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Institute of Advanced Study

IAS/St Mary's College Fellow's Public Lecture

Speaker: Mr Meredith Lloyd-Evans

Date: 15 November 2011

Time: 8.30pm

Venue: St Mary's College

Title: Algal Biofuels - fact and fantasy

Algal biofuels are increasingly touted as a miracle cure for oil-dependence, especially for military and jet fuels. Much of the enthusiasm surrounding the topic is understandably related to gaining R&D grants and business investments for scale-up, demonstration and commercial success.   US and other venture-capital funded companies already report that they have produced enough litres of jet fuels from algal oils for real-life tests to take place. Algae, large and small, are claimed not to conflict with food and land for crops and people. Opposing arguments suggest that the carbon balance and the economics of algal culture may not be as good as they appear at first glance or that the water-volumes needed to cultivate enough seaweeds or microalgae are prohibitive. On the other hand, there is encouraging evidence that algae, by absorbing waste carbon and nitrogen oxides, could reduce the impact of these greenhouse gases on climate change and provide a means for making each molecule of carbon work much harder, thus sparing fossil fuels, as well as being an excellent method of bioremediating polluted and marginal waters, possibly helping reduce fears of "water wars". People are beginning to talk of algal biorefineries, to compete with oil refineries in terms of the fuels and interesting chemicals that could be produced, and point out that the leftovers from such fractionation can either themselves be processed for their energy content, or could be used as a feed component for animals, fish or even humans. Is this the dawn of the algal age?  Mr Meredith Lloyd-Evans will present some of the factual information we have so far on this topic, discuss some of the fantasy that is accumulating about algae and energy, and try to help the audience decide where the real excitement may lie. 

Mr Meredith Lloyd-Evans is an IAS Policy and Enterprise Fellow at St Mary's College and is working with the Biofuels, Science and Society team at Durham University between October and December 2011.