Algae can replace 17 percent of US imported oil: PNNL research

April 15, 2011 |

In Washington State, PNNL researchers Mark Wigmosta, a PNNL hydrologist, and his co-authors have published a study that being smart about where we grow algae can drastically reduce how much water is needed for algal biofuel. Growing algae for biofuel, while being water-wise, could also help meet congressionally mandated renewable fuel targets by replacing 17% of the nation’s imported oil for transportation.

Their paper has been published in the journal Water Resources Research.  Wigmosta and his co-authors provided the first in-depth assessment of America’s algal biofuel potential given available land and water.

The study estimated how much water would need to be replaced due to evaporation over 30 years. The team analyzed previously published data to determine how much algae can be grown in open, outdoor ponds of fresh water while using current technologies. Algae can also be grown in salt water and covered ponds. The authors focused on open, freshwater ponds as a benchmark for this study, as much of today’s commercial algae production is done in open ponds.

The researchers found that 21 billion gallons of algal oil can be produced with American-grown algae, requiring land roughly the size of South Carolina and 350 gallons of water per gallon of oil.  Water usage would equate to 25% of what the country currently uses for irrigated agriculture.  The next stop is to examine non-freshwater sources like salt water and waste water. They are also researching greenhouse ponds for use in colder climates, as well as economic considerations for algal biofuel production.  he paper describes research funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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