Could algae be the fuel of the future?

According to the scientists and researchers of MED-ALGAE project, micro-algae could represent one of the potential alternatives to petrol. Against the exhaustion of the reserves of fossil fuels and the steady increase of CO2 emissions, it has become urgent to develop new sources to fuel our cars. The 10 partners of MED-ALGAE project have decided to face this major issue by producing a biodiesel created using micro-algae, namely algae fuel.

On the occasion of an information day which took at the laboratory of the Agricultural Research Institute (Cyprus), visitors were able to witness with their own eyes the promising results of MED-ALGAE project. 

The advantages are manifold…as well as the drawbacks

The scientific community agree on the benefits of micro-algae. Their performance is ten times higher than traditional agro-fuels (colza, palm oil), these are easy to cultivate and fast-growing. Unlike colza, for instance, micro-algae can be produced soilless and do not compete with food crops.

The main advantage of micro-algae is precisely their limited environmental footprint: this means neither intensive agriculture nor pollution of groundwater. It is also estimated that at industrial scale the production of micro-algae could contribute to CO2 capture. 

Nevertheless, numerous issues still hamper the expansion of micro-algae. The extraction of micro-algae oil, which is transformed in liquid fuel, is very costly and energy-consuming. Another challenge in efficient biodiesel production is the identification of the algae strains which are the most performing, resilient and easiest to harvest. Finally, in order to foster the emergence of a new value chain, it is necessary to secure sufficient quantity and quality of algae fuel. Thanks to the establishment of pilot laboratories and a regional centre for production in Alexandria (Egypt), MED-ALGAE project hopes to overcome the abovementioned obstacles. 

Micro-algae: the new green gold?

MED-ALGAE project also deals with the byproducts derived from micro-algae cultivation which have the capacity to generate high value bioactive compounds such as natural pigments, antioxidants, vitamins and fatty acids. These can be used in different sectors, in particular pharmaceutical, cosmetic, functional food and dietary complements industries. Potential business opportunities associated with production of biofuel could lead public authorities and private sector to invest in research for accelerating the development of a viable micro-algae value chain. It remains to be seen how much time is still needed for a green revolution at gas stations?

MED-ALGAE : website and fact sheet

Contact
M. Polycarpos Polycarpou
Agricultural Research Institute
P.Polycarpou@arinet.ari.gov.cy  +357 22.403.117

21.02.2014