The EU-funded project DEMA (Direct Ethanol from MicroAlgae) is working to produce bioethanol directly from cyanobacteria—a microalgae found in almost every terrestrial and aquatic habitat, including in oceans, lakes and damp soil, and on rocks—for less than €0.40/liter (US$2.00/gallon).
The conversion of solar energy, H2O and CO2 into ethanol will be carried out by a metabolically engineered strain of the cyanobacterium, Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803. The DEMA team will develop and demonstrate the technology.
The DEMA Project is carrying out research and development on the complete biofuel-production process at two levels.
In the first level, the performance of cyanobacteria will be substantially enhanced by a series of metabolic engineering strategies to directly transform CO2, H2O and sunlight into bioethanol at a concentration level of >1-2% (v/v).
In the second level the bioethanol is continuously extracted from the culture media via a membrane technology process exploiting existing EU expertise and technology.
This process design enables the economic and energy efficient production of ethanol at a reduced capital and operational expenditure. LCA (life cycle analysis) performance is excellent, the team says. The team will also study exploitation of the residual biomass for other energy-related applications to generate an even better total LCA.
The project brings together nine partners from both academia and industry from six EU countries. It is coordinated by the University of Limerick in Ireland and has received almost €5 million (US$6.6 million) from the EU under the energy strand of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The project started work in December 2012 and completes its work in May 2017.