Algae: A Growing Alternative to Fossil Fuels

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BY:
Loren Henry

Broker

April 20, 2020

Joining other renewable energy plant-based sources, algae is fast becoming a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. In fact, algae’s potential is so promising that the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is investing to improve the cost competitiveness and environmental sustainability of microalgae-based fuels and products.

Outperforming Other Products
Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products — including corn and palm oils. Once harvested, algae can be readily processed to make fuels for cars, trucks, trains and planes. Key to algae’s potential as a renewable fuel source is its biomass per acre; some research indicates that algae could be 10 or even 100 times more productive than traditional bioenergy crops. In fact, just one 100-acre algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in just 12 months.

Experts estimate that it takes nearly 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum-based products each year. To reach this replacement goal, algae biodiesel companies would need close to 95 million acres of land to build their plants, compared with the billions of acres that other biodiesel products require. Algae can also be grown anywhere indoors, bypassing weather-related challenges.

Challenges
Despite its promise as a viable alternative to fossil fuels, algae must overcome a number of hurdles before it can compete in the fuel market and be broadly distributed. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the top three issues involve:

  • Strain identification and improvement.
  • Nutrient and resource allocation and use.
  • The production of co-products to improve the economics of the entire system.

However, one of the biggest issues slowing the distribution of algae-based transportation fuels is the cost. If algae biofuel were offered at gas stations today, consumers would find that it is cost prohibitive compared with that of petroleum fuels. Today, the Bioenergy Technologies Office’s Advanced Algal Systems program is helping support early-stage applied research and development to lower the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts. The program’s project portfolio addresses barriers along the supply chain in order to help break down critical technical barriers and promote sustainable and affordable algae biofuels.

A Greener Future for Algae
Synthetic Genomics is one of the few companies founded during the “gold rush” period of algal biofuel development that remains focused on producing biofuel from algae at an accelerated pace. After years of biological research into optimizing algae oil production, the company has partnered with ExxonMobil and is currently making progress on an outdoor field study growing naturally occurring algae in several contained ponds in California. According to a recent article, Synthetic Genomics and Exxon anticipate that with the progress so far and expectations of further advances to come, they will be able to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel a day by 2025.

At Worldwide Facilities, we are experts in renewable energy. From solar to wind, biomass to geothermal, we have the market reach and comprehensive risk management programs to serve virtually every sector of the energy industry. To learn more, contact Loren Henry at lhenry@wwfi.com or 619‑541‑4265.

Sources: Energy.gov, NCBI and PHYS.ORG

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