News and innovations in biofuels have been plentiful recently, with regular announcements of scientific breakthroughs especially within the algal biofuels sector.
The latter is one of the most promising sectors in the field, with high yields for minimum input available, and ideal for inclusion in the OPEN Cleantech Bond programme. OPEN’s new fact sheet “Biofuels from Algae – the New Frontier of Third Generation Biofuels” details the new solutions available in a sector that could revolutionise the aviation, marine and road haulage industries.
The first announcements came when biologists and biochemists from the University of California, Los Angeles, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco announced that they had cracked the code to an algae genome, revealing what they referred to as a ‘goldmine of data’ to allow better understanding of algae’s genetics. This in turn means the alga in question — C. Zofingiensis—is now an attractive option to be considered when sourcing an economically viable and environmentally sustainable production of biofuels and important bioproducts. It could even be used for food production in the longer term.
Soon after came the news, from Synthetic Genome Inc and ExxonMobil, that their researchers had worked out how to double the amount of oil in a particular strain of algae, taking it from 20% to 40%. This, scientists said, gave proof of concept that efficient fuel can be engineered from algae to provide the fuel of the future.
Meanwhile, new cultivation techniques being developed by such faculties as Washington State University, promise to maximise algal growth while minimising water requirements and reducing the time and labour needed for growth and harvesting, which have been historical drawbacks. WSU scientists have developed a biofilm reactor that uses less water and lower light than typical reactors. It also recycles gasses to make production easier (getting enough carbon dioxide has traditionally been a problem), and uses waste from biodiesel production to feed the algae.
Algae-derived biofuels are hoped to provide the solution to a number of problems, including the fuel-food controversy, and become an efficient, green fuel for the transport sector which is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
The use of biofuels as a replacement for oil — especially in the aviation, marine and road haulage industries where electric vehicles are not practical — is essential in building a sustainable transport network. But the environmental cost of growing crops for the sector are attracting criticism as rainforests are felled and peat swamps drained in favour of palm oil plantations.
The solution is here in the form of algal biofuels, which are produced from high-yield, rapid growth, algae.
OPEN´s new fact sheet “Biofuels from Algae – the New Frontier of Third Generation Biofuels” can now be downloaded here.