Barriers to Overcome

Finding the Land Resources

Environmentalists must be realistic when choosing algae strains to analyze, understanding the importance that not only the lipid production of the algae is high, but that the area of growth is viable.  The ideal habitat for algae cultivation is established by a number of factors.  The land source needs to be reliable for long-term algae cultivation.  This means avoiding impacts from weather fluctuations and possible predators, as well as providing a multitude of resources to grow mass amounts of algae.  Algae must also be grown in a way to prevent competition between food and water sources.  This means avoiding the use of arable land and freshwater sources.  Finally, it is imperative that the algae growth does not negatively impact the habitats.  For instance, overpopulation of algae has been found to decrease the dissolved oxygen content of the water, affecting other organisms.  This process is called eutrophication and is caused by an increased amount of nutrients in the water, promoting algae growth.

The use of wastewater algae for biofuels has caught the attention of many researchers.  The nutrients in the wastewater promote algae growth while the algae work to break down organic material as a part of the wastewater treatment (Ramachandra  768).  This process also allows for algae growth to be more standard and to take place in a contained environment.  If utilizing wastewater for algae growth is to be pursued by biofuel researchers, the algae needs to be grown in a way that produces lipids while not hindering the growth of algae.  If saltwater algae are to be used instead, however, the issues of a lack of control and impacts on water ecosystems need to be addressed.

The issue of what habitat is best to grow algae is perhaps the most dire, and needs to be addressed initially before algae’s potential as a fuel can be analyzed.  Determining the most sustainable habitat for long-term algae cultivation is the precursor to engineering specific strains and extraction techniques tailored to the specified habitat.

Assessing Environmental Impacts

Although it is often implied, algae biofuels must be eco-friendly.  It is expected that any biofuel, which may be used as a replacement for petroleum, will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  In order to determine the overall emissions from algal biofuels, the entire lifecycle of the fuel must be analyzed.   This would mean looking at the emissions from cultivation, transportation, extraction, distribution, and every step in between.

In the endeavor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with biofuels, it is also vital that other environmental aspects are not compromised.  A major concern for algae cultivation would be the impacts on the ecosystem.  As mentioned above, overgrowth of algae can lead to eutrophication in open waters.  Finding ways to minimize, or avoid it entirely are important.

Reducing the Cost

Certainly, once algal fuels have proven to be a sustainable alternative, it is imperative that they are competitive in cost with petroleum-based fuels.  Although algae biofuels may not be a cheaper alternative to oil, they must at least be available at a reasonable price in order to attract conscious consumers.

In reducing the cost to produce the biofuel, there is only so much that optimization in technology can do.  A major way for the United States to create a market niche for algal biofuels would be by utilizing government policy.  Tax incentives could be implemented on the fuels, encouraging consumers to make the change to use greener fuels.  Many of the Member States of the European Union have implemented different forms of tax incentives to attain high levels of biofuel consumption.  These incentives included tax reliefs on “mineral oil duties”, “domestic consumption tax”, and “vehicle registration tax”. (Cansino  6018)  These incentives would allow for consumers to receive immediate rewards for their conscious market decisions.  Government policies could also make standards for oil companies, requiring the sale of a specified minimum standard of biofuels, making it the companies’ responsibility to get algal biofuels out in the market.

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