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Israeli scientists explore algae as biofuel producer

34702714_waSea algae can be used to produce fuel (Photo: Visual Photos)

New research shows that growing and producing bioethanol from algae of the species sea lettuce has potential but is not currently viable economically.

New Israeli research has shown that growing and producing bioethanol from algae of the species sea lettuce has great potential. However, the study has found that it is currently not economically viable.

The global energy industry is constantly looking for renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources. Among the proposed solutions, fuel production from plant material has been marked as having a high potential. Plants are “primary producers”, that is, they are able to harness the sun’s energy and amass carbon dioxide to produce sugars and fats that make up tissues. Plant material can produce biodiesel or bio-ethanol, which can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels.

In the last few decades there has been a rapid development in the pace of fuel manufacturing from plants, and at the beginning of the decade production was close to two million barrels per day. On the other hand, extensive growing areas needed for growing the plants come at the expense of producing food crops and also the economic profitability of the growth process and gas production is often marginal or such that it relies heavily on government subsidies.

New research at Tel Aviv University, which has just recently been completed, wanted to check if innovative methods of producing energy from algae are not only technically feasible but also economically sensible.

 Energy, food and detoxification

The advantages of growing algae as a plant alternative to produce energy include a fast growth rate, a simple production process and the utilization of habitats not used for food agriculture. Already in the 1950s the United States invested in research to improve the growth of algae to produce energy, but later it lost popularity following the changes in the energy market and limited success in growing algea.

However, in recent years, algae growth for energy is making a comeback due to growing awareness of the environmental implications of fossil fuel use and the fear of future instability of fuel sources currently used. At the same time technological innovations that allow the development of species of algae richer in fats and sugars, as well as methods for their production, may make the dream economically worthwhile.

Despite algae’s potential, it seems that the price of biofuels is currently too expensive to compete with fossil fuels, due to manufacture and production costs. For example, the cost of production of biodiesel from algae is currently estimated at seven dollars per gallon, double the price of regular gasoline.




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