Algae was first discovered as a fuel alternative in 1978 under the leadership of US president Jimmy Carter at a time when fuel prices were high, demand was high, and supply was low and depleting at the same time, the costs of exploring fuel fields and carrying out oil refining procedures were exorbitantly high and continued to skyrocket. Algae biofuel is an alternative fossil fuel that uses algae to generate Biodiesel, Biobutanol, Bio gasoline, methane, ethanol, hydrogen derived renewable fuel and jet fuel. Half of algae’s composition by weight is a lipid oil. This has been targeted to convert it into bio diesel that will burn more efficiently than the conventional petroleum.
A new concept of alga culture has come up to produce bio fuels. Algae costs more per unit than other bio fuel crops but is claimed to yield 10 to 100 times more fuel per unit area. In 2014, the prices of oil were between US $ 56 to US $ 120 per barrel. The cost of producing micro algal biomass in 2014 was US $ 2.95/kg through photo bioreactors. If the annual biomass production capacity is increased to 1000 tons then the cost will reduce to US $ 1.5/kg for a litre of crude oil. The extraction of biofuels from algae is largely dependent on organic solvents such as benzene. The companies that are working on innovating algal biofuel technology are Algenol Biofuels Inc., Blue Marble Productions, Solazyme Inc., Sapphire Energy Inc., Diversified Technologies Inc., Origin Oils Inc., Proviron Industries nv, Oilgae and Genifuel Corporation.
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Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is estimated to achieve 1.6% of the world GDP according to the World Bank. The GCC crude oil production in 2020 is forecasted to be approximately 24 million barrel/day. Although GCC countries are the leaders in fossil fuel production, but are taking initiatives for large scale production of renewable sources of energy.
Algae biofuels presents a great opportunity to compensate the environmental impact of the oil and gas industries in the GCC. GCC has a wide coastline that stretches across its countries and is ideal for algae production. The carbon dioxide emissions from oil and power refineries can be effectively utilized and the climate is also favourable for algae cultivation. The waste water treatment plants are also a vital source of algae. Bio fuel is likely to be an addition to the energy mix of GCC countries in the foreseeable future, rather than a competitor to petroleum based oil. This scenario in GCC will be a reality in the long run if the technology required for it, for instance, photo bioreactors becomes a feasible option.
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The US Government strongly backs the research on bio fuels and is pledged to invest US $ 24 million to commercialize algae based biofuels. Several Governments now have started funding initiatives to make biofuel commercially available for satisfying the future wants of the world and it will impact GCC positively. The world needs a new form of fuel that is clean, sustainable, environment friendly, renewable and cheap. Bio fuels is likely to be a success story and an economically accessible alternative that will save it from the energy crisis.
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