For several years now, algae has been known to have huge potential as a feedstock for biofuels because it can yield up to 100 times as much fuel per acre than conventional sources like corn and soy. The problem is that no one has had much success commercializing production in a financially viable way.
To help spur things along, the United States Department of Energy has announced three grants totaling $24 million to consortia working on various aspects of algae cultivation and fuel production. A team led by Arizona State University is getting $6 million to investigate the use of algae biofuels, while a team from University of California, San Diego is getting $9 million to work on the algae itself, including the development of strains that are suitable for cultivation and use as a feedstock. The final $9 million is going to a group led by Cellana, LLC to develop large-scale production processes.
[Source: U.S. Department of Energy]
Department of Energy Announces $24 Million for Algal Biofuels Research
June 28, 2010
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today the investment of up to $24 million for three research groups to tackle key hurdles in the commercialization of algae-based biofuels. The selections will support the development of a clean, sustainable transportation sector-a goal of the Department's continued effort to spur the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs. Developing cost-effective renewable transportation fuels is a key component of the Administration's strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and move the nation toward energy independence.
"Partnerships such as these focus the creative powers of the public, private, and academic sectors on key challenges facing the development of renewable energy for transportation," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi. "The United States must find effective ways to hasten the development of technologies for advanced biofuels made from algae and other renewable resources to reduce our need for foreign sources of oil." Zoi made the announcement while speaking today at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2010 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.
The consortia consist of partners from academia, national laboratories, and private industries that are based across the country, broadening the geographic range and technical expertise of DOE partners in the area of algal biofuels. Projects are expected to continue for a period of three years. Together, they represent a diversified portfolio that 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 three consortia selected for funding are:
Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium (Mesa, Arizona): Led by Arizona State University, this consortium will focus on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-based fuels. Tasks include investigating biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products, and analyzing physical chemistry properties of algal fuels and fuel intermediates. (DOE share: up to $6 million)
Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization (San Diego, California): 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. (DOE funding: up to $9 million)
Cellana, LLC Consortium (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii): Led by Cellana, LLC, this consortium 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. (DOE funding: up to $9 million)
National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap
Despite algae's potential, many technical and economic challenges must be overcome for algal biofuels to be commercialized. To identify these hurdles and guide research and development activities, DOE convened the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap Workshop, bringing together more than 200 experts and stakeholders from across the country. The Department synthesized workshop results and released a draft report for public comment in June 2009. The final National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap released today reflects the substantive comments received and is intended to guide future work and investments in algal biofuels. Under the Recovery Act, the Department awarded funding earlier this year to an algal research consortium to tackle a broad range of barriers identified in the roadmap report.
See a copy of the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap (PDF 7.5 MB). Download Adobe Reader.
Additional information on algal biofuels is available on the Department's Biomass Program Web site.