• Print version

Greek gift

13/11/2012

Use of unproductive agricultural land in Greece to produce algae for biofuel could benefit the Greek economy by more than €1 billion annually, and could support more than 5,000 jobs, according to a business plan developed by two Greek entrepreneurs.

John Antoniadis and Takis Panagiotopoulos won a $100,000 prize from the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce earlier this year for the idea. The prize was handed out for the best “Alternative Agriculture” proposal in a competition around the theme of “Making Innovation Work: Make Greece More Competitive”.

The plan would see the establishment of a system of open ponds in which algae would grow. The algae would be harvested and dried on site and converted into biomass pellets. The system could be adapted to areas of poor quality agricultural land, and provide income for struggling farmers. Cultivation of the algae, and production of the biomass pellets, could continue year round.

The system would be well-suited to Europe's Mediterranean countries, because algae thrive in high-sunlight areas. Plentiful sunlight would also mean that the energy needed to produce the end product could be derived from solar power.

The use of renewable energy could overcome one of the main objections to algal biofuel: the high energy requirement. An October 24 report published by the United States National Research Council found that large-scale development of algal biofuel would require large amounts of energy and fertiliser, and could be unsustainable unless improvements are made to algal strains and processing techniques. However, algae require less land than other feedstocks for biofuel, such as corn, and can in principle be produced using waste water. Algae also absorb carbon dioxide as it grows, though it releases it again when it is combusted.

The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce said that the plan put forward by Antoniadis and Panagiotopoulos showed that algal biofuel could offer an “extremely high return on investment while being fully compatible with Europe’s long-term sustainable development strategy”. European industry, such as steelmakers, would be able to use the algae biomass pellets immediately in place of fossil fuels without changing their production facilities, the chamber said. John Antoniadis said that the plan could make algal biofuel more viable because it is lower cost than current schemes.

The Greek entrepreneurs' idea is yet to be put into practice. Antoniadis said “we're trying to implement the project and step by step its moving ahead”. However, he said that it was “very premature” to talk about the establishment of algae facilities based on the plan.