Sustainable energy is gaining more and more interest among consumers and the media. As the traditional sources of energy are limited and detrimental to the environment, researchers are trying to find other ways to cater to the needs of future generations. Among others, renewable fuel based on algae is one of the most promising sources of energy.
Algal fuels hold a tremendous potential as an effective replacement for fossil fuels. However, a smooth transition from petroleum to such new generation alternative fuels involves a variety of challenges, from technical to commercial aspects.
Algae for a Healthier Environment
Various environmentally-aware organizations get excited with algal fuels especially because they’re carbon neutral, which means that the amount of carbon dioxide released by the fuel exhaust is the same as the algae required to synthesize it. This might not reverse the damage already caused but it can prevent further deterioration of the environment.
Algae is abundant in supply which makes it a viable source of energy. It isn’t extremely demanding to grow and its treatment can deliver useful hydrocarbons as by-products.
As prices of petroleum and fossil fuels on the international markets are skyrocketing, we can see a boost in the study of eco-friendly biofuels. Next to the algae-based oils, other renewable resources like solar and wind energy can accommodate the need for energy to some extent but they require a massive infrastructure development.
While the automotive and other industries that rely on fuel grow rapidly, algae-based biofuel can come as a solution to prevent power shortage. Its similar chemical composition allows to power the same engines instead of requiring an especially designed vehicle for its consumption. This is an advantage which can help consumers shift their preferences to biofuels with little effort and in a cost-effective manner.
For entrepreneurs and industrialists, algal biofuels are commercially valuable as they can provide multiple opportunities from a single product. Additionally, in many cases algae can be cultivated on barren waste lands that are unsuitable for agriculture.
Major Market Challenges
While there are many benefits, algal biofuels have also received negative reviews because they uphold the demands that were promised in terms of their biosynthesis.
Mainstream media claimed that the algal biofuel industry would manufacture 1 billion gallons by 2014, and that its prices would be competitive with the prices of fossil fuels. However, the goal turned out to be too difficult to meet. The pressure of achieving the desired amount with minimum expenses affected the advancement of this biofuel, which led to severe doubts among stakeholders whether it can realistically become available. These financial and commercial constraints hindered the growth of algal biofuels. Some companies, which have already invested a lot in it, shifted their business and started using algal biomass to produce other items such as fertilizers, cleaning products, etc.
Despite this severe backlash, scientists are still working on technical solutions to make algal biofuels more efficient for vehicles. If they can achieve the desired purification and make the algal oil run smoothly through engines, it will pave a whole new way for the transportation industry and may even extend to the aerospace industry in the future.
Algae farming is another challenge which should be addressed. Algae isn’t extracted from the underground land or sea reserves, complaints have surfaced. Many algae cultivators claim that to grow the type of algae that will best serve as fuel, the adequate amounts of sunlight, water, and high quantity of fertilizers rich in phosphorus are needed. That may consume the resources required by the agricultural lands and livestock.
Weighing the balance between the positives and negatives of algal biofuels, the question arises: what does the future hold? If scientists are able to tackle the technical and manufacturing issues soon then algal biofuels sound promising and might topple the current petroleum based industry.