The findings of a U.C. San Diego study conclude that marine (saltwater) algae can be just as efficient as freshwater algae in producing biofuels.
The availability of significant saltwater environments for algae production is obvious. According to a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's (PNNL) report, algal fuels grown in saline water from existing aquifers and recycling nutrients would be able to provide up to twice the goal for advanced biofuels set under the Energy Independence and Security Act - roughly 40 billion gallons or 20 percent of annual transportation fuel demand.
But the ability of algae to thrive in a saltwater environment has been unclear. The U.C. San Diego biologists collaborated on the research with scientists from Sapphire Energy, Inc., an algae company that is operating a saltwater algae farm in Columbus, New Mexico that is expected to be producing 100 barrels per day of Green Crude oil in 2013.
The paper's authors also believe their research will determine how algae grown in these environments could also be used for animal feed, noting: "We hope to eventually determine whether whole algae, post-oil extraction, may be used as a feed additive to improve animal feeds. Animal feed is a relatively high volume market that may be able to benefit from algae-produced proteins as a feed additive."
"What this means is that you can use ocean water to grow the algae that will be used to produce biofuels. And once you can use ocean water, you are no longer limited by the constraints associated with fresh water. Ocean water is simply not a limited resource on this planet," said Stephen Mayfield, Ph.D., a professor of biology at UC San Diego, who headed the research project.
Mayfield estimates that there are about 10 million acres of land in the United States alone that are no longer suitable for traditional agriculture given high salt content in the soil, but that could support algae production facilities.