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Green oil by 2020?

Oct 29, 2008 - renewableenergyfocus.com

LONDON, UK. The Carbon Trust is launching the Algae Biofuels Challenge seeking to commercialise the use of algae biofuel as an alternative to fossil based oil by 2020.

The Algae Biofuels Challenge is a multi-million pound UK R&D initiative that could see the Carbon Trust committing £3-6 million of funding in the initial stages. The Department for Transport recently announced it will also be contributing to the funding.

According to the Carbon Trust, algae-based biofuel has the potential to replace a significant proportion of fossil fuel used in road transport and aviation beyond 2020 creating an industry worth “tens of billions of pounds.”

For example, initial forecasts suggest that algae-based biofuels could replace over 70 billion litres of fossil derived fuels used worldwide annually in road transport and aviation by 2030 (equivalent to 12% of annual global jet fuel consumption or 6% of road transport diesel). This would equate to a market value of over £15 billion, the Carbon Trust says.

Dr Mark Williamson, Innovations Director at the Carbon Trust, explains why public investment in algae as an alternative to fossil fuel based oil is vital: "We must find a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to oil for our cars and planes if we are to deliver the deep cuts in carbon emissions necessary to tackle climate change. Algae could provide a significant part of the answer and represents a multi billion pound opportunity.”

The challenge now is to produce this second generation algae-based biofuel cost effectively at scale. If successful, algae could deliver 6 to 10 times more energy per hectare than conventional cropland biofuels, whilst reducing carbon emissions by up to 80% relative to fossil fuels. Also, unlike traditional biofuels, algae can be grown on non-arable land using seawater or wastewater. Therefore, using algae as a biofuel feedstock avoids many of the negative environmental, ecological and social impacts associated with first generation biofuels.

The Algae Biofuels Challenge will accelerate the commercialisation of microalgae bio-oil in two key phases. Phase one will provide grant funding for research across areas including selection of suitable microalgae algae strains for open pond production, maximising algae oil content and biomass yield, maximising solar conversion efficiency, sustained algae cultivation, and design and engineering of mass-culture systems.

Phase two is expected to see the construction of an open pond test and demonstration plant. This plant will provide the facilities necessary to continue the research conducted in phase one and demonstrate production at commercial scale in a manner that can be replicated. To avoid any unnecessary delays in eventual commercialisation the plant is likely to be constructed overseas. This is because the majority of commercial production of algae biofuels is likely to take place in tropical and sub-tropical climates that have plentiful sunlight and temperatures that do not drop too low or vary too much.

Renewable Energy Focus © Copyright 2008, Elsevier Ltd, All rights reserved.