For analyzing sustainability of algal biofuels, we identify 16 environmental indicators that fall into six categories: soil quality, water quality and quantity, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, and productivity. Indicators are selected to be practical, widely applicable, predictable in response, anticipatory of future changes, independent of scale, and responsive to management. Major differences between algae and terrestrial plant feedstocks, as well as their supply chains for biofuel, are highlighted, for they influence the choice of appropriate sustainability indicators. Algae strain selection characteristics do not generally affect which indicators are selected. The use of water instead of soil as the growth medium for algae determines the higher priority of water- over soil-related indicators. The proposed set of environmental indicators provides an initial checklist for measures of algal biofuel sustainability but may need to be modified for particular contexts depending on data availability, goals of stakeholders, and financial constraints. Use of these indicators entails defining sustainability goals and targets in relation to stakeholder values in a particular context and can lead to improved management practices.
Indicators are needed to assess environmental sustainability of bioenergy systems. Effective indicators
will help in the quantification of benefits and costs of bioenergy options and resource uses. We identify
19 measurable indicators for soil quality, water quality and quantity, greenhouse gases, biodiversity, air
quality, and productivity, building on existing knowledge and on national and international programs
that are seeking ways to assess sustainable bioenergy. Together, this suite of indicators is hypothesized
to reflect major environmental effects of diverse feedstocks, management practices, and post-production
processes. The importance of each indicator is identified. Future research relating to this indicator suite is
discussed, including field testing, target establishment, and application to particular bioenergy systems.
Coupled with such efforts, we envision that this indicator suite can serve as a basis for the practical
evaluation of environmental sustainability in a variety of bioenergy systems.