BOX 1-1
Statement of Task

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 is sparse. Therefore, it is premature for the committee to conduct generalized economic analyses of algal biofuels.

The committee 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; 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. Are there preferred cost and benefit analyses that could best aid in the decision-making process, and could those decisions be performance based and technology neutral?

outset might exacerbate the sustainability issues for future generations and make it difficult for an industry to successfully scale-up (Azapagic and Perdan, 2000).

At the request of DOE-EERE’s OBP, the National Research Council (NRC) appointed an independent committee to examine the sustainable development of algal biofuels. (See Appendix A for committee membership.) The purpose of this study is to identify and anticipate sustainability concerns associated with large-scale deployment of algal biofuels, discuss potential mitigation strategies, and suggest indicators and metrics that could be used and data that could be collected to evaluate sustainability across the biofuel supply chain to monitor progress as the industry develops (Box 1-1).


1.2.1 Defining Sustainable Development

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987). Most definitions of sustainability include and integrate an economic, an

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