A native species of fast-growing and non-invasive microscopic algae could produce an alternative fuel up to 10 times more productive than existing biofuels, say scientists from The University of Queensland.
Dr Evan Stephens and his research team have identified a number of algae strains that could be farmed to produce a renewable fuel that would help steer Australia away from petroleum oil dependency.
“Australia uses about 1 million barrels of petroleum oil per day, but the problem is that a substantial amount of our fuels and oils are imported and our dependence on imports is increasing rapidly,” says Evan, of the University of Queensland Institute for Molecular Bioscience.
His team created a shortlist of algae-fuel candidates by isolating and characterising hundreds of native Australia species from freshwater and saltwater environments.
According to Evan, many Australian algae species can already produce high-grade oils using existing refineries. However, these algae fuels have previously cost up to 10 times more than conventional fuel.
“While we know that we can produce algae oil that is even higher quality than standard petroleum sources, we are working to increase the efficiency of production so that we can compete with fossil fuels dollar for dollar,” he says.
Evan says the algae could be farmed on infertile marginal land, using seawater or wastewater, and that Australia’s sunny climate made it ideal for this emerging industry. The farms could also help absorb carbon dioxide from industry.