MICROALGAE VS DIESEL

In this blog we will discuss some interesting aspects of microalgae, advantages and what barriers are necessary to cross in order to use these microorganisms as a sustainable energy source. Microalgae are unicellular microorganisms capable of photosynthesis. That is, they are capable of generating organic biomass from CO2 (as an inorganic source of carbon) and light (as an energy source). It is a 3G energy source.It is important to know that not all species of algae are suitable for the production of biodiesel. There is currently no known algae strain that can be considered the best in terms of oil yield for obtaining biodiesel, but the Porphyridium cruentum strain is a good example of the potential that some strains have [1].

The research that has been carried out over the last 50 years has shown that microalgae are capable of producing a wide range of chemical intermediates and hydrocarbons that offer the possibility of replacing petroleum or natural gas products. Three main components can be extracted from the biomass of the microalgae: lipids (including triglycerides and fatty acids), carbohydrates, and proteins. The bioconversion of these products into alcohols, methane, hydrogen, organic acids and the catalytic conversion of paraffins, olefins and aromatic compounds, make the exploitation of microalgae a true biorefinery industry.

Pros: [2],[3],[4]

It has many advantages over its competitors obtained from crops for food consumption:
-Independent of arable land.
-High productivity per unit area. Unlike other oil crops, algae grow exponentially (doubling every 8 hours or so).
-High levels of production under controlled conditions; which implies the possibility of being cultivated throughout the year.
-It is not a food resource. Therefore, it does not compete with agricultural activities.
-Use of a wide range of water sources. Water used for algae cultivation can include sewage and non-potable brackish water that cannot be used for either conventional agriculture or domestic use.
-Mitigation of the release of GHG into the atmosphere. Algae have enormous potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of CO2-rich gas streams from thermal power plants and natural gas recovery operations.
Cons: [5]
-No competitive cost. It requires technological development to lower the current price of biodiesel. The Cyclag project, in which 6 research centers in France and Spain have participated, estimates that biodiesel could be obtained from cultivated microalgae for a value of 3.3 $ / l.
-Lack of aid. It requires incentives or subsidies from governments for the development of techniques that lowers the cost.
-A joint cooperation between the research centers of these crops is necessary, since at present the lack of transparency of these centers is slowing down their development.
 
Conclusion: [6]
Microalgae are an alternative for obtaining biodiesel due to its high lipid yield and its fatty acid profile. This would mean extending the useful life of diesel vehicles, reducing the pollution caused by fossil fuels.
Sweden has an advantage over other countries, it has many aquifers that can be used for both closed and open systems. This energy source provides another possibility to achieve an independent national transport of fossils by 2030.
As we have seen, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. However, the economic barrier (achieving lower production costs) makes this fuel unfeasible at present.

References:

[1] Tredici, M.R., Biotechnology and Applied Phycology (2004)

[2] Biofuels from algae: Technology options, energy balance and GHG emissions. Insights from a literature reviem EUR 27582

[3] U.S.DOE 2010: “National Algae Biofuels Technology Roadmap”. U.S Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renowable Energy, Biomass Program

[4] I.Priyadarshani, B.Rath: ”Commercial and industrial applications of micro algae – A review” . J.Algal Biomass Utln. 2012, 89-100

[5] www.innovadores.larazon.es/es/cientificos/microalgas

[6] http://www.swedishepa.se/Environmental-objectives-and-cooperation/The-Global-Goals-and-the-2030-Agenda-for-Sustainable-Development/

5 Comments on “MICROALGAE VS DIESEL

  1. Great reading, thank you! I have a some thoughts and questions: what do you think is required for biofuels from micro algae to be economically viable? One way I can think of to generate more efficient algae which grows faster, generates for lipids for example, or are easier to harvest and process. This would most likely require genetic modification. There is great resistance against the use of GMOs, do you think genetically modifed algae could overcome these issues and be something that we have in the future (large scale)? Another thought that I have is that there are problems with abundancy of “wild algae” due to overfertilization (i think). Do you think it could be possible to harvest these algae instead of growing new algae?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for your comment.
      I think that a technological advance is necessary for these crops to be economically viable. For example, cooperation between the laboratories that research these crops, as I mentioned in the blog.
      The use of genetically modified algae is interesting, although as you say, there are prejudices against these crops that will need to be transferred for their settlement.
      On the other hand, I think that the increase of wild algae is a problem for the conservation of aquatic ecosystems and that they could be an important factor in lower production costs.

      Like

  2. That is a really interesting topic, and i also believe algae has great potential for the future. In your conclusions you state that Sweden has an advantage over all the other countries, but i was thinking that something that is really important for the algae production are the weather conditions. Don’t you think that the weather in Sweden is going to affect that? Finally, what are the main products derived from microalgae nowadays and which do you think would be the most important in the near future for mitigating climate change? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this interesting comment!
      The weather is important for the production of these crops. However, good water access is an advantage that could be used in both open and closed systems. It is true that daylight hours are cons for Sweden.
      As I already mentioned, at present the obtaining of biofuels from microalgae on an industrial scale is not available. However, there are very interesting uses of these crops such as pharmaceutical, food (restricted to a few species), cosmetic and biofertilizer applications. In the near future, I am confident of the industrial use of biodiesels and industrial use of biofertilizers for mitigating climate change.

      Like

  3. Thank you for this blog post where you explore the viability of micro-algae, a 3rd generation energy source. This is a very interesting energy source. Your analysis shows that there are more pros than cons. What do you think it takes to make this energy source more economically viable?

    Like

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