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Posted: Nov 25, 2012
Algae as alternative source of fuel
(Nanowerk News) European scientists explored the prospect of using algae and other aquatic biomass (OAB) as innovative raw materials for biofuels production. By performing a full cycle analysis – from collection to fuel use – the project activities are expected to unlock the potential of algae for additional applications apart from energy.
Central to biofuel sustainability is the way in which feedstock is produced, particularly with respect to their carbon dioxide (CO2) balance, land and water use, and competition with food. In this respect, algae have the advantage of producing potentially high yields with minimum land requirements.
To this end, the EU-funded ‘Algae and aquatic biomass for a sustainable production of 2nd generation biofuels’ (Aquafuels) project aimed to explore the overall feasibility of algae to enter biofuel production chains. The scientists would then be informed as to the most appropriate strategies to develop such production chains.
As a first step, project partners evaluated the actual economic, technical and sustainability potential of large-scale biofuel production pathways in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses. With the help of a questionnaire, a directory on algae stakeholders in Europe and worldwide was generated that included over 1 000 members. The project also supported the creation of the European Algae Biomass Association (EABA) to continue its work.
The Aquafuels project also addressed the taxonomy, biological and biotechnological aspects of various algae species. Overall, 72 relevant algae species were identified for biomass, biodiesel and bioethanol production. Only 30 species were commercially produced, while 47 species showed a potential for cultivation in seawater. A functional taxonomy of all these algae species was created in order to assess their suitability for the production of all kinds of biofuels, such as biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas.
When assessing the major scientific and technology research needs for algae to biofuels production, project partners found that algae-based biofuels were still at a research stage. Nonetheless, a very promising infant industry was noted to be growing in various EU countries, which could play a significant role in the future as algae-biofuel consumers or producers.
The Aquafuels project demonstrated the potential of algae and aquatic biomass in the present and future renewable energy sources agenda of the EU, with beneficial sustainability and societal implications. Furthermore, it set the basis for future research and scientific cooperation in the EU algae sector.