Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

How to Feed and Fuel the World

By Stephen Luntz

Dr Kirsten Heimann is using her intimate knowledge of algae to develop them as viable biofuels and animal feeds.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

When first invited to work on microalgae, Dr Kirsten Heimann of James Cook University responded “under no circumstances”. Her change of mind has led to a research project that could be a game-changer in the battle against both global warming and global hunger.

Heimann is feeding microalgae a combination of wastewater and carbon dioxide, and turning the resulting growth into a mix of animal feed and biofuel, with some human food on the side. By the end of this year a 1 ha prototype will be operating using flue gas from the Tarong power station near Kingaroy in Queensland.

The idea of using algae to produce biofuel is not new. The oil shock of the early 1970s promoted considerable investment in mimicking the natural process of oil formation. However, Heimann says: “The interest then was purely about oil, and when oil prices went down the money was pulled out. Now we are living in a carbon-constrained world and may have reached peak oil, or will reach it by 2030.

“The world population is rising and so is energy demand. We need to find ways to address this.” Unlike other sources of biofuel, algae don’t compete with food crops or biodiversity for land. Heimann’s species can be grown in tanks on non-arable land around power stations.

Despite their potential, algae have floundered as a biofuel because the processes were too expensive. The first “...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.