Texas AgriLife Research, part of the Texas A&M University System, and General Atomics, a San Diego-based technology company, have received a $4 million grant from the Texas state’s Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) for biofuel microalgae research.
The ETF grant will be supported by more than $4 million of parallel US Department of Defense sponsored research aimed at developing microalgae-derived biodiesel fuels to support US domestic and military needs.
A biofuel microalgae research facility is scheduled for construction at the Texas AgriLife Research center in Pecos, with the intention of the facility becoming a national center for algae research and development for biofuels.
The partnership between Texas AgriLife Research and General Atomics involves a phased research and development program, which includes evaluating new, promising algae strains, developing and testing algae production systems and designing and testing algae/oil separation systems.
Texas AgriLife Research and General Atomics have already identified strains of algae that have high-producing oil potential. These strains require large amounts of sunlight, salty water and carbon dioxide—all of which is readily available in the Permian Basin of Texas—to thrive and produce oil. Researchers anticipate the algae systems may be tied to coal-fired power plants in the future, using carbon dioxide emissions and waste heat for algae growth.
The first phase will demonstrate algae production systems up to approximately a quarter of an acre. The second phase will include a pre-commercial scale system and the final phase would be a commercial-size operation of 50 to 100 acres.
Production systems up to 2,000 acres could be implemented in the Permian Basin of Texas and the Southwest. Economists within the A&M System predict for each 2,000-acre unit, the local economic impact would equal approximately $190 million annually.
Through this partnership, we will be able to accelerate the entire research and development process and commercialize a number of technologies in biofuel microalgae production.—Guy Diedrich, vice chancellor for federal relations, research and commercialization for the A&M System
General Atomics, founded in 1955, specializes in diversified research, development, and manufacturing in energy, defense, and other advanced technologies. In June 2007, General Atomics opened an office in Carlsbad, New Mexico to develop biofuel from algae. GA is collaborating with the Carlsbad-based, not-for-profit Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management (CEHMM), which studies a wide range of issues related to reducing the impact of hazardous materials on the environment.
CEHMM is constructing outdoor ponds for growing salt-water microalgae on unused, non-arable land near Carlsbad. GA and CEHMM will work together to develop improved processes for growing and extracting oil from the algae.
The Emerging Technology Fund is a $200-million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2006 to help businesses get innovations to the marketplace.
Algae Biodiesel: New Feedstocks for Biodiesel Production (General Atomics)