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The Sustainability Issue

Algal-derived biofuel production presents a number of sustainability concerns, says a new report from the National Research Council of the US National Academies.

Among the concerns identified by the council are the approach's reliance on a large quantity of fresh water to cultivate algae, its need for nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide to maintain algal growth, and its possible land requirements. Further, the report wonders whether algal-derived biofuels would limit the release of greenhouse gases. "Algal biofuel production requires inputs of water, energy, and nutrients and land," a related NAS Report in Brief says. "If algal biofuel is to become a practical substitution for petroleum-based fuels, work will be needed to show that techniques used to generate small amounts of algal biofuel can be scaled up in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner."

The report also notes that new innovations and engineering solutions could help solve, at least in part, some of these issues. "The committee does not consider any one of these sustainability concerns a definitive barrier to sustainable development of algal biofuels because mitigation strategies for each of those concerns have been proposed and are being developed," the report says. "However, all of the key sustainability concerns have to be addressed to some extent and in an integrative manner.

HT: The Nature News Blog and ScienceInsider

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