Algae is a Potential Source of Future Fuels

  • Algae is a Potential Source of Future Fuels

    In their latest “This Week In Petroleum” report, the US Energy Information Administration provides an interesting summary of the potential use of algae cultivation as an alternative fuel source. Algae has many attributes that make it potentially attractive as a future source of commercially produced fuel.

    One of the most attractive aspects of algae as a fuel source is its high productivity. It would take 62.5 million acres of soybeans (an area approximately the size of Wyoming) to produce the same 3 billion gallons of oil that could be produced from only 2.5 million acres of algae (an area approximately 70 percent the size of Connecticut). Three billion gallons of biodiesel represent about 8 percent of all the diesel fuel used for on-road transportation in the United States in 2008.

    Algae also has a much higher energy production rate than corn. Algae cultivation can produce 32 tons per acre resulting in 162 – 486 gigajoules of energy per acre, depending on cultivation techniques. Corn produces 8 tons per acre resulting in only 36 – 72 gigajoules of energy per acre.

    And with algae, there is no competition between food production and fuel.

    The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports Honolulu, Phoenix and Denver as US cities who could theoretically be top producers of algal fuel.

    Algae has the attention of the US Federal government, large energy companies, and venture capitalists who continue to fund demonstration projects and research into developing algae-based biofuels for commercial application. Current estimates of the production cost of algal oil range from $4 – $40 per gallon, depending on the type of cultivation system used. So while production of fuels from algae have been demonstrated, more research is needed before commercial scaling is realistic. But with all the research money being poured into this field, perhaps in the not-too-distant future we’ll have algae farms throughout the US contributing to our fuel source.

    Sources: US EIA “This Week In Petroleum”; National Renewable Energy Laboratory “The Promises and Challenges of Algal-Derived Biofuels”

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