The new report focuses on actual water supplies and looks at a range of possible sources of water, including fresh groundwater, salty or saline groundwater, and seawater. The team estimates that up to 25 billion gallons of algal oil could be produced annually, an increase of 4 billion gallons over the previous study's estimate. The new amount is enough to fill the nation's current oil needs for one month about 600 million barrels each year. The study's authors note that the new estimate is exactly that an estimate based to some degree on assumptions about land and water availability and use.
"I'm confident that algal biofuels can be part of the solution to our energy needs, but algal biofuels certainly aren't the whole solution," said Wigmosta. Most important, he notes that the cost of making the fuel far exceeds the cost of traditional gasoline-based products right now.
Big ponds, big potential
An algae farm would likely consist of many ponds, with water maybe six to 15 inches deep. A few companies have built smaller algae farms and are just beginning to churn out huge amounts of algae to convert to fuel; earlier this year, one company sold algae-based oil to customers in California. Players in the algae biofuels arena range from Exxon-Mobil, which launched a $600 million research effort four years ago, to this year's teenage winner of the Intel Science Talent Search, who was recognized for her work developing algae that produce more oil than they normally do.
The availability of water has been one of the biggest concerns regarding the adoption of broad-scale production of algal biofuel. Scientists estimate that fuel created with algae would use much more water than industrial processes used to harness energy from oil, wind, sunlight, or most other forms of raw energy. To produce 25 billion gallons of algae oil, the team
|Contact: Tom Rickey|
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory