Algae-based biofuel development gets $24M boost from US

US DOE bets big on Algae-based biofuel, issues National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap

The Department of Energy said it would invest $24 million in three research groups to tackle the challenges of bringing algae-based biofuels to market.

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According to the DOE, the basic concept of using algae as an alternative and renewable source of biomass feedstock for biofuels has been explored, but a scalable, sustainable and commercially viable system has yet to emerge.   The DOE went on to say that a great deal of research and development is still necessary to reduce risks and uncertainty associated with the algae-to-biofuels process so it can be commercialized. Other areas must be addressed as well such as regulations and standards, and public-private partnerships, the DOE stated.

In funding the research, the DOE issued a 142-page National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap that outlines the key challenges and strategies to make  algae-based fuels commonplace. 

For example, from the list of report challenges, DOE says:

  • Researchers must develop computer models of algae production facilities.
  • Researchers should establish national algae biomass production test-beds to conduct research at the pilot scale (3 - 10 acres). The test-beds would ideally be located at power plants, wastewater treatment facilities, ethanol plants or other CO2 emitting industry facilities, and agricultural drainage/water body restoration sites that also represent a range geographical locations, solar resource and climate conditions.

The three groups getting the grant are:

Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization - Led by the University of California, San Diego, this consortium will concentrate on developing algae as a robust biofuels feedstock. Tasks include investigating new approaches for algal crop protection, algal nutrient utilization and recycling, and developing genetic tools. ($9 million)

Cellana, LLC Consortium - Led by Cellana, LLC, this group will examine large-scale production of fuels and feed from microalgae grown in seawater. Tasks include integrating new algal harvesting technologies with pilot-scale cultivation test beds, and developing marine microalgae as animal feed for the aquaculture industry. ($9 million) 

Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium -- Led by Arizona State University, this consortium will focus on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-based fuels. The group will investigate biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products, and analyze physical chemistry properties of algal fuels. ($6 million)

Together, these groups  will help accelerate algal biofuels development with the objective of significantly increasing production of affordable, high-quality algal biofuels that are environmentally and economically sustainable, the DOE stated.

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