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Large scale algae cultivation - Considerations for Ecosystem services

Category: feedstocks,bioenergy,biobased,biofuels
Published: 01/02/2012
Author: NNFCC
Research Needs in Ecosystem Services to Support Algal Biofuels, Bioenergy and Commodity Chemicals Production in the UK

Accessibility: This item is available to all NNFCC subscribers or through individual purchase

This thirty-eight page report outlines the research needed to sustainably produce bioenergy, biofuels and biochemicals from algae in the UK. This report (NNFCC 12-008) was written for the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group (AB-SIG).


Recently, there has been considerable interest surrounding the use of algae for commodity products such as biofuels, bioenergy and commodity chemicals.

Products from micro and macroalgae have applications in a wide range of existing markets. Both algal forms may provide low value, high volume products such as livestock feeds, as well as high value, low volume speciality chemicals such as carotenoids and omega oils. Such speciality chemicals have a range of applications including use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and nutrition. Algae can also be used for bioremediation, for example in wastewater clean-up.
While there has been a large amount of research focusing on improving the economic sustainability of algal production and use, environmental sustainability, including impacts on ecosystem services such as biodiversity, water, soil and air quality associated with the production of algal commodity products, has received considerably less attention.

This report examines UK capabilities in this area, identifies current and future market dynamics and the potential environmental consequences of commercial algal projects. The report focuses on the implications of producing large scale commercial products and merges opinions from microalgae and macroalgae stakeholders, covering different cultivation, processing and conversion technologies including thermochemical and fermentation based approaches.

Four market opportunities which the UK could exploit have been identified. In order to develop these markets, it will be vital that impacts on ecosystem services, i.e., air, water, soil, sand and biodiversity are considered. The four market opportunities are:

  • The near shore cultivation of macroalgae for bioenergy
  • The offshore cultivation of macroalgae for commodity chemicals
  • The heterotrophic conversion of sugars by microalgae to fuels
  • Using microalgae and bacteria from biofilms for wastewater treatment and biofuels production

There is an increasing emphasis on ensuring that bio-based products do not have negative effects on the natural environment, and as such, it is crucial that any issues surrounding the environmental impacts of biofuels, bioenergy and commodity chemicals production are addressed prior to the commercialisation of products.


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