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Brazil To Build World’s First Algae-Based Biofuel Plant

Green algae

If all goes according to plan, Brazil could be the host of the world’s first industrial plant producing biofuels from seaweed. The plant will be built alongside a sugar cane plantation in Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco. Austrian firm SAT is spearheading the plant setup, with construction set to begin by late 2013.

Upon completion, the new plant could produce 1.2 million litres of algae-based biofuels per year.

The plant’s close proximity to a sugar cane plantation is a key component of the project’s success. The sugar cane plantation currently emits large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere through the production of ethanol. For every litre of ethanol produced, one kilogram of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere.

Instead of allowing all this CO2 to go to waste (and thus contribute to climate change), the new biofuels plant will harvest this CO2 to drive photosynthesis for its seaweed. This will subsequently improve production rates and remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Although the algae-based biofuels plant will only use 5% of all CO2 emissions, SAT insists it will increase this percentage in the future.

So far, algae-based biofuels have received considerable attention in recent times as an alternative to the controversial “first-generation” biofuels. First generation biofuels came under fire because their primary inputs consisted of food stocks. And with recent indications that the world may be unable to feed itself by 2050, these food stocks will become increasingly important to maintain.

Algae seems to be a likely candidate for a sustainable biofuel, but so far researchers are having a hard time making an economically viable algae-based fuel. And according to the National Research Council, next generation biofuels face a number of barriers if they are to achieve 16 billion gallons by 2022.

Do you think algae-based biofuels will ever be able to scale-up to help replace oil-based fuels?

Image CC licensed by Richie Graham: Algae

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