When you hear the word algae what springs to mind? Smelly seaweed littered across the beach, or the slimy green stuff that floats on the surface of stagnant ponds? Officially called eukaryotes, algae are plants that are found all over the world. From tiny blue-green varieties (microalgae) to huge seaweeds (macroalgae) – you’ve probably never considered algae’s potential for fuelling your car or heating your home. But scientists across the globe are working on ground-breaking projects to use algae as a valuable source of energy – including biomass and advanced biofuels.
Here are 8 reasons why algae have huge potential as a sustainable fuel and bioenergy source:
1. EU are promoting algae as a fuel
Last month the EU Environment Committee voted to the limit the use of traditional biofuels and promote the use of “advanced biofuels” – sourced from seaweed, algae or certain types of waste. Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. But in the draft law approved on 25 February, the Committee declared that first generation biofuels should not exceed 6% of the EU’s renewable energy transport directive (RED) by 2020. And advanced biofuels should account for at least 1.25% of the RED.
2. Algae can generate more oil than traditional crops
Algae have great potential as an advanced biofuel. Microalgae can generate up to 50 times more oil per acre than traditional crops used to produce vegetable oil, according to the San Diego Centre for Algae Biotechnology. They can also help to deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by replacing products extracted from fossil oil.
3. Algae don’t compete for agricultural land
Algae have no requirement for agricultural land and so have very little interference with food supply chains. Algae can also grow in water that’s not suitable for other crops, such as waste water and sea water.
4. Algae can mitigate climate change
Algae can help to mitigate climate change by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. When grown in large quantities, algae needs more CO2 – which could come from emissions sources such as power stations.
5. Algae grow really fast
Algae are highly efficient and can double their numbers in just a few hours. Some species can be harvested daily, and have the potential to produce a lot more biofuel than traditional crops.
6. Algae can be used for fuel and food
Microalgae can be cultivated to have high protein and oil content that can be used for both biofuels and feedstocks.
7. Algae can be used for different bioenergy products
Many species of microalgae can be converted into biodiesel. They can also be used to generate bioethanol and other bioenergy products.
8. Algae can be used in a wide range of different chemicals
From an ingredient in cosmetics and skincare products, to a nutritional supplement, algae is often used in everyday products you’ll find in most supermarkets. The green stuff is actually very good for you – containing Omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and chlorophyll (which supplies Beta-Carotene, Vitamin B-12, Iron and protein).
Just don’t go eating it straight out of your pond…
To find out more about the potential for producing energy, fuels and biobased products from algae, see NNFCC’s partner EnAlgae. This four-year Strategic Initiative of the INTERREG IVB North West Europe programme brings together 19 partners and 14 observers across 7 EU Member States with the aim of developing sustainable technologies for algal biomass production.
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