Johannes Skarka, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

Algae have one of the highest potential for large scale production of biofuels and other bioproducts. Nevertheless, there are still limiting factors to just how much biomass can be produced. Johannes Skarka from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany has conducted some research on how land and CO2 availability will affect the algae industry in Europe.

Below is Skarka’s description of his work followed by a PDF file which contains a map with the cost of growing biomass at various sites in Europe.

“Microalgae are seen as a promising source for sustainable biofuels since they can be cultivated in photobioreactors on non-arable land and thus reduce the fuel vs. food dilemma. Furthermore they can use CO2 from industrial and power plants. However, in Europe most areas suitable for microalgae production are not located in the direct vicinity of these CO2 sources. Thus, the application of CO2 from fuel gas in algaefuel production requires a transmission infrastructure.

“Against this background a GIS-based model including pipeline transport of CO2 and land availability was developed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) to determine the microalgal biomass production potential at site-specific costs. The results show a total potential of 45 Mt in the EU-27 for sites with biomass costs less than 2,000 US$/t on a dry matter basis. Most of the potential can be found in the southern part of Europe, particularly on the Iberian Peninsula. Assuming an oil content of 50 % of the algal biomass and by considering a correction factor for the consequent lower biomass productivity, a considerable potential of 22 % of the EU-27’s jet fuel demand could be provided by microalgae derived biofuels.”

Johannes Skarka
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

Check out his work here:

Microalgal biomass for biofuels in Europe


The algae industry is getting its long-awaited chance to step into the biofuels batter’s box.
In mid-August, President Obama announced a federal government biofuels initiative that will see the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Navy split the tab on a $510-million investment over the next three years. The White House program is aimed at domestic production of advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to operate military and commercial transportation — and, on a bigger scale, reducing America’s dependency on foreign oil.

While corn-based ethanol has had a significant head start, thanks to former President George W. Bush’s 2005 Energy Policy Act, this is the time for algae to flex its biofuel-producing muscle, say advocates such as Dr. Mark Edwards of Algae Biosciences Incorporated.

“If we replace corn ethanol with algae, we can do the whole thing with a lot less cost, a lot less pollution, and a lot more energy efficiency,” says Dr. Edwards, the Vice-President of Corporate Development and Marketing at AlgaeBio, and a renowned global expert on algae’s potential.

AlgaeBio, which announced in mid-August a $5-million, first-phase expansion of its production facilities near Holbrook, Ariz., will focus initially on producing omega-3 fatty acid oils for international nutraceutical and food additive markets. However, AlgaeBio is acutely aware of fuel-based opportunities with macroalgae — and is currently engaged in targeted research in the biofuels arena.

With an RFP to be issued soon, the White House’s biofuels initiative will see private industry investments matched on a one-to-one basis.

The USDA will address feedstocks, the DOE will oversee technological considerations, and the Navy is expected to be the main consumer of new fuels, to begin with. Government officials expect the creation of a national biofuels industry will also create construction and refinery jobs, as well as economic opportunity in rural America.

The controversial U.S. corn-based ethanol industry has its fair share of detractors, including scientists, economists, food policy experts, and environmental groups. And while algae has not yet been conclusively proven as a drop-in biofuel option, proponents believe this is algae’s golden opportunity.

“Algae can be grown on non-arable land, using non-potable water, and produce many times the amount of fermentable sugars that corn can,” notes AlgaeBio founder and Chief Executive Officer Andy Ayers. “It’s amazing how much more productive macroalgae is for biofuels, compared to corn.

“And because the product is not a human or animal food in any way, we can use saline aquifers that contain heavy metals, and still produce biofuel from that without any problem,” adds Ayers. “So instead of hundreds of thousands of acres available for this, there are literally millions of acres available that can’t be used for anything else.”

Algae for biofuel can be grown in waste, grey, saline, or reused water. It improves air quality, by producing oxygen rather than greenhouse gases. Producing biofuel with algae boasts a net energy yield, and a small water, land, and environmental footprint, including a minimal use of fertilizers. And if algae for biofuel is grown in contaminant-free water, it also yields high-protein human and animal food, once the oil has been removed for fuel.


ABOUT ALGAE BIOSCIENCES INCORPORATED: AlgaeBio is an Arizona biotechnology company that researches, develops, and manufactures ultra-pure products from micro and macro algae such as nutraceuticals, food additives, and pharmaceuticals. With access to near-perfect algae growing conditions, exclusive aquaculture access to a pristine brine water supply, and advanced proprietary technology, AlgaeBio produces superior human and animal consumable products, as well as offering advanced algae-based products and technologies for distribution into the agribusiness, biofuel, and aquaculture markets. AlgaeBio owns and operates large-scale production facilities near Holbrook, Ariz., and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Algae Biosciences Corporation.


