Algae biofuels deemed unsuitable for developing nations

Significant uncertainties about the development of algae biofuels and a lack of research and development capabilities make this potential energy source an unsuitable option for developing countries, according to researchers from the UN University in Japan.

The favourable growing temperatures and vast areas of undeveloped land found in the tropics have led to speculation that this technology could offer sustainable energy and an economic boost to the developing world.

But a study published in Energy Policy suggests that developing nations lack the scientific know-how to turn such biofuels into reality.

Biofuels made from crops such as maize and palm are an established renewable energy source, but have been criticised for taking up farmland and contributing to climate change.

Recent interest has therefore been focused on biofuels that require no arable land as they are made from microscopic algae grown in water.

Now, researchers have analysed literature on algae biofuels, highlighting uncertainties and concerns relating to energy production levels and the technology’s commercial viability.

These concerns include the need for large-scale production for it to become economical, and high plant and infrastructure costs. They also include scientific uncertainties surrounding variables including how the choice of algae species, their growth rate and growing environment affects energy production. Many such variables are estimated and can then lead to over-optimistic projections, the study says.

Then, by analysing the quantity of journal publications and patents around the world, the researchers were able to assess developing countries’ research capacity for algae biofuels.

While the United States and Europe produced 70 per cent of all related research publications between 1974-2010, Africa and South America were only responsible for two per cent each, despite their favourable locations for growing algae, the paper says.

Source: Joel Winston | SciDev.Net