Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Will algae become main biofuel of the future?

Lately, there has been plenty of talk about using algae as the main source for the production of biofuels. In this context, algae biofuel is already known as the third generation of biofuels, and there have been many scientific studies focusing on algae, and trying to discover the perfect technologies that would enable commercial algae biofuel production.

Producing biofuels from algae has several major benefits that include:

1)      very fast growth of algae
2)      minimum requirements needed to grow algae (just water, sun, and CO2)
3)      algae extremely high energy content (algae can produce lot more energy per unit than this is the case with first and second generation of biofuels as they have lot higher energy content than any terrestrial crop)
4)      negligible negative environmental impact
5)      can be produced from waste water
6)      they absorb large quantities of CO2 which could be of great help in our fight against climate change
7)      no effect on food prices and global food supply, and no food vs. fuels debate like this is the case with the first generation of biofuels (from food crops)

Algae pond. Growing algae for biofuels does not lead to food vs. fuel debate.

The two major downsides of using algae for production of biofuels include:

1)      The currently used technologies are connected with significant costs, for instance the most efficient technology that includes using bioreactors is still extremely expensive because off high installation and maintenance costs.
2)      The currently dominant open pond systems could be contaminated with native algae species, evaporation and viral infection.

What can we conclude from these benefits and drawbacks? Well, for one, potential is certainly there, but science will have to develop cost-competitive technologies that would allow cheap and efficient algae production. Algae could well become top source for future biofuels but the road to major commercial production still looks to be very, very long.