Study: Stationary power using algae biodiesel viable

By Ryan C. Christiansen | March 09, 2009
Web exclusive posted March 18, 2009, at 11:09 a.m. CST

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia's national science agency, have determined that it's possible to produce biodiesel from saltwater algae for less than what it costs to produce petroleum diesel, reducing greenhouse gases in the process.

In a report titled "Greenhouse Gas Sequestration by Algae � Energy and Greenhouse Gas Life Cycle Studies" and written by CSIRO scientists Tom Beer, Peter Campbell, and David Batten, it was found that the economic and greenhouse gas reduction value of algal biodiesel might be maximized if the biodiesel were to be produced near its feedstock source and then used to generate electricity in a colocated stationary power plant.

"Given the costs of transporting the biodiesel-generally, from a fairly remote location some distance to an urban area where it is most likely to be used-it is, in fact, possible that turning all of the algae into electricity could be the best outcome," the scientists said.

The study also found that a 500-hectare (1,200-acre) algal biodiesel plant in a rural area might create up to 45 jobs.

The viability of using algae for biodiesel is highly dependent upon cultivating high oil-yielding algae year-round, which has yet to be demonstrated on a commercial scale, the study noted. Most microalgae, when grown in a nutrient-rich environment, contained between 10 and 30 percent oil content, but "species containing considerably higher oil content have been found (and) more than a dozen algal species have been mentioned as possible candidates for producing biodiesel," the scientists stated.

The CSIRO report found that a 400-hectare (1,000-acre) algae farm might be viable, "but if one increases the size to [one that is] suitable for a large commercial industry, extra costs from increased infrastructure and power costs could make the biodiesel economically nonviable. Economies of scale do not appear to apply for these types of designs." Improved processing and harvesting techniques would be necessary to make commercial-scale projects economically viable, the scientists said.
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