Can algae fuel our future?

We can make biofuels with algae, but can we make them commercially viable? A University of Queensland (UQ) research team is working towards it – and Siemens, Neste Oil Corp, the Queensland Government and others have joined their quest. The Solar Biofuels Research Centre is one of the most advanced national facilities investigating the development and use of high-efficiency microalgae production platforms. The team is using algae to produce animal and aquaculture feeds, nutraceuticals and vaccines, including one against dengue fever. A wide range of fuels including biodiesel, aviation fuel and ethanol can also be extracted from algae. “This is perhaps the most important product as fuel production alone makes up 80 per cent of the global energy demand,” says Professor Ben Hankamer of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at UQ, who is leading the team. “By 2050, our global population is expected to exceed nine billion people, demanding 50 per cent more fuel, 70 per cent more food and 50 per cent more water than we currently do.” But we still need to cut carbon dioxide emissions, and to do that we need to develop more efficient and commercially-viable renewable energy systems, Ben says. “Pioneering researchers have shown that it is technically possible to make clean fuel from algae, and now the big challenge is to show that it can be commercially competitive and attractive to major industry,” says Professor Peter Høj, Vice-Chancellor at UQ. For more information: Ben Hankamer +61 7 3346 2012 Banner image: Tubular photobioreactor used to produce microalgae. Credit: The University of Queensland