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Report Says Algal Biofuels May Not Cut Carbon Emission

A new study suggests that overall the CO2 emissions attendant to producing biofuel from algae may be worse than those from corn, canola (rape-seed) or switch grass. According to a life-cycle analysis, the land-based crops all were found to sequester more carbon than that incurred in growing them, while the contrary was true for growing algae, meaning that replacing fossil fuels by algal fuels could cause an overall increase in carbon emissions.

Not surprisingly, the report, just published in the prestigious American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology, has put the cat among the pigeons, since there are many new companies gearing-up to produce algal biofuels. The U.S. Algal Biomass Organization has claimed that the study contained ?faulty assumptions? and was based on ?grossly outdated data.?

However, on closer inspection, the report is in fact very positive about growing algae. Indeed, the data are only in opposition to making fuel from algae if nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients are added in their mineral forms, and if the CO2 has to be injected into the system, as produced elsewhere and transported as a compressed gas.

The figures in this ?cradle to farm gate? analysis (i.e. they do not include the energy costs of processing the algae or other biomass into fuel, per se) show that if the production of algae is combined with a wastewater treatment strategy, so that N and P are removed from it by the algae (an otherwise energy intensive procedure), and fed with CO2 from smokestacks, most of the environmental burdens attendant to growing algae are offset.

Thus, the algae production plant should be placed in close mutual proximity with a power station and a sewage-works. Of three possible municipal wastewater (sewage) effluents evaluated as a source of N and P, the most effective was source-separated urine with a very high content of these elements, in which case growing algae became more environmentally beneficial than the land-based crops.
Fri August 06 2010 10:27:25 AM by Power1921 1365 views

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