By Cameron Chai
A new study by the researchers from the University of Virginia reveals that algae-based biofuels are not as green as they are thought to be. According to the researchers, though the algae biofuels offer higher level of energy output and require minimum level of land area to develop, the production of such fuels result in significantly more environmental degradation.
The research finds that the algae farmers who look for more profit in algae production will ultimately generate more transportation energy than that spent on the haulage of switch grass or canola planted over a hectare of land. They also have found that switch grass and canola can be grown even on poor yielding marginal lands.
When assessed from the environmental point of view, the researchers found that algae- based biofuels provide mixed level of performance when compared to other sources of biomass. Also the manufacture of algae-based biodiesel needs more energy in the production processes that requires petroleum power than the production of other types of biofuels. Also the production of algae-based biofuel needs more water during the manufacturing process and eventually generates increased level of greenhouse gases.
The researchers have depended on the well-to-wheel life-cycle appraisal of algae-based biofuel right from the time the algae crops are developed till they are converted into biofuels for use in vehicles. The research has detailed the energy output offered by different types of biomass sources depicting the number of kilometers that can be achieved by a car for every unit of energy produced from a hectare of land.
The present research is based on the modeling results reported by the University of Virginia team in Environmental Science and Technology paper in 2010. In the paper, they have included other details such as petroleum power, water and fertilizer utilized for the production of algae-based biofuel and compared it with the production of other biomass fuel. The research also favors the use of biofuels in the generation of power instead of as liquid fuels including biodiesel in internal combustion engines. Also the simple procedure offers higher level of energy return than the complicated process of algae-based biofuels generation.
In its next phase of study the team has plans to calculate the monetary value of ecological benefits and costs related to the manufacture of different biofuels.