Microalgae testing, photo: Steve Jurvetson via flickr
If it sometimes seems that second generation biofuels, and especially algae biofuels, also seem to be commercially just over the horizon, after just one more demonstration or pilot plant is completed, you're not mistaken. According to a new report from the Department of Energy, while algae biofuels do hold much promise it's going to be a number of years before wide-scale commercial deployment. If you want to delve into how the DoE thinks we can get to commercialization of algae biofuels, check out the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap [PDF], but here's the gist of it, from the New York Times:
[The report] paints a picture of the extensive research that will be needed to do so. "The Roadmap Workshop effort suggests that many years of both basic and applied science and engineering will likely be needed to achieve affordable, scalable, and sustainable algal-based fuels," DOE wrote.
Al Darzins, a contributor to the report and group manager with the National Bioenergy Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, stressed in an interview that algae is far less developed, technologically, than biodiesel fuel or corn ethanol.
"We need to understand the biology much better before we have, in the future, systems that work consistently," Darzins said.
Drop-In Biofuels Hold Great Attraction to Oil Corps
Another thing to take away from this is something TreeHugger has covered on a number of occasions: Making biofuels from algae that are chemically identical to their petroleum-based cousins. So-called "drop-in" fuels which, unlike biodiesel and ethanol, can be transported using existing distribution infrastructure and can be mixed freely with fossil fuels. A quick check of where the big oil companies have been putting their biofuel investment dollars in the past year or so bears out the attraction of these synthetic gasoline and synthetic diesel fuels.
More on Algae Biofuels:
New Algae Biofuels From Sapphire Energy Chemically Identical to Gasoline
ExxonMobil Bets on Algae in First Major Biofuel Investment
BP Gets Into Algae: Signs Multi-year Development Agreement with Martek Biosciences