Using wastewater to grow algae: new potential biofuel could soon be sold at your nearest servo

Using wastewater to grow algae: new potential biofuel could soon be sold at your nearest servo

By Ashmeeta Subra  November 23rd, 2023

Wastewater from Isis Central Sugar Mill in Queensland will be used to produce algae that can be transformed into human food source and vehicle fuels.

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According to scientists, a biofuel option produced from algae (a cluster of photosynthetic organisms that use light, water, and carbon dioxide to grow) could be available at local petrol bowsers in the near future, allowing the public to fuel their vehicles with the algae-based biodiesel.   

The development is especially promising as unlike other biofuels algae cultivation does not compete with food crops for space during its growth. This increases its potential positive impact by allowing agricultural land to continue to be utilised for growing food. 

 "We see agricultural land being used to produce crops specifically for fuel – sugar-type crops or starch-producing crops," Queensland University of Technology Associate Professor of Biochemistry Mark Harrison told ABC news.  

The consumption of algae such as nori seaweed or algal oil in dietary supplements is becoming increasingly popular, and Dr Harrison is confident that algae will soon find its way to the fuel bowser.  

As the demand for fossil fuels including coal, oil and gas are expected to peak in the coming decade, the International Energy Agency is calling on countries to adopt clean energy technologies. Biofuels, while more a transitionary tool than an end to themselves, will be an important part of this equation. 

Soon enough, Isis Central Sugar Mill will be home to ponds that grow algae fed by the mill's wastewater. The mill's Chief Operating Officer, Craig Wood, is hopeful that the project's success would provide an effective solution for farmers to power their farm tractors using biodiesel, contributing to a reduction in regional greenhouse gases emitted by the industry. 

Mr Wood explained that the project would involve collecting carbon dioxide produced by the mill burn fibre left over from crushing cane to make electricity. Additionally, the nutrients from the wastewater would also feed the algae.  

There are also several other positive impacts the mill could derive from using algae to filter wastewater, including potential water reuse within the facility and a reduction in nutrient runoff into nearby rivers and oceans, preventing harmful algae blooms.   

Despite these benefits, Dr Harrison acknowledges the challenge in scaling up algal production to make it a viable business opportunity.  

"[The timelines] will primarily be driven, I think, by the capacity to reach sufficient scale where cost of production comes down to a point where it's competitive with existing fuels in the market." 

Mr Wood is hopeful that pond construction for algae production will begin by the end of the year, with prospects looking toward a promising project. He also suggests the potential of algae as human food source, highlighting its versatility and diversification beyond one product.  

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 

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Ashmeeta Subra

Ashmeeta has academic background in international relations and experience in the integrated marketing industry. She has always been interested in social and environmental issues, encouraged to make a positive impact in the world we live. At Planet Ark, she enjoys using her storytelling and communication skills to drive meaningful campaigns.

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