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The case for algal biotechnology

As fossil fuel resources continue to decline around the globe, it is vital that new sources of fuel are identified and developed.

The first EnAlgae Report Card 'An Industry Overview' is available to download now.

The North West Europe region is characterised by discrete industrialised zones and an extensive rural landscape containing active agricultural, fisheries and tourism sectors, each of which employ a large workforce. As a result of this high density of people and the activities undertaken within these sectors, the environment and current energy sources are placed under considerable pressure. So much so, that in 2008, the region is said to have accounted for over 40 per cent of total EU27 GHG emissions (EC GHG Inventory, 2009).

Many species of microalgae have high lipid contents that can readily extracted and converted to biodiesel. Similarly, their high content of fermentable sugars makes them suitable for bioethanol production. Microalgae can therefore generate a whole suite of bioenergy products:

Biodiesel Biobutanol
Biogasoline Methane
Ethanol Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO)
Aviation fuel Hydrocracking to traditional transport fuels

 

A recent breakthrough in making biofuel from seaweed provides another potentially viable source of algal-based biofuels.

When considering the use of land-based bioenergy crops (as an alternative fuel source) within the region, territorial challenges are imposed by intensive land use and diverse physical environments. Algal biotechnologies are said to address these problems as algae do not compete for food crop resources, can mitigate GHG’s and are adaptable to diverse environments.

Each member state in North West Europe is thought to encounter similar temperature and solar insolation regimes. This means that similar technological approaches for algal biomass and bioenergy production and GHG mitigation can be used.

Any initiative which aims to positively impact upon the region’s resource management in respect of algal biotechnologies will require a high degree of transnational cooperation. A number of integrated measures will need to be adopted on a large scale, and the coordination of activities, effective stakeholder engagement and strategic planning within the sector is in need of improvement.

Innovation within EnAlgae therefore stems partly from project participants extending and sharing their particular technological innovations as part of a NWE network, for example by adapting ecologically based mathematical models into a specially developed ICT-based decision support tool.