Background: The development of alternative pathways for sustainable fuel production is a crucial task for politics, industry and research, since the current use of fossil fuels contributes to resource depletion and climate change. Microalgae are a promising option, but the technology readiness level (TRL) is low and cannot compete economically with fossil fuels. Novel genetic engineering technologies are being investigated to improve productivity and reduce the cost of harvesting products extracted from or excreted by microalgae for fuel production. However, high resource efficiency and low costs alone are no guarantee that algae fuels will find their way into the market. Technologies must be accepted by the public to become valuable for society. Despite strong efforts in algae research and development, as well as political commitments at different scales to promote algae biofuels for transport sectors, little is known about public acceptance of this alternative transport fuel. Despite the advantages of algae technology, genetically engineered (GE) microalgae can be controversial in Europe due to risk perception. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate, for the first time, the knowledge and views of European experts and stakeholders on the conditions and requirements for acceptability of GE microalgae for next generation biofuel production. ... mehr
Results: The results of the survey-based study indicate that the majority of the respondents believe that GE algae biofuels could provide strong benefits compared to other fuels. The majority would choose to be final consumers of engineered algae biofuels, if there is clear evidence of their benefits and open communication of potential risks. They believe that closed production systems with high security standards and rigorous risk assessment should be applied to avoid unintended impacts on humans and nature. Some respondents, however, are not convinced about the need to alter natural occurring algae strains to increase productivity, arguing that there is a huge unexplored variety, and that the consequences of using genome editing are still unknown.
Conclusions: This evaluation of the opinions held by European experts and stakeholders regarding GE algae biofuels provides valuable and differentiated insights, both for future research and for the development of feasible socio-technical algae systems for next generation biofuel production. The identified conditions and requirements for achieving public acceptability can support the (re-)design of this innovative technology and adaptation of the framework conditions towards the implementation of algae biofuels in Europe.