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September 21, 2009

Some impressively large  projects came alive in recent weeks to develop production systems of phytoplankton as a source for biodiesel. These to-be-developed technologies are a real alternative if one seeks to replace mineral oil in a sustainable way. The same kind of projects which are based on using land plants are a environmental and humanitarian disaster.

As with all bio-fuel propositions that use land plants, the main product will indeed be carbohydrates, proteins, fats and lipids which the plants synthesize; the downside is, such a classical agricultural activity consumes freshwater – without supporting an essential human need.
Even in low-lands like northern Germany, groundwater levels are decreasing, or slowly become more salty. Both are indicators, that the rate of consumption exceeds the rate of replenishment, mostly due to agricultural use. Look at the areal requirements: to replace 10% of the fuel that is used for transportation in the EU, you need 4 million ha of plants to make the required bio-fuel to meet the EU’s 2010 environmental agenda…which is exactly the area of fertile land in the combined EU that is not yet in use for agriculture….In other parts of the world, notably the most poorest countries, the plantation of palm trees aimed for the production of bio-fuel ia already taking its toll on biodiversity, ecological stability, and further depletion of drinking water.

Let’s assume that climate change is taking place (if not, the problem above still there), what might happen then? It is not that the amount of rain will decrease, but it is the volume of rain during intense showers that are likely to increase, which, at the end, leads to an increased probability that the water will not be available to replenish groundwater levels, but simply runs off on the surface into rivers and finally, the ocean.

Marine phytoplankton offers other options, without the problems shown above, and with new opportunities as well. The biomass would not only be used as a source of fuel, but also as a basic resource for complex organic compounds (aka feed and food), thereby increasing the residence time of the fixed carbon in another compartment than the atmosphere and hence, lowering atmospheric carbon levels.

In that sense, any initiative to work on phytoplankton systems (in sea water!) should be embraced as a future oriented project, with a potential to contribute to a sustainable world.

However, there are many more aspects that will become important once such new technologies develop. These are related to economy, ecology, and the development of a dignified global society.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 7, 2009 2:42 AM

    I usually don’t post on Blogs but ya forced me to, great info.. excellent! … I’ll add a backlink and bookmark your site. 🙂

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