Process

U.Va. Study Finds Complexity in Algae Deployment

August 11, 2011, by Zak Richards
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Anew research study at the University of Virginia shows that, while algae-based transportation fuels produce high energy output with minimal land use, their production could come with significant environmental burdens. For farmers looking to maximize profits, algae would produce considerably more transportation energy than canola and switch grass for every hectare planted, and can also be grown on poor-quality marginal land that cannot be easily used to grow food crops such as corn, according to the report by Andres F. Clarens and Lisa M. Colosi, both assistant professors of civil and environmental engineering in the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science; and Mark A. White, professor in the McIntire School of Commerce.

From an environmental impact standpoint, however, algae-based fuel has mixed performance, compared to other biomass sources. Algae-based biodiesel production uses more energy—in the form of petroleum-powered processes—than other biofuels. Additionally, algae-based biodiesel and bioelectricity production processes also require substantial amounts of water and emit more greenhouse gases.

Another important finding shows the relative favorability of using biofuels to generate electricity
The report, “Environmental Impacts of Algae-Derived Biodiesel and Bioelectricity for Transportation,” is available online on the environmental research website Environmental Science and Technology, and will be published in an upcoming print edition.

Hagai Nassau and Eleazer P. Resurreccion, civil and environmental engineering graduate students, contributed to the research. “We’re looking at the entire landscape of biofuels, and asking ‘What are the options?’ ” Colosi said.
She hopes the research will inform public policy debates, allowing people to make the best decisions about alternatives to petroleum.

“It comes down to value-driven questions,” Colosi said. “Do we value driving long distances in SUVs that require a lot of fuel? If so, we need to look at algae so we can produce as much fuel as possible. If we are concerned about energy use, climate changes and water supply, then we need to think more strongly about how we can best use canola and switch grass.”

The U.Va. researchers relied on a “well-to-wheel” life-cycle assessment of algae-based biofuel and bioelectricity production for transportation fuels. The research began with examining how the source crops are grown and continued through the point of their transformation into useable fuels for vehicles.

We’ve seen that alternatives typically come with unforeseen burdens.  We saw it with ethanol
They expressed energy output of the various biomass sources by showing how many kilometers a car could travel per the amount of energy harvested from a hectare of land. The current paper builds on the modeling results the U.Va. team reported in a 2010 paper in Environmental Science and Technology. In that work, they looked at the inputs such as fertilizer, water and petroleum power used to produce algae-based biodiesel. They compared this data to the amount of energy produced by other biomass stocks. The current paper accounts for variables throughout the entire production process.

Another important finding in the current paper shows the relative favorability of using biofuels to generate electricity rather than liquid fuels (i.e. biodiesel) for internal combustion engines. The process has a higher energy return than other algae-based biofuels because it involves fewer steps to transform the biomass into a usable energy form. Energy generated in this manner could power electric vehicles, but the authors acknowledge that the limited number of those vehicles currently in use could reduce the overall benefit of bioelectricity for transportation.

For the next phase of their research, the team plans to monetize environmental costs and benefits associated with production of the various bio-fuels. “Ultimately there is no silver bullet for replacing petroleum as a transportation energy source,” Clarens said. “We’ve seen that alternatives typically come with unforeseen burdens. We saw it with ethanol, and we’re seeing it now with shale gas. Our hope is that work like this will help us avoid similar pitfalls if algae-based fuels are ultimately deployed on large scale.”

Go to HOME Page

Copyright ©2010-2011 AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint this article in its entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact editorial@algaeindustrymagazine.com. A.I.M. accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

Visit the A.I.M. Archives

AIM interview ArchivesAlgae 101 ArchivesHot Products ArchivesInnovations ArchivesMoney ArchivesProcess ArchivesResearch ArchivesScale Up ArchivesThe Buzz Archives

FREE Algae News & Updates

Sign up to receive breaking A.I.M. updates! 

From The A.I.M. Archives

— Refresh Page for More Choices
AIMPLAS, a Center for Innovation and Technology in Valencia, Spain, and Biofuel Systems, a wholly Spanish-owned firm that has developed a method of breeding plankton and ...
Alltech, the animal feed giant headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, is continuing to expand its 15,000 ton/yr. algal DHA plant in Winchester, KY, one of only two plants ...
In the 1970s, following the regrouping of small farms into large production centers, the Soviet Union was experiencing serious problems with epidemics of cancer and low p...
Peter Berlin reports for France24.com that French adventurer Raphaël Dinelli plans to fly across the Atlantic in 2015 in a plane powered only by algae and sunshine. Dinel...
Natural Algae Astaxanthin manufacturers Fuji Chemical Industry Co Ltd., Algatechnologies Ltd. and Cyanotech Corporation have announced that they will form the “Natural Al...
OriginOil Inc. has announced a collaboration with Israel’s AquaGreen Fish Farms, Ltd. to further streamline their zero-discharge aquaculture systems for the production of...
Solazyme has announced that commercial operations have begun at both Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM)’s Clinton, Iowa facility, and the downstream companion facility ...
Heliae, SCHOTT North America and Arizona State University (ASU) have announced a partnership to bring Heliae’s algae production technology to ASU’s algae testbed facility...
Natural carotenoid specialists Piveg Inc., with production facilities based in Celaya, Central Mexico, has announced immediate availability of natural astaxanthin materia...
University of Adelaide researchers are using nanotechnology and the fossils of diatoms to develop a novel chemical-free and resistance-free way of protecting stored grain...
Scientists at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have demonstrated that just two of six iron-sulfur-containing ferredoxins in a represent...
Biomass abounds on Earth, as forests, fields, sewage and seaweed. But only a small fraction, mostly human or agricultural waste, can be harvested without posing environme...
Algae.Tec Ltd has received its first purchase order from Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings Limited (RIIHL), in connection with the arrangements announced on Ja...
In a global scenario where increasing attention is being directed towards issues of sustainability and limited food supplies, algal sources offer immense scope for the ra...
Solazyme, Inc. has announced results for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2013. “2013 was a year of great progress for Solazyme as we readied our first...
Valensa International and Contract Biotics have announced that Contract Biotics has started construction of an additional six acres of algae production units at the compa...
Technical standards define critical terms and metrics to add wisdom for the algae industry. Agreement among science and business leaders represents possibly the most diff...
Algatechnologies (“Algatech”), Israel, has announced a more than 100% expansion of its production capacity of AstaPure® brand natural astaxanthin. This doubling of capaci...
One of 12 winners of the 2014 Lexus Design Award, the Ooho algae balloon was created by three London-based designers to contribute a solution to the rising number of plas...
Algae is being discussed at the heart of EXPO Milano 2015, the international event that has existed since 1851, spawning world shaping themes and icons, such as the Eiffe...
Libourne, France-based Fermentalg, an industrial biotechnology company that specializes in the production of oils and proteins derived from microalgae, has completed a su...