Report heralds new $50 billion energy industry for Australia

May 21, 2013

A new energy sector based on algal biofuels could guarantee Australia's transport fuel and food security far into the future, a new report says.

Potentially worth $50 billion a year, the industry would produce fuel, food, stockfeed, plastics, textiles, paper, fertilisers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and employ up to 50,000 Australians in new jobs, according to the study Food and Fuel Forever, released today (May 21, 2012) by Perth-based thinktank Future Directions International (FDI).

"At current yields we could produce enough oil for all our transport needs from just 6000 square kilometres, the area of a single big sheep station," says author, science writer Julian Cribb.

"Furthermore it can be done without competing for good land, wilderness or water with any other sector of the economy – in fact it will use many of the things we now waste or throw away."

More than 20 countries, including the US, China, India and Israel, along with leading airlines and aviation corporations are currently investing in research into algal biofuels as the next big .

"Oil from algae is liquid solar energy. The main thing you need to grow it is sunshine – and Australia has more of that per square metre than any country on Earth. That makes us potentially the world's largest fresh oil province – the Saudi Arabia, if you like – of the 21st century.

"Fossil oil comes from algae that died millions of years ago. Today it makes far better sense to grow the oil fresh, using living water plants – and create a new industry that will invest its profits back into Australia, instead of offshoring them.

"Such an industry would not only save us $40 billion a year in foreign , but guarantee our fuel supplies into the future, and create spinoff local industries worth $10bn or more in aquaculture, health foods, , textiles, paper, fertiliser, chemicals and many other areas.

"Furthermore this would be an industry owned and run by Australians, for Australians – not by globalised resource giants.

"Instead of exporting jobs, we would be importing tens of thousands of them. It would pay for new nation-building infrastructure in transport, energy and other areas key to economic growth.

"It would help green our cities by devouring their waste streams, cleaning their water and reducing their garbage. It would turn the emissions from power stations, cement works and factories into valuable products and exports.

"Because fish and water plants are healthy to eat, it would help to bring down the burden of degenerative disease and premature death across the entire community, giving rise to a new national diet and a novel cuisine."

Mr Cribb says he wrote the report after more than four decades of analysing agricultural and resource opportunities and issues. "Of all the opportunities I have seen algae culture is one of the most promising. Not only does it offer major benefits – but it also solves major problems.

"For example it can cut national greenhouse emissions by 15-20 per cent at a single stroke. It can cleanse our badly polluted waters. It can improve our health as a nation."

Other countries and leading global corporations clearly see algae as a major opportunity, and it was time that Australia took them seriously, as it had the land, water, sunshine and skills to become a world leader in the field.

"As with any new industry, there are large technical challenges and risks involved in algae culture on a large scale. As with any new industry, these can be overcome with science, patient investment, intelligence – and guts," he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of Future Directions International, Maj. Gen. John Hartley, said "The concept of algal farming, as described by Julian Cribb, could well have far reaching consequences for Australia's economy, environment, employment and population generally. This is an exciting prospect worthy of great consideration."

The full paper can be found on the Future Directions website at: … nd-fuel-forever.html

Explore further: Bioengineered marine algae expands environments where biofuels can be produced

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1.8 / 5 (5) May 21, 2013
Excellent news. I wondered when this tech would stop being a lab scale project fighting for investment: And be fast tracked for the high priority "Manhattan Project" investment it deserves.
Not surprised that the 'oil poor' and 'sunlit desert rich' Australians have stood up to bat for this technology.
5 / 5 (1) May 21, 2013
Significant scale algae biofuel takes more than sunshine, water and CO2 . The beginning of the end of the algae biofuel era was when all the major mass balance studies showed that such an industry would rely on petroleum dependent NPK fertilizers and compete with food crops - especially now that we are entering the era of peak phosphates. The confluent affects of peak petroleum and peak phosphate on NPK competition between food and biofuels given the unsustainable human population growth is a formula for global economic chaos and possible human extinction.

Small scale waste to algae projects will remain viable, but the era of big money NPK fertilized algae biofuel is effectively dead. Here are the two of the most recent and significant algae biofuel obituaries:


1 / 5 (3) May 21, 2013
The initial algal growth will require mineral nutrient input but should be maintained in a closed system thereafter. Other organisms may be required to recycle dead algae in to bioavailable nutrients. I'm not saying its an easy win, win, win situation any more than nuclear power was. Its just worth a concerted effort.
The Aussies must have done their sums too.
not rated yet May 22, 2013
especially now that we are entering the era of peak phosphates

There is always iron. That an a little creative DNA splicing.
not rated yet May 22, 2013
Nothing grows without adequate phosphorus. Recycling phosphorus in a closed system has long been proven not to work. Takes more than organisms and or iron to convert and release bioactive phosphorus in the cycle in a timely and volume sufficient fashion. Otherwise FL wouldn't be the site of numerous phosphate/acid processing tailing dumps. To date there have been no economically successful trials of recycling phosphorus in algae biofuel wastes in a closed system. Not only isn't the phosphorus release a problem, but algae cellular debris is death on the surrounding living algae.

Ironically it was the Australian researcher Dr. Dana Cordell that focused world attention on peak phosphate/phosphorus issues and as well the lack of verified assessment of phosphate reserves.


1 / 5 (2) May 22, 2013
Thanks Dug:
Though if peak Phosphate is such a big deal (as is peak oil) then this is still worthy of investment to research a fix.
Sounds like you know your stuff: Fancy a trip to Australia?
not rated yet May 22, 2013
Good points you make Dug, but I don't see why it would be so difficult to extract from the algae to bio-fuel extraction processes. The last thing that you would want is phosphorus in your biodiesil or jet fuel after all. It wouldn't seem to be difficult, but I'm not a chemical engineer so I'll take your word for it. I do recall hearing something about the peak phosphate/phosphorus a couple of years ago; A friend of mine wanted to invest in it as a long term hedge.

Anyway I guess it would help to know the technology and the industrial scale requirements necessary for a large build out of algae farming. From there one could access the impact on resources. However, the side benefit to algae farming is that it carbon neutral if there are technologies to recycle the algae waste from the fuel creation process (and hopefully the phosphorus too)

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