Greek Entrepreneurs to Cultivate Algae for Biofuel
A duo of Greek entrepreneurs recently unveiled its plans to commercially produce algae biomass for use as an alternative industrial fuel.
Mr. Antoniadis receiving the first prize check at the Make Innovation Work awards ceremony
The idea—a pioneering effort in Greece—claimed first prize for Alternative Agriculture in the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce’s “Making Innovation Work: Make Greece More Competitive” contest earlier this year.
According to project developers John Antoniadis and Takis Panagiotopoulos, the production of algae would add a new, innovative product to the roster of Greek exportable products and could have tremendous implications for Greece’s economy. Initial estimates indicate that algae biofuels could eventually contribute more than €1 billion in revenues per year and support more than 5,000 full time employment opportunities. It could also provide a shot in the arm for the country’s agricultural sector, allowing farmers to easily shift from increasingly uncompetitive cash crops to producing a high-value, highly demanded biofuel product.
Algae stand apart from the majority of biofuels as a high-yield, low-cost, simple-to-implement technology. The necessary project infrastructure requires only a system of open ponds to grow the algae and an on-site harvesting and drying system used to create biomass pellets.
As a crop, algae are remarkably efficient. They can be cultivated on land that is arid and of low agricultural productivity. Biomass production can therefore be quickly and cost-effectively adapted to marginal lands that are unsuited for regular crops—without impacting the country’s overall crop mix.
Algae are also non-seasonal crops, meaning that production can continue all year, independent of weather fluctuations. At the same time, algae grow twenty to thirty times faster than traditional food crops, allowing for harvesting every 1-10 days. As a result, algae offer the highest productivity per hectare of any biofuel on the market today. In addition, algae thrive in areas of high sunlight, making Greece an ideal global center for algae cultivation.
Mr. Antoniadis and Mr. Panagiotopoulos also note that algae are one of the most environmentally friendly biofuel solutions on the market today. The cultivation of algae produces zero emissions and zero environmental by-products. Quite the contrary, algae actually clean the environment by taking CO2 from the air as part of their growth process. In addition, all necessary energy for the cultivation process can be obtained through green energy solutions, namely photovoltaic panels and use of the algae itself. Therefore, as an energy source, algae offers extremely high return on investment while being fully compatible with Europe’s long-term sustainable development strategy.
Without a doubt, there are economic dividends to be found in this environmental friendliness. With strict CO2 allowances coming into effect for European firms in 2013, the project developers believe that algae can play an increasing role in meeting the energy needs of Europe’s heavy industry. The team plans to market their high-caloric algae biomass to international cement, power and steel producers as a price-competitive and environmentally friendly alternative to coal and lignite. Critically, the use of algae biomass pellets requires no conversion or additional investment in existing production lines, meaning that Europe’s heavy industries could immediately substitute in algae biofuels and begin lowering their carbon footprint.
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