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October 26, 2012

National Academies Releases Report on Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels

Lynn L. Bergeson

On October 24, 2012, the National Academies released a report entitled Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels, which was produced at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). According to the report, biofuels made from algae could provide a domestic source of renewable fuel, but with current technologies, increasing production of algal biofuels to meet five percent of U.S. transportation fuel needs could “create unsustainable demands for energy, water, and nutrient resources.” While algal biofuels have the potential to improve the sustainability of the transportation sector, their potential is not yet realized and additional innovations requiring research and development are necessary to achieve the full potential. The report recommends that the environmental, economic, and social effects of algal biofuel production and use be compared with those of petroleum-based fuels and other fuel alternatives to determine whether algal biofuels contribute to improving sustainability. The report states that such comparison will be possible “only if thorough assessments of each step in the various pathways for algal biofuel production are conducted.”