Algal products can be sold as animal supplements or feedstock, or converted into “green” bio-oil such as transportation fuels, or high-value chemicals used in the manufacturing of nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic products.
Algae-based biofuels have come into great demand. In the face of increasing petroleum scarcity, rising oil prices, and greenhouse gas emissions, algae remains an untamed resource, full of potential. The last few years have seen substantial investment from the public and private sectors flow toward algae-based biofuels ventures.
In addition to algae’s multi-trillion dollar potential in the long term, what attracts investment is algae’s vastly superior advantages to other biofuels pathways including:
1. Carbon-Neutral. Algae absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, making algae a “carbon-neutral” source of biomass for conversion to liquid fuel. That is, the CO2 algae products emit when burned or otherwise converted to mechanical energy has been previously taken from the atmosphere, creating a cycle of carbon absorption and release. This contrasts starkly to fossil fuels, which simply emit previously stored carbon and add to the greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere.
2. Readily Convertible to Fuel. Algae can be readily converted to renewable transportation fuels such as green gasoline, green diesel, ethanol or biodiesel, or otherwise burned or consumed for power generation. In fact, the scientific consensus today is that fossil oil and gas were created from ancient algae that fell to the sea floor and were converted over time into crude oils and natural gas.
3. Low-Cost, Low-Input Feedstock. Algae reproduce from a simple combination of energy sources: sunlight, CO2, a small dose of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and iron, and a body of water in which to bloom.
4. High Oil Content. Algae are composed of three types of biomass: algal oil, starch and protein, all of which can be used to create biofuels, and the first two of which are the primary sources of biodiesel and ethanol. Oil content ranges from as little as 5% in some species, up to over 60% in others, and can be stimulated by denying certain nutrients (usually nitrogen) up to 5% of the biomass by weight.
5. Rapid Reproduction, Highly Energy Efficient. Algae reproduce rapidly. It is not uncommon for biomass, in a laboratory or commercial production facility where algae are not competing with other organisms for sunlight, to double in biomass daily. Algae are the second-fastest growing form of biomass, converting as much as 7 to 8% of the sun’s energy to biomass. Algae in scientific tests have been shown to produce as much as 6,000 gallons of fuel per acre of growing space per year, almost six times the next most efficient source of biomass for liquid fuels – palm oil, 7.5 times the productivity of sugarcane, 15 times that of corn, and 100 times more efficient than soybeans.
6. Able to Produce on Non-Arable Land. Algae are cultivated in water (rather than directly from the land) and can be cultivated on non-arable land using a minimum of inputs. It does not compete with other uses of arable land such as food or feed production.
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