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US Could Produce 1/12 of its Fuel from Algae

An analysis of the land and water resources in the United States found that the country could likely grow enough algae every year to provide about 1/12 of its yearly fuel needs.

According to the study, which looked at the water resources necessary to grow algae on a large scale, up to 25 billion gallons of algae-based fuel could be produced each year, and didn’t see water issues as a “deal breaker” in algae biofuels.

The most promising locations for producing algae for fuel are hot and humid, with low evaporation rates and easy access to water, and the best places are also close to fuel processing facilities, such as on the Gulf Coast or the Southeastern seaboard.

Because of our already-stressed water systems, and the fact that much of the country has been in a drought, one of the biggest concerns about adopting algae biofuel systems has been water availability.

“Scientists estimate that fuel created with algae would use much more water than industrial processes used to harness energy from oil, wind, sunlight, or most other forms of raw energy. To produce 25 billion gallons of algae oil, the team estimates that the process annually would require the equivalent of about one-quarter of the amount of water that is now used each year in the entire United States for agriculture. While that is a huge amount, the team notes that the water would come from a multitude of sources: fresh groundwater, salty groundwater, and seawater.”

For the analysis, the team limited the amount of freshwater used for algae production that could be taken from any one area to no more than 5% of that watershed’s annual water flow, which is the same percentage that the U.S. EPA allows for power plant cooling.

The analysis is published in Environmental Science and Technology: A GIS Cost Model to Assess the Availability of Freshwater, Seawater, and Saline Groundwater for Algal Biofuel Production in the United States

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