The Debate over Algae as a Viabile Biofuel Source

An article was published by the algae industry in response to the allegations presented by a University of Virginia study on how algae is currently not a viable replacement to corn ethanol as a biofuel in reducing the carbon footprint.  The study completed claimed “that the lifecycle carbon benefits of growing algal biomass are worse than corn… the large environmental footprint of algae cultivation is driven predominantly by upstream impacts, such as the demand for CO2 and fertilizer.”  This study also states that growing algae for fuel is more energy and water intensive than other biofuel crops, including switchgrass, canola and corn. “Given what we know about algae production pilot projects over the past 10 to 15 years, we’ve found that algae’s environmental footprint is larger than other terrestrial crops,” said Andres Clarens, the study’s lead author.

The algae industry claims that the Virginia study was using thirty-year-old data instead of using contemporary data.  Algal Biomass Organization executive director Mary Rosenthal added, “nothing that we have in our collective experience suggests that the performance of open-pond systems today is comparable to the performance data cited in the article.”  The Virginia study states that algae could be viable in the future with advancements in technology, which according to Rosenthal, are already here.  “Sapphire Energy wouldn’t be in the business today if we were not 100 percent positive we could not make algae into a low carbon fuel,” state Tim Zenk of Sapphire Energy.


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