Study evaluates potential algae production sites in Australia

By Erin Voegele | September 12, 2012

Researchers at two Australia universities have identified a number of sites in Western Australia that are suitable for producing algae on a commercial scale for conversion into biofuels. The team, consisting of Professor Michael Borowitzka from Murdoch University’s Algae Research and Development Centre and Assistant Professor Bryan Boruff from University of Western Australia’s Scholl of Earth and Environment, used geographical information systems (GIS) technology to study more than 2,250 km (1,398 miles) of coastline, including a distance of 170 km (106 miles) inland. According to the researchers, stretches of land south of Geraldton, southeast of Exmouth, and near Karratha and Port Hedland hold the most potential for commercial-scale algae cultivation.

A study presenting the research, titled “Identification of algae biofuel production sites using GIS model,” provides a detailed geographic assessment Western Australia’s algae production potential, and is the first of its kind in the country. In the report, Borowitzka and Boruff note that they were able to identify both opportunities and constraints that could impact the future of the algae industry within the region. The study also provides a detailed assessment of the most appropriate locations for algae production within Western Australia.

According to Borowitzka, not all of Western Australia is suitable for algae production. To find the most suitable sites, the research team examined potential sites in relation to land suitability, access to infrastructure and workforce, carbon dioxide availability, nutrient availability and climate. Regarding land availability, the researchers note that Western Australia has a long coastline, much of which is undeveloped. The Indian Ocean provides a water source that is virtually unlimited, and the region is one of the sunniest places in the world. The team also points out that there is an industrial presence in the region, which provides infrastructure, potential sources of industrial carbon dioxide, and markets for biofuel products.

In addition, the report stated that an examination of economic considerations unique to algae biofuel production is the next logical step in developing an algae production industry in the region. “We have developed a detailed techno-economic model of the whole algae biofuels production process based on experience with existing commercial production plant and smaller-scale trials and the best available information on downstream processes such as oil extraction and conversion,” said the researchers in the report. This model cold be integrated with the current GIS model in future continue the work. 

According to the study published by Borowitzka and Boruff, Western Australia holds great potential for large-scale algae production. In fact, the region is currently home to the world’s largest commercial algae farm, which is located in Hutt Lagoon.