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Is Sustainability far from Reality for Algae Biofuel Production?

April 10th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Algae, Algae-Energy

Algae might have emerged as the saving grace for the world of alternative energy.  But sustainability – the word that has haunted everything and everyone in the world of alternative energy, hasn’t spared algae biofuels too. A recent research study claims that sustainability is far from reality for algae biofuel production. The study also revealed that neither the policies nor the market can drive algae biofuel towards sustainability, but it is Science that could make it happen.

Researchers at the Center for Sustainable Energy, Kansas State University, following an in depth study on sustainable algae biofuel production, have now revealed that the commercial-scale algae biodiesel production pose a lot of scientific and economic challenges and in all probability, the breakeven point is far from reality which would eventually slow down the technology from taking off.

Using carbon mass balance, the study identified that algae biodiesel could be sustainable from a purely technical stand point, but that is no excuse to eliminate our dependence on conventional fuels (petroleum based diesel). In mass balance, the inflow and outflow were found to be equal making algae biodiesel environmentally sustainable. However, it was observed that the amount of algae diesel produced globally is drastically lower than the ideal quantities of algae biodiesel that has been projected. In simple terms, there is a serious gap between the production capacity and the actually production.

The theoretical projections from scientists around the world, about producing 200 to 500 grams of algae per square meter per day are practically not happening with lack of facilities being the major reason. The additional infrastructure required in order to produce the algae would result in failure of production economics resulting in 20-year payback on investment.

If it really is going to take 20 years to make profit out of business on a consistent basis, nobody would fancy investing in it, even guys with zero business acumen. Improving the efficiency of production holds the key. Only science can boost the economics of business here. While market conditions, prices and costs can be changed by reworking on subsidies, mandates and policies, it is SCIENCE that could change the dynamics and economics of algae biofuels industry.

The researchers thus conclude that the problem of sustainability should be handled at a more fundamental level. It doesn’t matter how well we optimiser our harvesting or extraction or refining, the algae under use just isn’t good enough to work wonders. The most sensible way to go would be to invest in fundamental research and design so that the yield can be improved to the desired levels.

More info on research work

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