Arizona Takes Its Algae Biofuel Show On The Road

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Arizona is already staking out a leadership position in solar power, and now it’s looking to take the algae biofuel field by storm with a new $8 million Energy Department grant to the University of Arizona. The funding will enable UA to fine tune its proprietary algae farming system and bring it to other states for testing under different conditions. The new grant follows on the heels of last year’s $15 million grant to Arizona State University, which established a national test bed for algae biofuel developers and researchers.

The University Of Arizona ARID System

UA’s proprietary open-air algae farming system is called ARID, for Algae Raceway Integrated Design. An initial version of ARID pinpointed the optimal temperature for algae growth, but it proved to be too energy intensive for cost-effectiveness.

An improved version, ARID-HV (the HV stands for high velocity), addressed the energy problem by tweaking the pumps and converting the flow pattern from a barrier-hopping design to a serpentine path.

University of Arizona develops algae biofuel system.
Green liquid (cropped) by BFS Man.

The new $8 million grant goes to the Regional Algal Feedstock Testbed, a research partnership of which UA is the lead institution. The four-year grant is aimed at exploring the potential for using the ARID system in different climates.

The other partners include Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, New Mexico State University, and Texas A&M AgriLife.

UA chemical and engineering professor Kimberly Ogden, who leads the partnership, describes the current system as “labor intensive,” so one goal of new grant is to develop an automated system.

To that end, the team will look at all aspects of the process including flow rate, nutrients, pH, temperature and algal productivity.

As for UA’s are of focus, that includes water consumption and quality as well as reactor design. It will also have a hand in producing new strains of algae.

UA will also take the lead in comparing ARID with other reactors, in order to identify the most energy-efficient and highest-producing systems in different parts of the country. So far the focus is on the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico and Texas), but UA will also be taking a look at the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to taking ARID on the road, UA’s existing ARID system in Tucson is also available for use as a shared test bed for algae R&D projects from elsewhere.

More And Better Algae Biofuel

Meanwhile, over at ASU, the school’s $15 million Energy Department grant went to establish the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP-3), which includes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Cellana LLC, Touchstone Research Laboratory, SRS Energy, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and Commercial Algae Management.

The ATP-3 partnership revolves around a shared test bed and it has already paid off for Cellana LLC. Last June word came out that the company has signed an algae oil take-off agreement with Neste Oil, a leading producer of renewable diesel. Neste Oil expects to start commercial scale production of algae oil in 2015.

That’s just the tip of the algae biofuel picture in the US. Major oil companies like Exxon and Chevron have dabbled in algae biofuel but the real muscle is coming from algae-centric companies like Neste as well as Sapphire Energy, OriginOil, and Solazyme.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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