It’s official: algae biofuels cut emissions by 50-70 percent, approaching oil energy economics, says report

September 23, 2013 |

algae-save-70-percentAttention, fall fashioneers. Save up to 70% on carbon when you go with trendy, affordable algae biofuels.

In Minnesota, the Algae Biomass Organization announced that a peer-reviewed paper, published in Bioresource Technology, has shown that algae-derived biofuel can reduce life cycle CO2 emissions by 50 to 70 percent compared to petroleum fuels, and is approaching a similar Energy Return on Investment (EROI) as conventional petroleum.

The study, “Pilot-scale data provide enhanced estimates of the life cycle energy and emissions profile of algae biofuels produced via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL),” is a life cycle analysis of an algae cultivation and fuel production process currently employed at pre-commercial scales. The authors examined field data from two facilities operated by Sapphire Energy in Las Cruces and Columbus, New Mexico that grow and process algae into Green Crude oil. Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude can be refined into drop-in fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

The study concluded that algae technologies at commercial scale are projected to produce biofuels with lower greenhouse gas emissions and EROI values that are comparable to first generation biofuels. Additionally, algae based biofuels produced through this pathway at commercial scale will have a significant energy return on investment (EROI), close to petroleum and three times higher than cellulosic ethanol.

The system that was evaluated recycles nutrients, can accept an algae feed that is up to 90 percent water in the processing phase, and the final product can be blended with refinery intermediates for refining into finished gasoline or diesel product, resulting in significant energy savings throughout the process.

Reaction from industry and academia

“These real-world data from demonstration scale facilities gave us new insight and allowed us to understand how scale will impact the benefits and costs of algae-to-energy deployment.” said lead author Andres F. Clarens, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “These results suggest that algae-based fuels made using HTL have an environmental profile that is comparable to conventional biofuels.”

“The algae fuel industry is moving steadily on its path towards commercialization, with an estimated 68% reduction in GHG emissions on a lifecycle basis at commercial scale. Today, policy makers can confidently project the sustainability of fuels produced from algae,” said Tim Zenk, vice president of corporate affairs at Sapphire Energy.

“The results of this study, which included the review of thousands of hours of real world data collected from our facilities, should eliminate any doubt or conjecture that algae fuels have very substantive GHG reduction benefits without the uncomfortable trade-offs found in many other biofuel solutions. This research team was able to accurately depict the sustainability of a large scale algae-to-energy pathway, and make estimates based on sound science that GHG emissions benchmarks are excellent at today’s scale and will improve over time as industry makes improvements to the process. Sapphire Energy is proud to be a part of this incredibly important study which provides the most accurate picture to-date on the value and future potential for algae crude oil as an alternative to petroleum.”

“This study affirms that algae-based fuels provide results without compromise,” said Mary Rosenthal, ABO’s executive director. “With significant emissions reductions, a positive energy balance, nutrient recycling and CO2 reuse, algae-based fuels will be a long-term, sustainable source of fuels for our nation.”

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