Chevron and NREL to Collaborate on Research to Produce Transportation Fuels, Including Jet Fuel, using Algae
Chevron Corporation and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have entered into a collaborative research and development agreement to study and advance technology to produce liquid transportation fuels using algae.
Chevron and NREL scientists will collaborate to identify and develop algae strains that can be economically harvested and processed into finished transportation fuels, such as jet fuel. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA, will fund the initiative.
The new research project announced today is the second under a five-year strategic biofuels research alliance between Chevron and NREL announced in October 2006. The first involves bio-oil reforming, a process by which bio-oils derived from the decomposition of biological feedstocks are then converted into hydrogen and biofuels. (Earlier post.)
We are extremely pleased to join Chevron in this path-breaking research. NREL operated the Aquatic Species Program for the Department of Energy for nearly 20 years, giving us unique insights into the research required to produce cost-effective fuels from algal oils or lipids. Our scientists have the advanced tools and the experience to rapidly increase the yield and productivity of key species of algae. In Chevron we have found an ideal research partner with the skills and knowledge to transform these algal lipids to cost-competitive fuels and to distribute those fuels to consumers.—NREL Director Dan Arvizu
Chevron believes that nonfood feedstock sources such as algae and cellulose hold the greatest promise to grow the biofuels industry to large scale.—Don Paul, VP and Chief Technology Officer, Chevron Corporation
Algae are considered a promising potential feedstock for next-generation biofuels because certain species contain high amounts of oil, which could be extracted, processed and refined into transportation fuels using currently available technology. Other benefits of algae as a potential feedstock are their abundance and fast growth rates. Key technical challenges include identifying the strains with the highest oil content and growth rates and developing cost-effective growing and harvesting methods.
Although NREL’s past research on algal biofuels was done with a view toward using the microalgal oil to make conventional biodiesel, the lab has been interested in the possibilities of using refinery-based hyrdoprocessing with microalgal oil to produce a kerosene-like fuel very similar to petroleum-derived commercial and military jet fuels or into a fuel designed for multi-purpose military use. Research priorities in this application area include:
Applying current strain selection, screening, and genetic engineering technology to increase lipid yields.
Genetically manipulating the mechanism by which microalgae switch back and forth between normal growth and lipid production to maintain high rates for both.
Optimizing the lipids produced for hydroprocessing into jet fuels or multi-purpose military fuels.
Working with oil refiners to tailor hydroprocessing to use for converting microalgal oil to premium diesel or jet fuel.
A Look Back at the US Department of Energy’s Aquatic Species Program: Biodiesel from Algae (NREL close-out report)