At a pilot plant facility at Coyote Gulch outside
Durango, Colo., microalgae is grown for biofuel production. In a recent paper
published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Utah State
University researchers reveal findings of …more
"That's because microalgae produces much higher
yields of fuel-producing biomass than other traditional fuel feedstocks and it
doesn't compete with food crops," says USU mechanical engineering graduate
student Jeff Moody.
With USU colleagues Chris McGinty and Jason Quinn,
Moody published findings from an unprecedented worldwide microalgae productivity
assessment in the May 26, 2014, online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. The team's research was supported by the U.S.
Department of Energy.
Despite its promise as a
biofuel source, the USU investigators questioned whether "pond scum" could
be a silver bullet-solution to challenges posed by fossil fuel dependence.
"Our aim wasn't to debunk existing literature, but
to produce a more exhaustive, accurate and realistic assessment of the current
global yield of microalgae biomass and lipids," Moody says.
With Quinn, assistant professor in USU's Department
of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and McGinty, associate director of
USU's Remote Sensing/Geographic Information Systems Laboratory in the Department
of Wildland Resources, Moody leveraged a large-scale, outdoor microalgae growth
model. Using meteorological data from 4,388 global locations, the team
determined the current global productivity potential of
"Our results were much more conservative than those
found in the current literature," Quinn says. "Even so, the numbers are
Algae, he says, yields about 2,500 gallons of
biofuel per acre per year. In contrast, soybeans yield approximately 48 gallons;
corn about 18 gallons.
"In addition, soybeans and corn require arable land
that detracts from food production," Quinn says. "Microalgae can be produced in
non-arable areas unsuitable for agriculture."
The researchers estimate untillable land in Brazil,
Canada, China and the U.S. could be used to produce enough algal biofuel to
supplement more than 30 percent of those countries' fuel consumption.
"That's an impressive percentage from renewable
energy," Moody says. "Our findings will help to justify the investment in
technology development and infrastructure to make algal biofuel a viable fuel
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