Algae-derived biodiesel – the answer to our fossil fuel crisis?
Algae-derived biodiesel could significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and deliver a high financial return, whilst also providing a sustainable and realistic alternative to conventional oil according to new analysis from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment.
Microalgae can grow in waste water or sea water, and therefore does not have the land use and food security impacts of other biofuels. Furthermore, and most importantly, the growth of microalgae removes CO2 from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and can offset any CO2 released during the fuel combustion process. This is a claim which cannot be made by other liquid fuels derived from gas, coal or unconventional oil sources.
If algae-derived biodiesel were to replace the annual global production of 1.1bn tons of conventional diesel, a land mass of 57.3 million hectares would be required. This compares highly favourable to other biofuels.
The production process is the current barrier to large scale production. It is currently 2.5 times as energy intensive as conventional diesel, which restricts the current financial and environmental feasibility of algae production.
Investment in genetic and metabolic engineering will optimise the economics of producing microalgae, which, coupled with the decarbonisation of the production chain, will realise the inherent environmental advantages of GHG emissions reduction.
Sir David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment said,
“We are staring in the face of a fossil fuel crisis and microalgae could present a real solution. The economics of producing microalgae biodiesel need to improve to make it a competitive product in the existing market, but the good news is that the level of improvement necessary appears to be attainable.With development and investment into process optimisation, a high financial return is expected, since algae can be used to turn desert areas into energy sources.”
Oliver Inderwildi, Head of Low Carbon Mobility Centre, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment said,
“Microalgae could be a real ‘game changer’ in the fuels arena. Whilst other biofuels adversely impact on land use and global food production, micro algae grown in an area smaller than the state of Texas could replace the annual global production of conventional diesel.“
Tara Shirvani, Lead Author, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment said,
“Global vehicle ownership is forecast to reach two billion in the near future, and with 90% of transport fuels being hydrocarbon sourced, there is increasing urgency to find an alternative to depleting levels of conventional oil reserves and rising GHG emissions.
Investment in reducing the production costs of Algae-derived biodiesel, coupled with a decarbonisation of national heat and electricity grids, will enable the transport sector to move towards low GHG emissions.
Countries such as Brazil and France which already largely operate on defossilised grids will have a distinct advantage over nations operating on a carbon-based electricity and heat grid such as China.”