Can algae-derived oils support large-scale, low-cost biofuels production?

Can algae-derived oils support large-scale, low-cost biofuels production?
©2012 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers

ExxonMobil and many other energy companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop transportation biofuels from renewable resources such as the oil or hydrocarbons produced by microalgae. As global supplies of fossil fuels continue to shrink, biofuels derived from algae represent one promising source of low-cost, scalable renewable energy. The feasibility and economic projections for large-scale biofuels production from microalgae are examined in a Review article and accompanying Commentary published in Disruptive Science and Technology.

Microalgae are single-celled organisms that can be grown in open ponds, tubes, or bags, with just sunlight and carbon dioxide, or in the dark and fed sugars or starches. They can be genetically modified to optimize their productivity.

John Benemann, Ian Woertz, and Tryg Lundquist, MicroBio Engineering, Inc. (Walnut Creek, CA) and California State Polytechnic University (San Luis Obispo, CA), present the results of an engineering and economic study of vegetable from microalgae grown in open ponds. In the Review article " for Microalgae Oil Production" the authors also project the energy input and required to carry out this process at large scale.

In the Commentary entitled "An Introduction to Photosynthetic Microalgae," Melissa Stark and Ian O'Gara, Accenture, compare algae culture to agriculture and state that for applications, algae is relatively high risk compared to other technologies and will require "long-term commitment to achieve commercial scale." Algae had "high yield potential" and it "could add significantly to potential biofuel resources."

"As the planet moves inexorably toward populations in excess of 10 billion people, we must find new ways of generating food and fuel," says Editor-in-Chief Alan J. Russell, PhD, Highmark Distinguished Professor, Carnegie Mellon University. "These are national security issues for all countries, as well as moral imperatives. Benemann et al.'s paper on oil production, and the related commentary by Melissa Stark and Ian O'Gara, point to a sustainable future using this technology."

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Citation: Can algae-derived oils support large-scale, low-cost biofuels production? (2012, December 12) retrieved 18 September 2019 from
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Dec 12, 2012
The National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council which NAS funds - stated on 10/24/12 that algae biofuels were neither renewable nor sustainable due to their spatial, water and fertilizer requirements. (http://www.reuter...1Q82012) To be a significant source of energy algae biofuels/biofuels in general rely on NPK fertilizers same as our food crops. NPK components are dependent on petroleum for their manufacture. The phosphorus in NPK comes from rock phosphates which are now considered a peak commodity like petroleum. In 2011 USDA said the US imported 52% of its food prod. NPK components, 16% of that was rock phosphate from - Morocco. It makes little sense to swap being reliant on foreign petroleum, for foreign NPK. Until we have a competitive source of phosphorus, it would utterly stupid to pursue NPK dependent biofuel development considering solar, wind, and tidal require no NPK and are renewable and sustainable.

Dec 13, 2012
Who Says Algae Production For Fuel Is Unsustainable?
Source: National Algae Association
Dated: Nov 04, 2012

National Algae Association disputes the National Research Council's recent claims about the need for more research. Their study may be based on out-dated, inaccurate and possibly incomplete information provided by the DoE's Biomass Program It is well known in the algae production industry that algae raceway ponds have been unsustainable -starting with the DOE's Aquatic Species Program years ago. The researchers knew this before the industry emerged, but saw the opportunity to continue to conduct their research using federal funds instead of looking into other more productive enclosed growing systems. The universities counted on the federal funds as part of their budgets. If they admitted their failures, the money would have gone away.

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