The peer-review study -- the first to analyze real-world data from an existing algae-to-energy demonstration scale farm -- indicates the environmental and energy benefits of algae biofuel are at least on equal footing with, and likely better than, first-generation biofuels, Algal Biomass Organization of Preston, Minn., said Thursday in a release.
"This study affirms that algae-based fuels provide results without compromise," Executive Director Mary Rosenthal said. "With significant emissions reductions, a positive energy balance, nutrient recycling and CO2 reuse, algae-based fuels will be a long-term, sustainable source of fuels for our nation."
The study, authored by Andres Clarens, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Virginia, is a life-cycle analysis of an algae cultivation and fuel production process used at pre-commercial scales, the non-profit organization said. The authors examined field data from two New Mexico facilities operated by Sapphire Energy that grow and process algae into Green Crude oil, which can be refined into drop-in fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
The system evaluated can recycle nutrients and accept an algae feed that is as much as 90 percent water in the processing phase. The final product can be blended with refinery intermediates for refining into a finished gasoline or diesel product.
The study concluded that algae technologies at commercial scale are projected to produce biofuels with lower greenhouse gas emissions and energy-return-on-investment values comparable to first-generation biofuels. Additionally, the research indicated algae-based biofuels produced through the evaluated system on a commercial scale would have an energy return on investment that would approach the E-ROI of petroleum and would be three times higher than that of cellulosic ethanol.