- Title: NETHERLANDS/FILE: Promise of algae oil fuels efforts to bring down costs
- Date: 16th July 2011
- Summary: WAGENINGEN, THE NETHERLANDS (RECENT) (REUTERS) ALGAE IN THE HORIZONTAL BIOREACTOR HORIZONTAL BIOREACTOR VIEW OF "ALGAE PARK" RESEARCH FACILITY ALGAE FLOW AND WOMAN BEHIND (SOUNDBITE) (English), ALGAE PARK SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR, RENE WIJFFELS, SAYING: "It is unique that we compare here different technologies. Nowhere else in the world different technologies are compared, usually one technology is used and further developed, but clear comparison on the same weather conditions, that is normally not done." VARIOUS ALGAE GROWN IN FLAT PANELS (SOUNDBITE) (English), ALGAE PARK SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR, RENE WIJFFELS, SAYING: "Algae could become the crop of the future, as a third-generation crop for fuels, for example, algae can be grown on salt water, so if you need to have more biomass in the biomass-based economy, the use of salt water is a clear advantage to reach sufficient productivity, and algae has a high productivity in respect to oil as well, on a hectare of area you can produce something like 20-40 thousand litres of oil per hectare per year, and if you compare that for example with palm oil, that's only six thousand litres per hectare per year, so the crop is much more productive than the agricultural crop and you can do it on salt water." RACEWAY POND WITH ALGAE WORKER ADDING BABY ALGAE TO THE RACEWAY POND (SOUNDBITE) (English), ALGAE PARK SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR, RENE WIJFFELS, SAYING: "What we think is that for the bulk commodities, within 10-15 years this could be a solution. It does not mean that we will eat algae, I mean you will have all kinds of products next to it, but for the supply of biofuels or supply of proteins, supply of chemicals, this can be an important contribution." WATER TUBES CONNECTED TO THE FLAT PANEL WITH ALGAE ALGAE PARK WITH FLAT PANELS ALGAE FLOWING IN THE TUBULAR BIOREACTOR VERTICAL TUBULAR BIOREACTOR ALGAE PARK
- Embargoed: 31st July 2011 13:00
- Location: Hungary, Belgium, Netherlands, France
- Country: Netherlands Hungary Belgium France
- Topics: Environment,Science,Energy
- Reuters ID: LVA4OBND2BDZ073E17XODQ343SLS
- Story Text: According to Dutch scientists, the expanded use of algae in the production of biofuels will take the pressure off food prices, but farming costs must be reduced to one tenth of the current price to make it commercially viable.
Biofuels produced from palm oil and corn are blamed for a spike in food prices throughout the world because producers are finding it more profitable to use their resources for fuel production than food.
Algae is seen as a viable alternative but to achieve the goal of low-cost mass production, a field near the Dutch town of Wageningen has been turned into an algae farm, run by scientists and partially funded by the industry. The facility is unique in comparing different technologies for converting solar energy into chemical energy, a process designed to mirror the natural process of photosynthesis.
Between 20 and 60 percent of algae is oil content which means that between 20,000 and 80,000 litres of oil could be produced per hectare per year compared to 6,000 litres of palm oil per hectare per year. But, the cost of production of algae fuel is ten times higher than the production of palm oil fuel, said professor Rene Wijffels, scientific director of the algae farm.
"You can produce something like 20-40 thousand litres of oil per hectare per year, and if you compare that for example with palm oil, that's only six thousand litres per hectare per year, so the crop is much more productive than the agricultural crop and you can do it on salt water," said Wijffels.
The algae oil is grown and harvested through a process that enables the cell organisms to burst, which releases a hydrocarbon liquid. The oil can the be collected and used as vegetable oil feedstock. Algae yields up to 20 times more energy per hectare than leading biofuel crops like corn, according to estimates. Unlike corn ethanol, algal strains can sprout on marginal lands so they need not be grown on land previously used to grow food. Because the algae organisms absorb CO2, they also have potential to cut climate-altering greenhouse gases.
Once the industry and technology develops in about 15 years, it will take the pressure off food prices which, according to scientists like Wijffels are expected to rise significantly as a result of population growth and an increase in the use of biodiesel.
"For the bulk commodities, within 10-15 years this could be a solution. It does not mean that we will eat algae, I mean you will have all kinds of products next to it, but for the supply of biofuels or supply of proteins, supply of chemicals, this can be an important contribution," he said.
Wijffels monitors the growth of microalgae which are produced in laboratories and then grown at the farm in vertical and horizontal plastic tubes or in plastic panels filled with water.
Large companies have been investing in algae production technology for a while and some of them including Exxon Mobile, Dutch vitamin giant DSM, Total and Finnish Neste Oil are co-financing this six million euro (US$8.4 million) project run by Wageningen University.
Finnish Neste Oil, which will launch Europe's largest biodiesel refinery in Rotterdam this summer, says 80 percent of its 40 million euros annual research budget goes towards funding new technologies which includes algae.
Rafaello Garofallo, an executive director of European Algae Biomass Association, says the European Commission has set aside funds for three algae production facilities which should start operating in the next two to three years.
Algae can also be used as a raw material for animal feed, reducing Europe's imports. But the real challenge is technology Professor Rene Klein of Wageningen University says a wider European approach is needed to fully develop the technology. He estimates an investment of at least 1.5 billion (US$2.1 billion) will be needed for algae research in the next few years.
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