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In the midst of a global food crisis, the late 2000s saw tensions between rising food prices and demands for biofuels coalesce into a “food versus fuel” debate. In response to ensuing public outcries, governmental agencies, and researchers across the globe began mobilizing around alternative biofuel feedstock. Among these materials, algae emerged as the most “hopeful” sustainable alternative in producing biofuels. This article examines algal biofuel production systems designed offshore and integrated with wastewater treatment and carbon dioxide absorption processes to revitalize faith in biofuels in the blue economy. It discusses what makes algal biofuels sustainable by examining the ways practitioners talk about and design these integrated systems. Against the common refrain that algae’s photosynthetic and reproductive capacity makes these systems sustainable, this article underlines that there is nothing natural, innate, about algae to add to sustainable blue economies. Rather, algae become naturalized as biofuel source and bioremediation technologies through technoscientific discourses and interventions, which embed and reproduce anthropocentric approach to sustainability that centers on the ideology of growth. By drawing particular attention to the ways that integrated algal biofuel production systems depend on the constant generation of industrial waste, this article problematizes anthropocentric sustainability imaginaries and claims for imagining sustainability otherwise through the lens of blue degrowth to create a radical socio-ecological change.

Sustainability Science, vol. 15, 2020