Masdar Institute Presents Experts Details on UAE’s Biofuel-from-Algae Potential

September 21, 2018

Global Biofuels Market Projected to Reach US$139 billion by 2021

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 07 March, 2013 – Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies today announced it presented details on the UAE’s growth and export potential in the biofuels-from-algae sector to a delegation of industry and academic experts.

The experts visited Masdar Institute and commended the novel research projects being undertaken at the laboratories in the sustainable campus. Currently, the Algae Research Laboratory and Microbial Environmental and Chemical Engineering Laboratory (MECEL) are undertaking research that looks into making new types of fuels that could be used for specialized high-end needs – such as aviation fuel and jet fuel.

The algae industry specialists were delegates of the AlgaeWorld MENA 2013 Conference, Seminar and Summit that was held from 25-27 in Dubai. The event, organized by the Centre for Management Technology (CMT), gathered global algae experts to analyze and assess the future growth for an algae-driven economy and seek to address the diverse complexities in geo-politics, technology and business models in the region.

Dr. Hector H. Hernandez, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering program, Masdar Institute, said: “The algae available in the UAE desert is unique because it is local to the UAE, and can stand a wide change in temperature. It can also live under high salinity ranges, one of the ‘highest’ to date of any algae species, and can be used throughout the year, offering a long harvesting season. Algae from the UAE and from deserts are a very new area of research and we are still working with industrial partners to identify the upper limit of how much algae we can grow in the UAE.”

Biofuels as a commercial venture is still in the implementation and growth phase. In the US, the size of the venture capital investment in clean technologies, of which biofuels is a large component – was US$6.576 billion or 23.1% of all venture capital investment during 2001-2012. According to a report by Clean Edge, Inc, the global biofuels market alone is projected to grow to US$139 billion by 2021.

In the biofuels-from-algae market, the UAE is uniquely positioned to make a strong impact, say industry experts. The native algae have evolved to grow under a wide range of temperatures and salinities and the production of biofuels using these strains of algae are not expected to compete with the fresh water supply or with food production in the UAE. In addition, the development of the algae-for-biofuels industry can be used to supplement the growth of the aquaculture industry in the UAE. These, and other special traits, make the UAE an ideal place to develop a world class and internationally competitive algae for biofuels industry.

In addition, algae do not depend on being grown in the ocean. In fact, in the UAE, there is the ability to use non-habitable land, such as the desert in the western region, for algae growth. As such, a properly designed and constructed algae growth facility will not have an impact in the marine ecosystem of the Arabian Gulf.

The UAE also has the potential to become a world leader in the biofuels from algae industry. Not only is there the potential for biofuels export, but the establishment of this industry in the UAE will create a unique knowledge base for algae growth that will allow the UAE to also export the necessary know-how to help implement this industry in other parts the world.

The cost of producing energy is currently projected between US$8.00 to US$20.00 per gallon of biodiesel produced from algae. But recent technologies and co-production schemes, producing nutritionals, pharmaceuticals, and high-value chemical projects, along with novel growth production schemes are making the overall cost of producing biofuels from algae a profitable venture. Profitable production schemes are expected to come online in the next 3 to 4 years.

In the recent years, there has been a large push to establish a biofuels-from-algae industry in many places. The first places that started the use of algae for biofuels were the US, EU and Australia. Recently, China, India and the Far East have begun to make large investments in the biofuels market to help meet their ever increasing energy needs. These countries are expected to double their capacity of biofuels production and use in the next decade.

During the AlgaeWorld MENA Summit, Dr Hector H. Hernandez offered a presentation on ‘Isolation and characterization of microalgae strains from the UAE for biofuels and other high value chemicals’, while Dr. Robert M. Baldwin, also from Masdar Institute, highlighted ‘Co-Production of Biofuels and Value-Added By-products from Algae’.

Serving as a key pillar of innovation and human capital, Masdar Institute remains fundamental to Masdar’s core objectives of developing Abu Dhabi’s knowledge economy and finding solutions to humanity’s toughest challenges such as climate change.

Established as an on-going collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Masdar Institute integrates theory and practice to incubate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, working to develop the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow.  With its world-class faculty and top-tier students, the Institute is committed to finding solutions to the challenges of clean energy and climate change through education and research.