Energy-water nexus for mass cultivation of algae

  • Murphy C
  • Allen D
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Microalgae are currently considered a potential feedstock for the production of biofuels. This work addresses the energy needed to manage the water used in the mass cultivation of saline, eukaryotic algae grown in open pond systems. Estimates of both direct and upstream energy requirements for obtaining, containing, and circulating water within algae cultivation systems are developed. Potential productivities are calculated for each of the 48 states within the continental U.S. based on theoretical photosynthetic efficiencies, growing season, and total available land area. Energy output in the form of algal biodiesel and the total energy content of algal biomass are compared to energy inputs required for water management. The analysis indicates that, for current technologies, energy required for water management alone is approximately seven times greater than energy output in the form of biodiesel and more than double that contained within the entire algal biomass. While this analysis addresses only currently identified species grown in an open-pond system, the water management requirements of any algae system will be substantial; therefore, it is critical that an energy assessment of water management requirements be performed for any cultivation technology and algal type in order to fully understand the energy balance of algae-derived biofuels.

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  • Cynthia Folsom Murphy

  • David T. Allen

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