The Algae Biomass Organization, the trade association for the U.S. algae industry today hailed the findings of a University of California at San Diego study that concludes, for the first time, that marine (saltwater) algae can be just as capable as freshwater algae in producing biofuels. The research is documented in a peer-reviewed paper published online in the current issue of the scientific journal Algal Research.
"What this means is that you can use ocean water to grow the algae that will be used to produce biofuels. And once you can use ocean water, you are no longer limited by the constraints associated with fresh water. Ocean water is simply not a limited resource on this planet," said Stephen Mayfield, Ph.D., a professor of biology at UC San Diego, who headed the research project.
The availability of significant saltwater environments for algae production has been documented in recent years. According to a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's (PNNL) report, algal fuels grown in saline water from existing aquifers and recycling nutrients would be able to provide up to twice the goal for advanced biofuels set under the Energy Independence and Security Act (roughly 40 billion gallons or 20 percent of annual transportation fuel demand).
Yet until today's report, no public research had demonstrated the capability of algae to thrive in a saltwater environment.
"The results of Dr. Mayfield's research should remove concerns about the exclusive use of fresh water to scale commercial production of algae for fuel and other co-products," said Mary Rosenthal, ABO's executive director. "Although leading algae production companies are already leveraging saline aquifers and ocean water, this publicly-available paper will update the current body of research on the topic of sustainability of algae production.
Dr. Mayfield estimates that there are about 10 million acres of land in the United States alone that are no longer suitable for traditional agriculture given high salt content in the soil, but that could support algae production facilities.
The paper's authors also believe their research will determine how algae grown in these environments could also be used for animal feed, noting: "We hope to eventually determine whether whole algae, post-oil extraction, may be used as a feed additive to improve animal feeds. Animal feed is a relatively high volume market that may be able to benefit from algae-produced proteins as a feed additive."
The UC San Diego biologists collaborated on the research with scientists from Sapphire Energy, Inc., an algae company that is operating a saltwater algae farm in Columbus, New Mexico that is expected to be producing 100 barrels per day of Green Crude oil in 2013.
For more information visit www.algaebiomass.org.