New Options for Bioenergy
by Antonio Piccolo
Recent talks have outlined the disadvantages of land based (agro-fuels) as feedstock for biofuels. This final dissertation for the MBA in Energy and Sustainable Development looks at these disadvantages and proposes an alternative scenario, i.e. the potential of aquatic alternatives. Aquatic Biofuels: New Options for Bioenergy looks at the potential of micro-algae and fish waste as feedstock for biofuel. Micro-algae come in different strains; strains differ in their composition some have more lipids/oils, others have more proteins and others yet have more carbohydrates. The chosen strain will determine what kind of biofuel can be produced or if the strain contains less lipids and more carbohydrates or proteins, the algae can produce bio-gas. Current technology in algae extraction is also covered in the report, the most advanced systems exist in the US who claim they will commercialize algae to fuel extraction in the next 3-4 years. Israel too is one of the main countries producing micro-algae; however, their main focus has always been on spirulina (high in protein) as a health supplement. Most recently Israel too has had some major developments in producing fuel from micro-algae. Fish waste (the waste from the fishing industry) has been used by fishermen for centuries; when oil prices went up, fishermen would produce their own diesel from the waste of their catch. This concept is therefore not at all new. What would be innovative would be the scale up process. There are a few companies worldwide that are producing bio-diesel from the waste of the fishing industry. These are found predominantly in developing countries, Honduras and Viet Nam, but also in Canada and the state of Alaska, USA. Bio-diesel from fish waste plants could be set up in aquaculture farms, fishing ports, or even on large fishing trawlers, to allow fishermen to economise on fuel, which is becoming an economic burden. In fact, due to this, worldwide fish prices have increased drastically in the last 5 to 10 years. It is clear at this stage that algae alone is not yet an economically viable solution to the liquid energy needs of the world. Economic viability could be achieved when science and technology will be able to give us mechanisms to improve lipid/oil extraction and improve mass production of algae. In the meantime, however, by-products from the algae cultivation and the revenue obtained from the sequestration of CO2 can make the system worthwhile. The other alternative is if we can combine the potential of micro-algae and fish waste. The Integrated Aquaculture Energy System (IAES) described in Chapter 16 combines the 2 systems i.e. algae and fish waste into one. This is a fully sustainable synergistic system that makes use of all the possible resources for energy creation. The system not only addresses fuel needs, but also food security, job creation, climate change, CO2 sequestration and treatment of waste water. Aquatic Biofuels and the IAES system offer in part a solution to the liquid fuel problem which the world will have to face in the coming decades.
About The Author
Tony Piccolo is an aquatic biofuels specialist and one of the first to support developing countries address their energy needs through the use of fish waste and algae. Having coined the term aquatic biofuels, his pioneering research led to the first paper on the subject which has been published in Biofuels International, as well as several online publications; Food Security Network (FSN), the Global BioEnergy Partnership (GBEP), and the GLOBEFISH website of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
With over 20 years experience in international development, Tony has worked in many programs within the United Nations - from the Sustainable Development department where his passion for renewable energy dawned, to the Fisheries department where his compelling presentations have generated great excitement about the promising new area of biofuels. Through his involvement in a United Nations working group, he is further garnering support to explore the topic on a global scale.