With many companies investing heavily in algae-based biofuels, researchers from the University of Virginia's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have found there are significant environmental hurdles to overcome before fuel production ramps up. They propose using wastewater as a solution to some of these challenges.
These findings come after ExxonMobil invested $600 million last summer and the U.S. Department of Energy announced last week that it is awarding $78 million in stimulus money for research and development of the biofuel.
The U.Va. research, just published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, demonstrates that algae production consumes more energy, has higher greenhouse gas emissions and uses more water than other biofuel sources, such as switchgrass, canola and corn.
"Given what we know about algae production pilot projects over the past 10 to 15 years, we've found that algae's environmental footprint is larger than other terrestrial crops," said Andres Clarens, an assistant professor in U.Va.'s Civil and Environmental Department and lead author on the paper. Clarens collaborated on the paper with Lisa M. Colosi, also an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department; Eleazar P. Resurreccion, a graduate student in the department; and Mark A. White, a professor in U.Va.'s McIntire School of Commerce.
As an environmentally sustainable alternative to current algae production methods, the researchers propose situating algae production ponds behind wastewater treatment facilities to capture phosphorous and nitrogen essential nutrients for growing algae that would otherwise need to be produced from petroleum. Those same nutrients are discharged to local waterways, damaging the Chesapeake Bay and other water bodies, and current technology to remove them is prohibitively expensive.
While the researchers found algae production to have a grea
|Contact: Zak Richards|
University of Virginia