Thursday, January 31, 2013

Algae-based biofuels – Environmental impact

The growing energy demand cannot be satisfied solely by relying on fossil fuels, not just because fossil fuels will eventually become depleted but also because of the increasing climate change impact that is thought to be primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Because of this, energy experts from all over the world discuss potential energy solutions in form of alternative fuels that could be used to satisfy world energy demand in future and one of the most talked about future energy options is no doubt algae-based fuel .

In order to determine the potential impact of new energy source scientists have to look at it from both economic as well as environmental point of view. One of the most interesting studies about the environmental and economic impact of algae-based biofuels comes from the researchers at New University of Virginia.

From the economic point of view algae-based fuel has what it takes to become a “real deal” mostly because algae-based transportation fuels produce high energy output with minimal land use requirements. This means that farmers could maximize their profits by for instance switching from canola and switch grass to algae because algae would produce considerably more energy for every hectare planted but there's also another advantage of algae, namely that they can be also grown on poor-quality lands which would no doubt give farmers more room to expand their production.

Growing algae for biofuels

From the environmental point of view things are not looking that good for algae-based fuel production. Scientists say that algae-based biofuel production requires more petroleum powered processes than other biofuels. This process also requires plenty of water resources and emits more greenhouse gases compared with other biofuels.

In more simple words this means that if we want to produce as much fuel as possible then we must seriously consider algae but on the other hand if we are more concerned about the different environmental issues (such as future climate change impact and water shortage) then we should primarily focus on alternatives such as canola and switch grass.

Algae are certainly a very interesting future energy option but are far from being the perfect energy option to replace fossil fuels, especially from the environmental point of view. Still, more research will likely lead to new technologies and perhaps scientists will be able to remove these drawbacks in years to come and make algae-based fuel production acceptable from both economic and environmental point of view.