For every 50 fuel convoys deployed by the US military, one soldier dies or get injured.

An astounding figure shared by Thomas Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of the US Navy for energy, at the Clinton Global Initiative meetings in New York Tuesday on a panel about innovations in green technology.

The Navy, along with other branches of the military, recognizes the need to switch to alternative fuels both to reduce the risks in getting fuel into theaters of war and to reduce its exposure to price volatility.

Last year, the Navy spent over $11 billion on fossil fuels and intends to reduce petroleum use by half by 2020, which could mean replacing it with as much as 8 millions barrels of biofuels a year.

“On alternative fuels, we feel a bit alone out there,” Hicks shared. “But the reality is the ships and planes we have today are going to be the ships and planes we have 10-20 years from now. We need to focus on finding alternatives now to use in that fleet.”

To meet this goal, the Navy is partnering with Solazyme, a producer of algae-based oils, among others.

“At Solazyme, we make oil by converting plentiful, sustainable biomass-based plant sugars into tailored oils that serve the multitude of applications the world demands,” said Jonathan Wolfson, CEO of Solazyme, also speaking on the panel at CGI. “We do this by feeding a variety of sustainable, biomass-derived sugars from things like switch grass, sugar cane, and municipal green waste to algae in big stainless steel tanks and the algae convert those plant sugars into oil. They do it rapidly and efficiently.”

Solazyme’s technology is helping the US Department of Defense with its self-imposed mandate to reduce its carbon footprint, combat global climate change and lead in the development of clean and renewable energy sources.

The company is supplying algal jet fuel as well as a diesel ship fuel for use in military boats and, this summer, the Navy tested a Solazyme-produced fuel in its Seahawk helicopters.

“A key agent of change in the adoption of sustainable, renewable fuels is one of our oldest US government institutions — the Navy,” said Wolfson. “If we wanted our technology to scale, we had to work with a partner who could demonstrate scale.”

The American military represents significant purchasing power to drive market realities, increasing the opportunity for success of new fuels and potential adoption in the marketplace.

On Wednesday, Pew Charitable Trusts published a report, “From Barracks to the Battlefield,” stating that DOD investments in renewable energy is “projected to reach $3 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2030.”

Still, the move is not without its critics who question why the military is switching to alternative, especially unknown fuels.

“Time and again, military leaders have invested in new ways of harnessing energy to enhance the strength, speed, range and power of armed forces,” according to the Pew report.

The report goes on to note, “Navies that once relied on wind power transitioned to coal, then oil and eventually nuclear power to propel fleets across the seas. Air forces harnessed jet propulsion and made superiority in the skies a central component of strategic doctrine. And on land there have been continuous improvements to tactical and non-tactical vehicles to meet the needs of ever-changing military missions.”

In other words, on renewable energy solutions, the military is leading the way.


With the price of gas still putting a serious dent in your pocketbook, the search for alternatives to fossil fuel is a priority for researchers.

Scientists at the University of Texas are making breakthroughs which could turn a common species of green algae named Chlorella into the newest source of diesel fuel for cars and trucks. The process is called “lysing.”

“It’s been well-studied,” Dr. Rhykka Connelly with the U.T. Center for Electromechanics said. “It’s known to produce significant amounts of oil under stress conditions.”

As promising as algae may be, there are still a number of obstacles keeping it from being an economically viable alternative.

The process to extract the oil from the algae is the first challenge faced by researchers. The team at U.T. say they have developed a new cost-effective way to pull the oil from the Chlorella with a new device.

“Before (the procedure), they look nice and round, they look like little tennis balls. Afterwards, their cell walls are stripped off,” Connelly said. “The pulse width is very short, making the power consumption very low, making this a very cost-effective way to bust open the algae.”

Next, researchers are faced with the challenge to separate the oil from the organic matter without using poisonous solvents. The U.T. team says they’ve figured that out as well.

“There’s absolutely no contact with the solvents that are used to remove the algae oil,” Connelly said.

The last hurdle is to grow enough algae to be able to scale up the process. A company involved in the project called AlgEternal designed what they call an “algae reactor”.

“At peak capacity, we’ll be able to offer the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics approximately five thousand gallons a day,” Michael Jochum with AlgEternal said.

All of the equipment used by the U.T. team to turn the algae into oil is compact enough to fit inside of a trailer.

“We can go to any location, back up to that pond and pump in green pond water,” Mike Werst with U.T. said. “We go through the electromechanical lysing. Then we have an oil separation unit where we literally have oil dripping out the other end.”

The end product is similar to vegetable oil and still needs to be refined, but thanks to the work here at UT, algae-based biofuels may soon be a viable replacement for fossil fuels.