The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office announced January 17 up to $10 million in funding to foster advances in biofuels derived from algae.
According to EERE, “the funding will support research projects aimed at boosting the productivity of algae cultivation systems and developing and demonstrating effective, energy-efficient, and low-cost algae harvest and processing technologies, such as centrifugation and extraction.”
EERE funds will be awarded to applicants whose projects aim to maximize the amount of oil produced from algae cultivation and processing and improve production of biofuel intermediaries. Finding ways of realizing these goals will “help lower the cost of biofuels by decreasing capital and operating costs, while enhancing the sustainability of algal biofuels by capturing energy from every available part of the feedstock and reducing water resource requirements,” EERE explains in a press release.
Realizing the Promise of Algae for Biofuel Production
The focus of EERE’s Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is on longer-term research projects with a duration of up to five years that “integrate research and development on comprehensive mid-scale processes from strain development to production of biofuel intermediaries.”
Aiming to build on the current body of knowledge, EERE identified three priority areas of integrated research:
- Improvements in Algal Biomass Productivity;
- Improvements in Preprocessing Technologies; and
- Technical Advances that Enable Integration of Algal Biomass Unit Operations.
Elaborating further, the main objective of the Advancements in Algal Biomass Yield (ABY) funding opportunity “is to demonstrate, at a process development unit scale of one (1) acre cultivation equivalent, algal biofuel intermediate yield of 2,500 gallons of biofuel feedstock (or equivalent dry weight basis) per acre per year by 2018.”
Achieving commercial-scale viability of algae biofuel production would be a tremendous breakthrough in terms of producing clean, renewable fuels for transport and shifting away from heavily subsidized and controversial production of biofuels from corn and other food crops.
EERE’s Biomass Technologies Office considers this an “important milestone in reducing the cost of algal biofuels to cost-competitive levels on the way to achieving 5,000 gallons per acre by 2022.
With support from the Australian government, Aurora Algae is looking to commercialize algae biomass R&D undertaken at the University of California, Berkeley to produce biofuels, nutritional, and pharmaceutical products at a site in Western Australia.
Cultivating a genetically-enhanced strain of common algae in six 1-acre (4,000-square meter) saltwater ponds, Clean Technica’s last report has Aurora consistently producing between 12-15 metric tons of algal biomass per month.
Back in the US, a blend of biodiesel containing a 20% mix from algal sources went on sale at gas stations in San Francisco this past November, according to a report from IM sister site Gas2Go.
The algae used to produce the B20 biodiesel soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce the fuel. Combustion in diesel engines results in 30% less particulates, 20% less carbon monoxide, and 10% less hydrocarbons, and at $4.25/gallon the algae biodiesel “is on par with regular diesel levels, and will soon go on sale at four gas stations around the Bay area,” Gas2Go reported.
I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.