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Earth's Future





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Society has set ambitious targets for stabilizing mean global temperature. To attain these targets, it will have to reduce CO2 emissions to near zero by mid-century and subsequently remove CO2 from the atmosphere during the latter half of the century. There is a recognized need to develop technologies for CO2 removal; however, attempts to develop direct air-capture systems have faced both energetic and financial constraints. Recently, BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) has emerged as a leading candidate for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. However, BECCS can have negative consequences on land, nutrient, and water use as well as biodiversity and food production. Here, we describe an alternative approach based on the large-scale industrial production of marine microalgae. When cultivated with proper attention to power, carbon, and nutrient sources, microalgae can be processed to produce a variety of biopetroleum products, including carbon-neutral biofuels for the transportation sector and long-lived, potentially carbon-negative construction materials for the built environment. In addition to these direct roles in mitigating and potentially reversing the effects of fossil CO2 emissions, microalgae can also play an important indirect role. As microalgae exhibit much higher primary production rates than terrestrial plants, they require much less land area to produce an equivalent amount of bioenergy and/or food. On a global scale, the avoided emissions resulting from displacement of conventional agriculture may exceed the benefits of microalgae biofuels in achieving the climate stabilization goals.


© 2017 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.