U.S. research council: Algae biofuel not sustainable now
The product now made in small quantities by Sapphire uses algae, sunlight and carbon dioxide as feedstocks to make fuel that is not dependent on food crops or farmland. The company calls it "green crude."
Tim Zenk, a Sapphire vice president, said the company has worked for five years on the sustainability issues examined in the report. "The NRC has acknowledged something that the industry has known about in its infancy and began to address immediately," he said.
He said Sapphire recycles water and uses land that is not suitable for agriculture at its New Mexico site, where it hopes to make 100 barrels of algal biofuel a day by 2014.
The U.S. Navy used algal biofuel along with fuel made from cooking oil waste as part of its "Green Fleet" military exercises demonstration this summer, drawing fire from Republican lawmakers for its nearly $27 per gallon cost.
The council study also said it was unclear whether producing that much biofuel from algae would actually lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The report shows the strategy is too risky, said Friends of the Earth, an environmental group.
"Algae production poses a double-edged threat to our water resources, already strained by the drought," Michal Rosenoer, a biofuels campaigner with the group, said in a statement.
Industry group Algal Biomass Organization focused on the positives in its statement.
"We hope that policymakers and others involved in the future of the domestic fuel industry will recognize the NRC's conclusion that sustainability concerns are not a definitive barrier to future growth."
The full report is available online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13437.