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Why algae fuels not commercialized yet? 10

I read a research abstract recently published - Proponents of microalgae biofuel technologies often claim that the world demand of liquid fuels, about 5 trillion liters per year, could be supplied by microalgae cultivated on only a few tens of millions of hectares. This perspective reviews this subject and points out that such projections are greatly exaggerated, because

(1) The productivities achieved in large-scale commercial microalgae production systems, operated year-round, do not surpass those of irrigated tropical crops.

(2) Cultivating, harvesting and processing microalgae solely for the production of biofuels is simply too expensive using current or prospective technology; and

3) Currently available (limited) data suggest that the energy balance of algal biofuels is very poor. Thus, microalgal biofuels are no panacea for depleting oil or global warming, and are unlikely to save the internal combustion machine.

On reading this abstract, It appears that algae fuels cannot be commercialized before ten years from now. But I believe that the current research trends could address these problems to some extent.

For the first point on yield, algae are single celled, and can multiply very fast. The rate of biomass produced is eventually higher. Unlike land crops which are harvested once in a period of 3 months or six months, algae can double its biomass every hour making it harvestable daily.

It is indeed true that the cost of cultivation and harvesting is not cost competitive. But the current research on process integration (integrating various processes such as harvesting and extraction of oil into a single step process) and research on production of high value chemicals as by products can overcome this problem to some extent.

Energy balance is still not clear due to various processes employed in each step of the product conversion. May be I should read up a bit more on this aspect of algae fuels.
Fri April 02 2010 04:06:34 AM by Parkavi Algae-fuel-industry 1770 views

Comments - 2

  • Narsi wrote:
    Thu April 01 2010 03:26:52 PM

    "The productivities achieved in large-scale commercial microalgae production systems, operated year-round, do not surpass those of irrigated tropical crops."

    I think this is a contentious statement. For one, there are pilots that have proven than about 3000-4000 gallons of oil per hectare per year is possible (Ok, this probably was not done year round, but it is quite likely that it can be achieved all year round).

    I doubt if there are any major oil crops that can give 4000 gallons per hectare per year. Most of them yield about 400-500 gallons per hectare per year.

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  • Mahesh wrote:
    Wed April 07 2010 11:18:30 AM

    Yes, the yield per hactare part is bit misleading and far from the facts, as for as i know, algal oil sources are atleast 100times more efficient than oil crops......

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