UK report could pave the way for producing sustainable biofuels
14 May 2012
With the increasing appetite for 'green' energy technologies there are massive opportunities ahead for the UK in producing algal biofuels and other algae products.
But there are relatively few UK companies with the expertise and capacity to cultivate algae for commercial uses, and little is known about the environmental impacts of producing algae products.
A new 'strategy research agenda' report from the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group (AB-SIG) highlights the benefits of cultivating and using both macroalgae (seaweed) and microalgae (microscopic floating plants such as phytoplankton) in a wide range of products. It also identifies some of the research that should be done to understand and manage the potential impacts on the Earth's environmental ecosystems.
Lars Brunner from SAMS with cultivated kelp
Dr Michele Stanley from the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Director of the AB-SIG, said, "There are a great many market opportunities for algal products, particularly in using natural compounds to develop biofuels and bioenergy products, commodity and speciality chemicals such as those used in fertilizers and cosmetics.
"This is an area which has considerable growth potential for the UK - but it's also important to understand how an increase in algae cultivation will affect both land and water environments and the plants and creatures that currently thrive in them."
The AB-SIG, which is hosted by the Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network, suggests that the potential for an energy and bulk chemicals market in the UK will be a long-term project requiring a significant amount of research and development. There are, however, many opportunities for short-term growth.
"Our report looks at both the current markets and future opportunities," said Dr Stanley. "The UK has a strong industrial sector that could expand its current use and development of high-value algal products, such as for the food and feed industry, personal care and nutrition, and using algae as a low-cost wastewater treatment.
"In the longer term, cultivating algae for biofuels will provide an alternative to using land-grown crops, reducing both the threat of increased food costs and the effects on biodiversity, whilst benefiting energy producers, and the transport and aviation industries."
The report answers some of the questions about the best ways to cultivate and harvest the huge amounts of algae needed for commercial development. It considers the possibilities and costs of transferring land-based technologies to freshwater and marine environments. And it looks at the positive and negative impacts on the environment of scaling up algae production, along with recommendations for essential research needed to establish an environmentally sustainable algae-based industry.
The AB-SIG is a two-year initiative funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change partnership.
NERC Press Office
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Scottish Association for Marine Science
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1. The report 'Research needs in ecosystem services to support algal biofuels, bioenergy and commodity chemicals production in the UK' was prepared for the AB-SIG by the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC). It is available on the AB-SIG website.
The report was produced following extensive consultation with stakeholders from academia, industry, government and research funders to make clear the potential areas of strategic interest for the UK. It merges opinions from stakeholders with an interest in both micro and macro-algae, and covers a range of different cultivation, processing and conversion technologies.
2. The AB-SIG is funded by NERC and the Technology Strategy Board. It is coordinated by Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and is tasked with scoping the environmental science potential for algal bioenergy and to raise awareness and build research partnerships to enable its development. It is supported under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change partnership.
3. The Natural Environment Research Council is the UK's main agency for funding and managing world-class research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on earth, and much more. NERC receives around £300m a year from the government's science budget, which it uses to fund independent research and training in universities and its own research centres.
4. The Technology Strategy Board, the UK's innovation agency, works to create economic growth by ensuring that the UK is a global leader in innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy.
5. The Biosciences KTN is funded by the Technology Strategy Board and works in the plant, animal, food and industrial biotechnology sectors. The Biosciences KTN operate at the interface between the UK science-base, industry, funders and investors to facilitate new collaborations between the private and public sectors for mutual benefit. The Biosciences KTN drive bioscience inspired innovation towards commercial outputs, helping UK industry profit and grow from new technology-enabled products and processes for the benefit of business, the economy, the environment and society.
6. The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) delivers research and education that aims to improve our understanding and sustainable use of the marine environment. It is a learned society that is among the oldest oceanographic organisations in the world and, as an international marine research institute, it works on multi-disciplinary research themes that investigate marine renewable energy, Arctic seas, dynamic ocean processes and people and the sea. It also provides a multitude of services to business through SAMS Research Services Ltd and innovative higher education degrees and short training courses, and is supported by outstanding facilities, capabilities and infrastructure.
Press release: 06/12
- Biosciences KTN
- Living With Environmental Change
- Scottish Association for Marine Science
- Technology Strategy Board
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