U.S. predicted to become top producer of algae by 2020, here’s why

by Melissa Jones


An algae bloom in Mississippi demonstrates an area set to equip broad-scale algae growth. Land and water resources throughout the U.S. could support the growth of enough algae to produce upwards of 25-billion gallons of renewable biodiesel a year, that’s one-twelfth of domestic annual need.

More than a century ago, scientific discovery revealed the significant value of algae as a sustainable resource that could potentially change how the world is fueled.

Today, algae is poised to remain a major player in the fuel industry and beyond, especially here in the United States.

Research shows how natural resources within the United States could provide 25-billion gallons of renewable biodiesel a year, which is enough to fulfill domestic need for an entire month.

Such studies continue to spur on new algae discovery, but funding to meet such targets hasn’t always been as plentiful and thriving as algae itself – until now.

In the late ‘90s, lower oil prices froze algae production efforts. Today, however, researchers have demonstrated that oil based on algae have the potential to replace a large portion of oil imports, which, in turn, has caught the eye of the White House and has further expanded funding streams.

Current demand for sustainable fuel alternatives has set the stage for an explosive growth in algae biomass that’s expected throughout the next 10 years, with U.S. and European markets expected to remain on the forefront of production, according to the report Algae 2020, by Emerging Markets Online, a market research firm.

Even better is the fact that the cultivation of algae is sustainable. It can be produced in large quantities without compromising food supplies, rainforests or arable land. This fact allows for its use as an in-demand viable source of feedstock to biorefineries for biodiesel, ethanol and aviation fuels.

Further research is needed to ensure algae developments do not harm water supplies. The ability for algae to grow in a multitude of sources, such as fresh or salty groundwater and seawater, could help off-set such issues. Still, there is some lingering environmental concern, especially in areas challenged with drought. These challenges are expected to give rise to regulations similar to those that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has for power plant water usage, according to the Department of Energy.

In addition to the wide range of sustainable opportunities, the U.S.-based Algal Biomass Organization recently shared the top 10 reasons algae will continue to grow as a leading U.S. resource:

1.    Growth rate
2.    Higher biofuel yields
3.    Carbon dioxide consumption
4.    Sustainable cultivation
5.    Growth in seawater
6.    Microalgae biomass usefulness
7.    Energy source
8.    Water purification
9.    Product innovation
10.  Job creation

The U.S. government remains committed to its algae production efforts and continues to work with such industry leaders as Stephen Mayfield, a UC San Diego professor and director of California Center for Algae Biotechnology.


Raceway ponds in southern California become host to algae, set to flourish as an alternative biofuel to replace imported oil. (Department of Energy photo)

Mayfield collaborated with UC San Diego Extension to develop the recently launched Algae Biotechnology Science certificate. The program trains professionals to take on field and laboratory roles in the algae biotechnology and biomass production industry. Courses offered aim to provide hands-on technical knowledge and experience in laboratory techniques used in biomanufacturing processes, analysis and quality controls.  Applications are now being accepted for the 2016 program.

For additional certificate opportunities offered within the sciences area of study, visit extension.ucsd.edu/sciences. To learn more, contact Angeline Yang at (858) 534-9351 or email avyang@ucsd.edu.


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