Algae Biofuel Industry Responds to Critical Study
The New York Times Green Inc blog reported on Tuesday that the trade organization for the algae biofuel industry has issued a statement disputing recent academic research citing algae’s disadvantages as a biofuel feedstock. The Algal Biomass Association claimed that authors of the study at the University of Virginia used old and outdated data.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, concluded that because algae production requires fertilizers, which emit nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas), algae-based biofuel can end up producing more pollution than it absorbs.
The Algal Biomass Association’s executive director, Mary Rosenthal, told the Times that although the organization supports the interest in algae among the scientific community:
…We expect such research to be based on current information, valid assumptions, and proven facts. Unfortunately, this report falls short of those standards, with its use of decades old data and errant assumptions of current production and refining technologies.
Riggs Eckelberry, chief executive of Los Angeles-based algae biofuel company Origin Oil, said that although conducted in a sound fashion, the research was extremely outdated.
“We’ve got to make this stuff viable now,” he said. Eckelberry continued by saying that Origin Oil plans to use waste water in algae production. “There are lots of nitrates, and algae love dirty water—they can remove toxins, such as medical drugs, from that water.”
Lead study author Andres Clarens responded by saying that he used the most recent data available, which is about 10 years old because algae biofuel companies closely guard their research findings. However, he invited companies to share relevant and more recent data with him.
“Everybody talks about the generation—what is the next generation? I’d be happy to model it if somebody produces it,” said Clarens.
Clarens’ wish may yet come true. Rosenthal called him on Tuesday, and Clarens may do a follow-up study if companies agree to make data available. He said that, “It sounds like that could happen, where we could work together and produce more research.”