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UK Launches Algae Biofuels Challenge
The Carbon Trust has launched the world's biggest algae biofuel project - Algae Biofuels Challenge, with an ambitious mission to commercialize the use of algae biofuel as an alternative to fossil based oil by 2020.The Algae Biofuels Challenge is a multi-million pound UK R&D initiative that could see the Carbon Trust commit £3m to £6m of funding in the initial stages. The Department for Transport recently announced it will be contributing to the funding of this initiative.
Beyond 2020, algae-based biofuel has the potential to replace a significant proportion of fossil fuel used in road transport and aviation, saving hundreds of millions of tons of carbon every year globally whilst creating an industry worth tens of billions of pounds. For example, initial forecasts suggest that algae-based biofuels could replace over 70 billion liters of fossil derived fuels used worldwide annually in road transport and aviation by 2030 (equivalent to 12% of annual global jet fuel consumption or 6% of road transport diesel). This would equate to an annual carbon saving of over 160 million tons of CO2 globally and a market value of over £15 billion.
Scientists hope that algae, microscopic plants could make biofuels for the future.
Biofuel from algae is a highly carbon negative process, meaning more carbon is absorbed than
emitted in producing and burning the biofuel.
The Carbon Trust is now seeking to recruit cutting edge expertise from algae specialists in the UK, to develop ‘green oil’. The challenge is to produce this second generation algae-based biofuel cost effectively at scale. If successful, algae could deliver 6 to 10 times more energy per hectare than conventional cropland biofuels, whilst reducing carbon emissions by up to 80% relative to fossil fuels. Also, unlike traditional biofuels, algae can be grown on non-arable land using seawater or wastewater. Therefore, using algae as a biofuel feedstock avoids many of the negative environmental, ecological and social impacts associated with first generation biofuels.
The Algae Biofuels Challenge will accelerate the commercialization of microalgae bio-oil in two key phases. Phase One will provide grant funding for research across areas including selection of suitable microalgae algae strains for open pond production, maximizing algae oil content and biomass yield, maximizing solar conversion efficiency, sustained algae cultivation, and design and engineering of mass-culture systems.
Phase Two is expected to see the construction of an open pond test and demonstration plant. This plant will provide the vital facilities necessary to continue the research conducted in Phase One and demonstrate production at commercial scale in a manner that can be replicated. To avoid any unnecessary delays in eventual commercialization the plant is likely to be constructed overseas. This is because the majority of commercial production of algae biofuels is likely to take place in tropical and sub-tropical climates that have plentiful sunlight and temperatures that do not drop too low or vary too much.
Applications for Phase 1 of the Algae Biofuels Challenge can be made online here.
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