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Algae Biofuel Production Emits More CO2 Than Algae Absorb, Says Study

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Biofuels do their job as a carbon-saver only if they swallow more carbon than they emit. Choosing biofuels with a positive carbon output looks to me like wasted money.

The U.S. government has just funded a $80 million research for biofuels, and the majority of that money will go into studying algae-based biofuels.

The journal Environmental Science and Technology recently published a study proving that algae production releases more carbon dioxide than the algae consume, by being needing energy intensive processes, whereas corn, canola or switchgrass do the opposite – they sequester the CO2.

The reason that algae biofuels need energy is because they grow on water and need to be fed with fertilizers. Producing those fertilizers consumes energy. One solution would be feeding the algae with municipal waste, theĀ  study reveals.

Although algae is energy intensive to grow, it has the advantage that it does not compete with food crops, and that makes it a better solution somehow. Various companies have invested resources in algae biofuel research, including Exxon Mobil, who last summer put $600 million for one such research project.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This study would have to be using the most wasteful methods of pumping that I have ever heard of. When using solar panels and efficient pumps, there is no comparison with other forms of vegetative growth. We are working on Algal growth using no commercially produced electricity, only wind and solar. Fertilizer is from chickens, ducks and geese, so it uses no fuels to produce. This system is pure oxygen production. Furthermore, the solar and wind powered photobioreactor is less expensive to install now that solar is less than 1 dollar per watt and wind is 1.50 dollars per watt. Not sure what kind of knuckle-headed engineers ran this study but they clearly were not using their heads. We also didn’t need 80 million dollars, but only a few thousand to run our tests.

  2. Micro algae are photosynthetic organisms, converting CO2 into oxygen and biomass like other plants. Algae are among the most efficient photsynthetic organisms on the planet. Whether algae consume more CO2 than they produce depends on the cultivation and processing methods. The vertical sheet reactor shown in your post requires a great deal of energy to pump all that growth medium through the small volumes.
    In contrast to energy-intensive cultivation methods, cultivation in using passive solar light guiding optics holds the promise of extremely efficient cultivation in large volumes, realizing the advantages of micro algae as a truly renewable biofuel feedstock.

  3. Green algae is very valuable as a decontaminater of polluted water. It is also a very worthy feedstock for hundreds of foods, feeds, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and fuels.

    So someone now claims algae produces more CO2 than it consumes, so what. A bit more CO2 sure wont hurt us. In fact if we triple our present amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we will double our plant growth and thereby double our food production. This lush plant growth in turn will moderate world temperature fluctuations. It will be a win win. Tripling our CO2 levels certainly will do no harm.

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