Regional forum on bioenergy sector development: challenges, opportunities and way foward

Sep 2008

Worldwide interest in producing biofuels from biomass is growing rapidly. There are several reasons for this, including:
• Global warming associated with higher levels of GHG emissions
• The onset of peak oil in a global economy
• National energy security concerns, and
• Perceived opportunities for more sustainable regional development.
Interestingly, algae produced most fossil fuels in the first place. Given that microalgae are so diverse, pervasive, productive and less competitive with other plants as a source of food for human consumption, it is hardly surprising that their popularity is growing. Whilst microalgae are aqua-cultured to produce various high-value foods, nutraceuticals and chemicals, the methods adopted have not yet been shown to be economically and ecologically viable for the production of biodiesel in quantities large enough to replace fossil fuels. Several challenges remain to rectify this, including the following:
• Lack of sufficient suitable land having near optimal climatic conditions, as well as
o necessary nutrient media sources nearby and
o supporting industry, infrastructure and transport facilities
• Sub-optimal level of control of variables in open systems
• Diurnal, seasonal and climatic variation
• Biological contamination of algal media
• Sub-optimal algal strain selection, mix and modification
• Lack of any high-level life cycle analysis of GHG emissions
• Difficulties in scaling-up from small-scale photobioreactors to commercially-viable
production facilities
Without further research and a high degree of product innovation, most dedicated algae-to biodiesel projects also face uneconomically high costs for:
• Site acquisition and preparation
• Bioreactor construction materials
• Construction, deployment and reconstruction
• Chemical and energy inputs
• Algal harvesting, dewatering and concentration
• Lipid extraction
• Biodiesel and by-product processing
• Surveillance, process control and maintenance
• Transport


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