Algae-based fuel is one of many options among the array of possible future energy sources. New University of Virginia research shows that while algae-based transportation fuels produce high energy output with minimal land use, their production could come with significant environmental burdens.
For farmers looking to maximize profits, algae would produce considerably more transportation energy than canola and switch grass for every hectare planted, and can also be grown on poor-quality marginal land that cannot be easily used to grow food crops such as corn, according to a report by Andres F. Clarens and Lisa M. Colosi, both assistant professors of civil and environmental engineering in the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Mark A. White, professor in the McIntire School of Commerce.
From an environmental impact standpoint, however, algae-based fuel has mixed performance, compared to other biomass sources. Algae-based biodiesel production uses more energy – in the form of petroleum-powered processes – than other biofuels. Additionally, algae-based biodiesel and bioelectricity production processes also require substantial amounts of water and emit more greenhouse gases.
The report, “Environmental Impacts of Algae-Derived Biodiesel and Bioelectricity for Transportation,” is available online on the website of Environmental Science and Technology, a leading environmental research journal and will be published in an upcoming print edition. Hagai Nassau and Eleazer P. Resurreccion, civil and environmental engineering graduate students, contributed to the research.