The committee is tasked to examine the promise of sustainable development of algal biofuels, identify potential concerns and unforeseen sustainability challenges and unintended consequences for a range of approaches to algal biofuel production, explore ways to address those challenges, and suggest appropriate indicators and metrics that can inform future assessments of environmental performance and social acceptance associated with sustainability. Although economics is an important aspect of sustainability, the study will not assess costs of algal biofuels. Algal biofuel production approaches and technical systems are still emerging, and facilities have not reached commercial scale. Public data on the economics of algal biofuel production are sparse. Therefore, it is premature for the committee to conduct generalized economic analyses of algal biofuels.
The study will:
• Identify the potential sustainability concerns for commercial production (including larger centralized and smaller distributed facilities) of algal biofuels associated with a selected number of different pathways of biomass production and conversion. Potential concerns to be addressed could include the availability and use of land, water, and nutrient resources; human health and safety associated with feedstock cultivation and processing; potential toxicity associated with algal metabolites and their adverse impacts on downstream coproducts; use of genetically modified organisms; and other impacts that are of social and environmental concern.
• Identify information or data gaps related to the impacts of algal biofuel production.
• Suggest indicators and metrics to be used to assess sustainability concerns across the algal biofuel supply chain and data to be collected now to establish baseline and to assess sustainability. Identify indicators that are most critical to address or have the greatest potential for improvement through DOE intervention. This input will inform DOE EERE-OBP’s broader analysis of biofuels and bioenergy sustainability.
• Using selected approaches as illustrations, discuss whether any, or combinations of, the identified challenges could present major sustainability concerns. Identify preferred cost-and-benefit analyses that could best aid in the decision-making process, and discuss whether those decisions could be performance based and technology neutral.
The committee will conduct a review of published literature on assessing environmental sustainability of algal biofuel production. If available published literature is insufficient to satisfy the study requirements, the committee will solicit information from federal and state agencies, environmental groups, companies, and other organizations involved in research and development and implementation of science and technology, systems, and processes for production of algal biofuels and feedstocks to get an idea of ongoing and planned research on related environmental sustainability. The committee will write a report addressing its statement of task and supporting its conclusions and recommendations.