Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) reveals findings from a study they recently conducted, estimating the U.S. has the capacity to support the production of up to 25 billion gallons of algae biofuel per year — one twelfth of the entire country’s fuel needs — which has the potential to amount to even more what with the inevitable replacement of liquid-fuel vehicles with electric-powered ones.
PNNL’s estimate, however, was largely based on available land and water resources, and yielded both positive and negative insights into the whole algae biofuel matter. First off, PNNL centered their study on the prospect of cultivating algae in open-air, large, shallow ponds – roughly 6-15 inches deep, with the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern Seaboard as ideal areas.
These two areas are targeted for their preexisting fuel processing infrastructure, abundant water source, and warm, humid climate, which greatly reduces water losses due to evaporation. Water scarcity would not be much of an issue because PNNL’s estimate factored in sea water as well as salty groundwater. For water with high salinity, there is an option to cultivate salt-friendly strains of algae, and the availability of solar powered desalination technology has made converting salt water to fresh water a more cost-efficient task.
UC-Davis, one of the institutions most actively pursuing algae biofuel research, concludes that algae has the potential to provide for 100% of the country’s fuel needs. Great news so far for this growing biofuel industry, and a recent report on ExxonMobil’s renewed partnership with Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) should be additional good news, however since ExxonMobil clarified that SGI would lead the foundational research on algae biofuel, it seems as if they’ve turned their attention and fervor towards another fuel project.
Ceres also published their study on the possible impact of hydrofracturing, and included in this study areas they deemed had “high and extremely high water stress.” PNNL’s estimates and most target areas for algae biofuel development, however, do not overlap with areas included by Ceres in their study except for the Gulf Coast of Texas.