Current status and potential for algal biofuels production

Aug 2010

It seems probable that growth in human population, future climate change effects on freshwater resources, which are already stressed in some regions, and eventual shortages of unutilized arable land will encourage the exploitation of microalgae based production systems for both food and fuel. Claims that the ability to utilise non-arable land and waste water resources with few competing uses make algal biofuel production systems superior to biofuels based on terrestrial biomass has created great interest in governments, NGOs, the private sector and the research community. Current initiatives clearly indicate this interest at all levels of government and the in private sector in the development of algal biofuels technologies and enterprises.
This report examines the technology and economics of biofuel production from oil forming autotrophic microalgae. The context of this examination is an assessment of the likely contribution of algae derived biofuel to the world‘s future liquid transportation fuel needs. The current status of the technology is reviewed in section 2 of this report. The technology review covers algal biology, cultivation, harvest, extraction and conversion to liquid transport fuels. The sustainability of algal biofuel production systems is discussed in section 3 and the site requirements for large scale intensive pond algal production are considered in section 4. Section 5 presents economic analyses, which among other things explores the influence of proximity of resources to production sites. Section 6 addresses the likely contribution of algal biofuels to future liquid transportation fuel markets. The report also contains a number of appendices that contain a review of US algal biofuel research, development and demonstration, algal culture collections, the underlying assumptions and material balances used in the economic model (in section 5) and a photographic collection.

By: A. Darzins, P. Pienkos (NREL), L. Edye (BioIndustry Partners)

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