farmlands for food production
- Transportation costs of feedstock, a major economical concern for terrestrially grown biomass, can be reduced or eliminated
- Marine microalgae use brackish water or salt water to grow which preserves valuable fresh water sources
- Processing is simplified because of microalgae’s small grain size and lack of lignocellulose. Lignocelluslose, found in all land-based biomass sources, greatly complicates the biomass-to-biofuel conversion process
- Microalgae are suitable for production processes ranging from entrained flow gasification to direct transesterification
- No harmful waste products result from microalgae production
- Marine microalgae can produce feedstocks to make a variety of biofuels and petrochemical replacement products
- The byproducts of the cultivation process include protein and carbohydrates that can be used as fishmeal or an animal feed supplemental