Algae biofuel production often uses petroleum-based NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus Potassium) fertilizers to grow algae. Over half of US NPK fertilizer is imported. In addition, algae biofuel facilities are generally based in deserts where the sun is strong and water scarce, yet it uses large amounts of water. It takes over three gallons to produce one gallon of algae fuel.
Thus it is clear that algae biofuel is not environmentally friendly nor does it cut dependence of foreign oil. This from the president of a non biofuel algae company with 40 years experience and who has no financial interests in biofuel or petroleum.
Nearly every in-depth economic (fiscal and physical) analysis – and especially mass balance analysis of the algae biofuel production process – has shown it to be both economically, environmentally and resource unsustainable and non-renewable at-scales significant enough to impact the U.S.’s energy deficits.
However, some types of algae biofuel doesn’t need NPK fertilizer.
Algae biofuel companies generating algae biofuels and other products from wastes – such as sewage and CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – cattle, dairy, poultry, swine and aquaculture) discharges are largely unaffected directly by the NPK sustainability issues.
Algae biofuel shows great promises but major problems exists.
Biodiesel (fatty acid methyl ester) derived from oleaginous microbes—microalgae, yeast, and bacteria—can effectively displace both petroleum diesel and biodiesel produced from plant oils, according to the findings of a new study by a team from Utah State University.
While this is excellent news, there is one huge caveat. Algae biofuel requires enormous amounts of water to produce. Thus, using wastewater and recycling water is essential if commercial scale algae biofuel is to be produced. And even that could be dicey.
A report out today from the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies says that large-scale production of biofuels from algae is untenable with existing technology, as it would require the use of too much water, energy, and fertilizer.
Researchers at the Energy Dynamics Lab at Utah State University are attempting to create a cost-effective biofuel made from Algae. This has the potential to change the future of transportation in America.
Cost competitive biofuel from algae is one of the Holy Grails of renewable energy. If achieved, it would be a disruptive technology that changes energy forever. Australian company Algae.Tec says they may have a breakthrough.
[their system] uses low maintenance technologies and an efficient solar system to produce algae in one tenth of the land surface as compared to the current pond methods for producing algae. The McConchie-Stroud System photo-bioreactors produce oils which can be refined into biodiesel, sugar carbohydrates that can be used in the production of ethanol, proteins that can be used as feedstock for farm animals, and protein and carbohydrate biomass that can be combined to produce jet fuel.
Even better, their technology can capture CO2 emissions from power plants and manufacturing facilities for use in growing algae. They have orders from a large Sri Lanka cement manufacturer and are also building a full-scale prototype. Many have tried and failed at this. Algae.Tec says they can do algae biofuel at “below market price.” It’s unclear if they mean below algae prices or petroleum prices. Their website does seem a bit overly focused on the stock price (but are hardly the only small company to do so.) Let’s hope they succeed.
Right now the Maersk Kalmar is en route from Northern Europe to India running a blend of algae-biofuel and petroleum-based fuel.
At one point in the testing the ship will run on 100% biofuel. Maersk has been hugely proactive on switching to renewables. The US Navy is working with them on the test and plans to have a 100% biofuel fleet by 2016.
Micro algae are considered to be a promising future source of biofuel. The productivity of algae is much higher than that of normal crops, and they do not compete with food production. In order to develop the best possible production system for algae, the University of Wageningen opened a new and unique pilot plant: AlgaePARC (Algae Production and Research Centre). AlgaePARC is the first plant in the world where four distinct algae production systems will be meticulously tested and compared.
America no longer needs taxpayer subsidies for corn-based ethanol. It is a mature technology and the Renewable Fuels Standard already ensures that we use ethanol to displace foreign oil.
“The debate in the Senate over the past several days has shown that Congress must signal that we’re prepared to deal with the corn ethanol subsidy by the end of the year. While I believe tax policy should not be changed mid-year, I hope today’s vote will put the ongoing bipartisan negotiations on track to update our biofuels policy to focus on developing advanced biofuels, such as algae and cellulosic ethanol, in 2012 and beyond.