Global Developments in Algaculture Point Toward a Bright Future

by Gage Taylor

With the global petroleum industry currently bottoming out, algaculture, the farming of algae to convert CO2 to ethanol, has never looked more appealing. Compared to other methods of biofuel production (corn, for example), it produces more oil and doesn’t put pressure on land use. However, since the amount of oil that can actually be used from a standard ton of algae is only around 28%, it’s far from the most cost-effective method available. There’s also the additional problem of removing CO2 contaminants before the process can even begin, which is currently accomplished through a high-energy, high-cost process. However, developments in Australia and the US are working to make algaculture viable.

Researchers at the Melbourne School of Engineering recently published a study in the journal Energy & Environmental Science aimed at solving the technical problem of CO2 contamination [http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2016/ee/c5ee02005k#!divAbstract]. Their solution is to absorb CO2 into a liquid and then pass it through a wall of fiber that acts as a filtration system. In their plan, the carbon dioxide would be absorbed into a potassium carbonate solvent. From there, it’s desorbed directly into the algae via a non-porous polydimethyl siloxane (PDMS) hollow fiber membrane. The one-step process eliminates contaminates while generating higher yields, utilizing a specific strain of microalgae called Chlorella sp.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the federal government has been working on incentivizing the market to produce algae biofuels. Just this month, the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office issued another round of algae biofuel funding opportunities. Aimed at large outdoor systems that can produce 3,700 gallons of algae biofuel per acre annually by 2020, it’s a massive undertaking. As such, they’ve limited the application process to projects that can already demonstrate the capacity to produce at least 1,900 gallons per acre per annum. Coming on the heels of a $24 million round of funding in October 2014 and an $18 million round last summer, it demonstrates the United States’ continued commitment to algae as a serious candidate in the realm of alternative energy.

 

Casey, Tina. “Low Oil Prices Not Killing Algae Biofuel — Yet.” [https://cleantechnica.com/2016/02/01/low-oil-prices-not-killing-algae-biofuel-yet/]

 

Voegele, Erin. “DOE opens funding opportunity for algae technologies.” [http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/12818/doe-opens-funding-opportunity-for-algae-technologies]

 

Eco-Business. “Algae-derived biofuels gain traction as commercial viability increases.” [http://www.eco-business.com/press-releases/algae-derived-biofuels-gain-traction-as-commercial-viability-increases/]

 

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