Oceans have the
potential to be the largest farm for biofuels. A new
wave of investment in marine biofuels is gaining momentum as the world
is looking for a reliable replacement for fossil fuels
Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by salt water
which provides breeding space for all varieties of seaweeds. For
centuries, China and other Asian countries have grown seaweeds — also
known as macro-algae — for food, animal feed, pharmaceutical remedies
and cosmetic purposes. This expertise gives Asian countries the
advantage of the benefits of marine algae as a biofuel. Both micro and
macro algae are used for extraction of marine biofuels.
Marine biofuel, which is considered third generation biofuel, has many
advantages that make it preferable over first and second generation
biofuels, that are derived from sources such as starch, sugar, animal
fats and vegetable oil; and lignocellulosic crops respectively.
According to the algae
market study, Algae 2020, the seaweed
grows faster than terrestrial crops; has high sugar content for
conversion to advanced biofuels and ethanol, absorbs more airborne
carbon than land-based plants, has no lignin, can be easily harvested,
requires no pretreatment for ethanol production, and can be harvested
up to six times a year in warm climates.
“The bioenergy demand is increasing exponentially. Increasing fuel
prices encourage biofuel research. Organization of the Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC) too has plans to reduce oil production. If
the price of fuel goes beyond
4,500 ($100) per barrel, then it is time to
consider alternate sources. As opposed to first and second generation
biofuel production, algae-based biofuel production is the efficient way
to get long-term result,” says Choul-Gyun Lee, professor, Department of
Biological Engineering, Inha University, South Korea.
Commenting on the advantages of marine micro algae, Dr Dinabandhu
Sahoo, secretary, Indian Phycological Society, Marine Biotechnology
Laboratory, Department of Botany, University of Delhi, India, says,
“Marine algae have several advantages. They do not need fresh water —
as algae can grow in sea water — it is environment-friendly as it
alleviates acidification of the ocean, it can be cultivated on a large
scale; provides employment to coastal population, and the byproducts
from algae can be used in food, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical
industries besides use as biofertilizers.”
APAC Market Scenario
“As opposed to first and
second generation biofuels, algae-based biofuel production is the
efficient way to get the benefits for a long-term”
— Choul-Gyun Lee
, professor, Department of Biological
Engineering, Inha University, South Korea
After a significant presence in first and second generation biofuels,
countries in Asia Pacific region are now shifting focus to third
According to the report released by APAC Biofuel Consultants,
Australia’s biofuel capacity is expected to go from 636 million litres
in 2010 to 1.5 billion litres by 2015. In order to achieve this goal,
the country promotes marine biofuel companies. The collaboration
between companies is the way to achieve the target. Recently US-based
algae biofuel developer, Aurora Algae announced expansion plans in
Australia, by opening new regional headquarters in Perth (Western
Australia) and ramping up commercial operations in the region.
South Korea has pledged about
1,200 cr ($275 million) to develop macro-algae
biofuel capacity, over the next 10 years. They hope to be able to
produce 400 million gallons of ethanol from macro-algae, which would
replace 13 percent of their fuel demand. The project will create an
offshore seaweed forest of approximately 86,000 acres in size.
“South Korea is the world’s fourth largest oil importer and the world’s
seventh largest oil consumer. South Korea’s foreign energy reliance is
97 percent, that is, nearly all the energy South Korea consumes is
imported. Thus, the economy and national security of South Korea
greatly depends on foreign energy. The South Korean government is also
planning to support bioethanol-related technology development projects,
in order to boost energy efficiency, and will also launch a bioethanol
quality monitoring system, before putting it to commercial use,” says
Myungkyo Shin, CEO & vice president, Biolsystems, South Korea.
The Philippines government has allotted
23 crore ($5 million) to develop a 250-acre
seaweed-based ethanol plant and aqua farm cluster. The aqua farms will
be located in four places, and will utilize South Korean ethanol;
extraction technology, developed at the Korean Institute for Industrial
South Korea-based Biolsystems is expanding operations in the
Philippines. The company is checking seaweed (red algae) farms in the
coastal towns of Bohol in the Philippines, to determine if the area can
supply adequate raw materials for the processing of bio-ethanol, and
the quality of seaweed grown in these areas.
In the context of international perspectives and national imperatives,
the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India,
formulated National Policy on Biofuels in December 2009. The policy,
approved by the Cabinet envisages development of next generation, more
efficient biofuel conversion technologies, based on new feed stocks.
Through this policy, India has set an indicative target of 20 percent
blending of biofuels, both for bio-diesel and bio-ethanol, by 2017.
India has great potential in algae biofuel, as it can utilize its 7,000
km of coastal line, and the country is intensifying research activities.
India-based seaweed cultivation company Aquagri, along with Central
Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute (CSMCRI, Bhavnagar) is part
of a European Union-funded project on marine micro algae,
Biowalk4biofuels. The company will use the expertise gained through the
partnership, to venture into marine biofuel production, says Abhiram
Seth, managing director of Aquagri.
“Asia Pacific region has the tropical advantage as algae need more
sunlight. APAC countries have already gained awareness about the
immense potential of algae biofuels. International events like UNESCO’s
Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands in Paris; and
International Marine Biotechnology Conference in China; and joint
R&D initiatives like the Asian Network for Using Algae as a CO2
Sink, under Asian Pacific Phycological Association (AAPA); and
India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA), a trilateral developmental
initiative, are positive initiatives in that direction,” elaborates Dr
Even global automobile majors like Ford Motor Company, US are promoting
research on exploring algae as an alternative biofuel. The US House of
Representatives passed the Green Jobs Act of 2010. The Act offers
investment tax credits for algae-based bio-refineries. APAC countries
need algae-specific policies like this, to intensify the growth of
marine biofuel research and commercialization.
Increasing levels of pollution and depleting levels of fossil fuels are
driving the need for renewable biofuels. If marine biofuel can fulfill
the huge demand for biofuels, it is the best bet.