Microalgae biofuels: some potential - many reservations

University essay from Lunds universitet/Internationella miljöinstitutet

Abstract: Achieving climate policy goals and addressing the challenges of energy security requires very significant efforts from many private and public actors to bring immature technologies to competitiveness. Algae-based biofuel production is an emerging industrial sector that has great promise with regards to many sustainability aspects but faces many challenges in order to attain any meaningful market potential. This thesis seeks to provide deeper understanding of various aspects, such as technico-economical, political and social elements, that constrain the progression of algal biofuels based on a realistic view of this industry. The approach taken uses a theoretical framework for mapping industrial emergence that focuses on the early development phases of the industrial lifecycle and provides a market-based structure to the work. The analysis discusses the policy framework structure and concerns as well as the obstacles related to issues of standardization obstacles. The attitude of incumbent industrial systems in the biofuel sector is investigated as there are both limiting forces and positive externalities emanating from competitors. The analysis examines the technological advancements that act as market push but are limited by many challenges that R&D still seeks to overcome, and further explores the deep need for public/private investment money and for new investors. Findings also underline the problematic issue of communication challenges that face the industry as it seeks to strategically build legitimacy and acceptance for both the investing world and the public. While the work highlights the nature of the economic predicament that algae biofuel currently faces, it also examines the role the already viable options, such as production regimes that focus on high-value products, which can be harnessed to offer learning opportunities and industrial experience for the algae sector. The concluding portions of the work reflect on those findings and on multiple possibilities that algae offer in terms of energy carriers for the transport sector.

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