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Study: Algae could replace 17 percent of US oil imports
Date:4/13/2011

to 48 percent of the current transportation oil imports could be replaced with algae, though that higher production level would require significantly more water and land. So the authors focused their research on the U.S. regions that would use less water to grow algae, those with the nation's sunniest and most humid climates.

But the authors also found that algae's water use isn't that different from most other biofuel sources. While considering the gas efficiency of a standard light-utility vehicle, they estimated growing algae uses anywhere between 8.6 and 50.2 gallons of water per mile driven on algal biofuel. In comparison, data from previously published research indicated that corn ethanol can be made with less water, but showed a larger usage range: between 0.6 and 61.9 gallons of water per mile driven. Several factors including the differing water needs of specific growing regions and the different assumptions and methods used by various researchers cause the estimates to range greatly, they found.

Because conventional petroleum gas doesn't need to be grown like algae or corn, it doesn't need as much water. Previously published data indicated conventional gas uses between about 0.09 and 0.3 gallons of water per mile.

More to consider

Looking beyond freshwater, the authors noted algae has several advantages over other biofuel sources. For example, algae can produce more than 80 times more oil than corn per hectare a year. And unlike corn and soybeans, algae aren't a widespread food source that many people depend on for nutrition. As carbon dioxide-consuming organisms, algae are considered a carbon-neutral energy source. Algae can feed off carbon emissions from power plants, delaying the emissions' entry into the atmosphere. Algae also digest nitrogen and phosphorous, which are common water pollutants. That means algae can also grow in and clean municipal waste water.

"Water is an important consideration when choosing a biofuel
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Contact: Franny White
frances.white@pnl.gov
509-375-6904
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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