My topic for the major assignment was “Biofuels and the advantages and disadvantages of algae as potential sources of biofuel”.
Nowadays, a dramatic increase use of fossil fuel, specifically crude oil to produce petrol is alerting. It faces too many issues such as the depletion of resources meaning more competition across nations which can lead to war, the climbing of prices on fuel makes it much harder to pay the bills and maintaining basic lifestyle; global warming, climate change and our fear of facing disasters (Sustainable Build 2017) As a result, scientists have been working so hard to find alternatives with a hope to make the world better in terms of energy sustainability, quality of life and environmental friendliness. For example, the use of solar power, wind or micro-organism such as algae. The most significant advantage of using these materials is because they are renewable. Unlike fossil fuels where the historic fossil can be used up, these resources are more sustainable so that it solves the problem of pricing and the economy behind it. However, it is also important to discuss the challenges using algae in biofuel such as whether the change in using land to grow algae affects biodiversity and food chain; what happen when algae is genetically modified and expose to human? (Marc, Y.M. 2012) These questions need to be addressed carefully before the commercialisation of producing biofuel from algae.
Figure 1. Can algae be possibly and efficiently converted into fuel to be used in future energy and running the world’s transportation? (US Green Technology, 2012)
The cost of harvesting algae is significantly high due to their very small in size and low densities in growth media (Powell and Hill, 2013) This issue can be addressed by using the process called biocoagulation by adding specific bacteria or fungi (Taylot et al., 2012) Specific bacteria have been found to act as an agent that help algae coagulate and make it much more economic to harvest. An interesting finding from Rodolfi et al., 2003 suggests that due to the connection between cell walls of E. coli and algae species C. zofingiensis that causing the acceleration in biocogulation. Nevertheless, above studies did not mention about any effects caused if there was human exposure to the biofuel made from these algae harvested. Whether or not the involving of bacteria inducing any changes in byproduct when using these fuels and that might cause any allergic reactions to consumers?
Figure 2. The demonstration of biocoagulation in algae by introducing bacteria to the growth media (Michael, A. et al, 2014)
Despite a number of benefits that biofuel generates, there are risks associated with human health to be considered. Different algae species will possess certain limitations such as the amount of energy produced, growth rate and stability. This will be addressed by the technique called recombinant DNA or genetically modified organisms (GMO) where good traits are given to the species leading to an optimal and efficient production (Marc, Y.M. 2012) However, the question is whether GMO algae and future diverse range of “new” algae will disrupt the ecosystem as the waste products of biofuels and their chemical reactions are so unpredictable. Also, by creating and cloning new species, especially different companies have different methods to approach it, we are stressing algae’s ecosystem that might cause serious consequences.
In my opinion, it is excited that science is developing such a great alternative to fossil fuel that can solve many dramatic environmental problems. However, more studies are urgently needed to carefully evaluated whether or not this biofuel produce a healthy environment to human exposure, especially when several techniques were to be added to improve the efficiency.
James, M.W., 2017 “The Problem with Fossil Fuels” Sustainable Build, < http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/problemsfossilfuels.html>
Marc, Y.M., 2012 “An Overview of Algae Biofuel Production and Potential Environmental Impact”, Environmental Science & Technology
Powell, R.J. & Hill, R.T 2013 “Rapid Aggregation of Biofuel-producing Algae by the Bacterium Bacillius sp. Strain” Appl. Environ. Microbiol. Pp. 6093-6101
Taylor, R.L. et al., 2012 “Treatment with Algae Extracts Promotes Flocculation, and Enhances Growth and Neutral Lipid Content in Nannochloropsis Oculata – A Candidate for Biofuel Production” Mar. Biotechnol, pp. 774-781
Rodolfi, L. et al., 2003 “Growth Medium Recycling in Nannochloropsis sp. Mass Cultivation” Biomol. Eng., pp. 243-248
Michael, A. et al., 2014 “Algae Harvesting for Biofuel Production: Influences of UV Irradiation and Polyethylenimine (PEI) Coating on Bacterial Biocoagulation” Biore. Tech., pp. 266-272
Alyssa, C. 2012 “Can Algae Prove To Be The Uber Green Fuel of The Future” US Green Technology <http://usgreentechnology.com/can-algae-prove-to-be-the-uber-green-fuel-of-the-future/>