Algae food/fuel mix is best fit for food-energy-water-land-climate-resource tradeoffs: Report

December 4, 2016 |

In Massachusetts, researchers affiliated with the Marine Algal Industrialization Consortium, publishing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, have found that the adoption of algae food & fuel coproduction can enable significant emissions reductions. The researchers also identify potential large-scale water savings through the displacement off water intensive crops. The paper presents a comprehensive evaluation of the food-energy-water-land-climate-resource tradeoffs associated with the energy and food uses of algal biomass, and summarizes the research of a consortium of scientists who have received nearly $20M in funding from the US Dept. of Energy and USDA.

The study investigates the use of algal biomass for the production of food or energy products. Algal food products have long been present in aquaculture and alternative human diets. Recent products such as Soylent protein shake and Thrive culinary oil have brought algal food to the mainstream. However, compared to conventional agricultural crops, algal biomass can be cultivated on non-arable lands, at higher yields and using seawater. The paper shows that the substitution of conventional crops with algae can significantly reduce the impact of current agricultural practices through:

  • Avoiding deforestation and promoting afforestation
  • Enabling emissions reductions from some of the hardest to mitigate emissions sources (deforestation and agriculture)
  • Saving significant amounts of freshwater water by displacing water-hungry crops
  • Enhancing food security by decoupling food production from at-risk agricultural regions

“By shifting to an algal food economy we can enable large-scale deployment of BECCS to deliver deep emission reductions,” researcher Michael Walsh of Bentley University’s Center for Integration of Science and Industry told The Digest. “ In theory we can cut emissions, save water, enable food & energy security (etc.) by consuming algae grown in seawater on non-arable lands.”

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