ABO supports algae biofuels sustainability report

By Luke Geiver | October 24, 2012

The Algae Biomass Organization has responded to the recently released National Research Council report on the sustainability of algae-based biofuel, applauding the report’s findings that any current concerns over sustainability as it relates to algal biofuel production, “are not a barrier to future growth.”

In the report, the NRC points to five areas of concern that present sustainability challenges for producers: water consumption, land use, nutrient consumption, energy return on investment and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In its response to the report, the ABO offered perspective on each area of concern. “The good news is that these [concerns] are already being addressed by algal fuel producers and researchers,” the ABO said.

For water, the ABO pointed to a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report that showed saline water aquifers would allow for the production of roughly 40 billion sustainably produced gallons. On the issue of nutrients, the ABO highlighted more research by PNNL that shows if nutrients are recycled the amount required for cultivation is dramatically reduced. Nitrogen would be reduced by nearly 98 percent and phosphorus by 40 percent. PNNL has also recognized 89,000 suitable sites for open-pond algae cultivation sites.

The issue of energy return on investment (EROI) is already being addressed, according the ABO. The recommended EROI in the report was roughly three units of energy produced from the algae biofuel, per unit of energy put into the production of the biofuel, and the ABO said companies are already achieving that measure by recycling nutrients, producing biomethane from residual organics and using production designs to minimize energy use.

Lastly, on the issue of GHG emissions, the ABO pointed to the categorization of algae-based biodiesel by the EPA, a classification that shows the fuel qualifies as an advanced biofuel and reduces GHG’s by 50 percent. With more than 150 companies and roughly 60 labs working on algae-based bioenergy production, the ABO said that it hopes policymakers “will recognize the NRC’s conclusions that sustainability concerns are not a definitive barrier to future growth.”

During the 2012 Algae Biomass Summit, Jennie Hunter-Cevera of Hunter & Associates, a member of the committee that authored the report, spoke about the committee’s work prior to its release. “It’s never trivial when you focus on the words sustainability and environmental impact,” she said.