“There has been a massive increase in interest in algae as a potential feedstock for commodity markets such as biofuels, bioenergy and bulk biobased chemicals,” said lead report author Claire Smith from the NNFCC, “however, we know relatively little about what the environmental implications of the large-scale cultivation needed to satisfy these markets will be.”
Ensuring that biobased products are produced in an environmentally sustainable manner is of growing importance. The EU Renewable Energy Directive requires biofuels and bioenergy to meet stringent sustainability requirements. Likewise, companies using both bulk chemicals and higher value products increasingly recognize the importance of demonstrating environmental sustainability on consumer purchasing choices.
The Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group, a two-year initiative funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board, commissioned NNFCC to identify the potential positive and negative environmental impacts of large-scale algal production and identify the key research needs that need to be addressed to develop an environmentally sustainable, large-scale algae-based industry.
“The U.K. has world-leading research strength in algae environmental research and could become an international leader in algae sustainability thinking as it is now for terrestrial biomass,” said Smith.
Although the production of nonfood products from algae is currently at a small scale, it has considerable scope for development in the future. The report, which was produced following extensive consultation with stakeholders from academia, industry, government and research funders, identifies the most interesting and potentially sustainable markets for algae in the U.K. and the timescales by which these opportunities could be developed.
“The U.K. has a strong industrial sector that could expand its current use and development of high-value algal products, such as for the food and feed industry, personal care and nutrition, and using algae as a low-cost wastewater treatment,” said Michele Stanley, director of the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group.
While the use of algae for fuels and energy in the U.K. is considered as a longer term market opportunity, the U.K. is well placed to provide the strategic environmental research needed to underpin the sustainable development of this sector internationally.