Emerging Biofuels Potential-Algae Fuels

It is reported that the food prices remain upward trends at the beginning of 2011 in China and the raw material shortage situation for food industry may continue haunting for a while. In order to guarantee food security, more new kinds of raw materials are introduced in the bio-energy industry to replace corn in the future.

Among them, algae is the most promising alternative, which can be used to produce vegetable oil, biodiesel, bioethanol, bio gasoline, bio methanol, bio butanol and other biofuels, because algae can be grew in almost all sorts of water, range from salt water in oceans to waste water. It also produces far more convertible oil than any other plant or crop in use.

Algae have the potential to replace a much higher proportion of fossil transportation fuel than the traditional feedstock, which indicated that fuel from algae represents a huge market that worth investing hundreds of billions of dollars.

Thanks to algae’s fast growing speed but without occupying any farmland, China has started to promote its algae-based energy as early as 2005. Besides research institutes, many enterprises such as ENN Group also entered into the algae-based energy field. For example, ENN Group announced to realize commercialization of its algae-based diesel by 2014.

According to Industrial Biotechnologies China News February, 2011 issue, published by CCM International Ltd., algae culturing is the foundation of algae-based diesel industry, the costs of which may take up about 40% of the total in algae-based diesel. However, lots of breeding work of algae is still in the R&D stage in China and the algae strains from this work are not qualified for industrialization at present.

It is suggested that the whole gene network for algae should be figured out before genetic modification. Moreover, the mass culturing technology of algae is another bottleneck for the development of algae-based diesel. Currently, the photobioreactor is still immature and lack of relevant criteria or evaluation system to be regulated globally (including China).