The data used in Clarens' study came from previously published work about algae growth demonstrations since the 1980s, he said.
Engineering a way out
Clarens is offering a potential solution to the fertilizer problem: Place algae ponds near wastewater streams to recycle the nutrients.
"Our idea here was to model three different wastewater streams to see if we could offset" the fertilizer needs, Clarens said.
His team is continuing work in that area, setting up demonstration projects in the lab to test how well algae can grow using nutrients from wastewater. They are also exploring the financial and regulatory conditions necessary to make an algae industry viable.
One area in which algae perform better, environmentally, than other feedstocks is land use, Clarens said.
"Some people out there would argue that's the one resource we're never going to be able to do anything about," he said. "We have finite room on this planet."
Clarens' team found algae produce four to five times more biomass energy per hectare than conventional crops.
"You can argue that everything else, if we put our heads together, we can improve on. Maybe this is the justification," Clarens said. "Assuming there's a situation where the economics line up, there's possibly a way to engineer our way around other things with clever science and find a way to make it happen."
"It seems on that level at least that there's some hope," he added.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500