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Biofuel researchers hail the potential of algae

The advantages of algae over other biofuel crops are its regenerative abilities and its efficiency.

By Brooks Hays
Biofuel researchers hail the potential of algae
European scientists are backing the potential of algae as a biofuel. Photo by KYTan/Shutterstock

BRUSSELS, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Researchers in Europe are confident in algae's future as a sustainable energy source.

Currently, scientists working on the BIOFAT project are managing two pilot scale algae-farming facilities -- one in Portugal and one in Italy, each slightly more than an acre in size.

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In growing and converting algae into biofuels and other products at the two facilities, researchers say they've proven the potential of the plant-like microorganisms.

"These plants have demonstrated exactly how generating biofuels from algae technologies will work from an economic standpoint, and shown that large-scale microalgae production platforms can be operated efficiently," scientists wrote in a new press release.

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A variety of crops can be process for their natural oils and converted to biofuels and ethanol. The advantages of algae are its regenerative abilities and its efficiency. In addition to growing quickly -- allowing algae to be harvested daily -- algae boasts high levels of energy-storing oils and carbohydrates.

Algae also has the benefit of being cultivated in a pond, whereas growers of other more popular biofuel feedstocks, like maize and sugarcane, are facing land use issues as they try to convince backers of their eco-friendly nature.

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Researchers on the BIOFAT project say the microorganisms can produce between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of biofuels per acre per year. By comparison, corn produces only 18 gallons per acre. Soybeans produce 48 gallons per acre.

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In May, scientists recently presented their early successes to attendees of a conference on algal bio products held in Brussels. They are now scaling up their efforts, working on a 25-acre pond they hope will demonstrate "the production of algal biofuels along the whole value chain."

Their efforts are being funded by alternative energy grants managed by the European Union's 7th Framework Program.

Previous research has found algae to have all the requisites for a commercially viable alternative energy source. But there remains a dearth of scientific data on truly commercial, large-scale algal farming operations. Proponents of the tiny green organisms hope that will soon change.

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