A report in Greentech Media provides some sobering figures about algal biofuel:
Algae biofuel startup Solix, for instance, can produce biofuel from algae right now, but it costs about $32.81 a gallon, said Bryan Wilson, a co-founder of the company and a professor at Colorado State University. The production cost is high because of the energy required to circulate gases and other materials inside the photo bioreactors where the algae grow.
Exploiting waste heat at adjacent facilities may enable the price to go as low as $5.50 a gallon; but this is still equivalent to oil at $150 a barrel.
Hat tip to Robert Rapier, who says the “biggest warning signal” in Wilson’s comments is the cost associated with energy.
This suggests a very poor energy return, which means that as oil prices rise, algae won’t necessarily become more viable. It will be subject to the Law of Receding Horizons, which simply means that energy sources that require high energy inputs will always see their point of economic viability pushed farther out as energy prices rise.
It may not be as bad as all that, however – Solix is also pursuing cost reductions through extraction techniques “that the company hasn’t discussed yet”, and Wilson also says other products produced from the techniques could bring revenue. Ultimately, he says, algae could be a much higher-yielding biofuel feedstock than soy or jatropha.