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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

Study: marine cyanobacteria produce 100s of millions of tonnes of hydrocarbons annually

October 06, 2015

An international team of researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, has estimated that photosynthetic marine cyanobacteria annually produce hundreds of millions of tonnes of hydrocarbons in the oceans. These organisms in turn support another population of bacteria that feed on these compounds.

In the study, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Warwick and MIT, and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists measured the amount of hydrocarbons in a range of laboratory-grown cyanobacteria and used the data to estimate the amount produced in the oceans.

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Michigan State partners with ExxonMobil to advance algae biofuels

October 01, 2015

A new $1-million relationship between Michigan State University and ExxonMobil will expand research designed to progress the fundamental science required to advance algae-based fuels. David Kramer, MSU’s John Hannah Distinguished Professor in Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics at the MSU-DOE Plant and Research Laboratory (PRL), says that the overall goal of the partnership is to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in microalgae to produce biofuels and bioproducts.

Past research has shown that algae photosynthesis can be highly efficient under optimal conditions in the laboratory. Under realistic growth conditions however, this efficiency drops. There is a need to improve photosynthesis under simulated production environments.

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Algenol signs MOU with ZYNE to produce renewable fuels in China using industrial CO2 emissions

September 23, 2015

US-based algal fuels company based Algenol will partner with South China’s Fujian Zhongyuan New Energy Company, Ltd. (ZYNE) to develop projects throughout Southern China, utilizing carbon emissions to create renewable fuels. The goal is to provide solutions for China’s three biggest challenges: access to clean air, clean water and sustainable fuels.

Algenol’s CEO and Founder Paul Woods along with Wang Suwei, ZYNE’s Chairman of the Board, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) establishing the partnership for this joint exploration project. Representatives from both companies attended the ceremony, along with government leaders from both the US and China.

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MSU researchers fabricate synthetic protein that streamlines carbon fixing machinery of cyanobacteria; potential boost for biofuels

September 22, 2015

Researchers at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, Michigan State University, have fabricated a synthetic protein that not only improves the assembly of the carbon-fixing factory of cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae), but also provides a proof of concept for a device that could potentially improve plant photosynthesis or be used to install new metabolic pathways in bacteria.

The multi-function protein, which the researchers compare to a Swiss Army Knife, streamlines the molecular machinery of cyanobacteria, making biofuels and other green chemical production from these organisms more viable. The researchers describe their work in a paper in the journal The Plant Cell.

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Tokyo Tech team engineers Nannochloropsis algae to boost oil production; method potentially applicable to other strains

September 08, 2015

Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and colleagues have engineered the Nannochloropsis algal strain NIES-2145 to enhance the production of fat-based molecules called triacylglycerols (TAGs), thereby increasing oil synthesis from the microalgae. The study’s results suggest that the specific gene promoter used in this work could also be applied across various algae to boost oil production. The paper is published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

Triacylglycerols, or TAGs, are a class of lipids which comprise glycerol attached to three fatty acid chains; microalgae is known to produce more TAGs under nutrient stress conditions. When the algal strain Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is starved of phosphorus, TAGs accumulate rapidly following the overexpression of an enzyme known as CrDGTT4, which in turn is triggered by gene promoter SQD2.

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DENSO building large test facility for production of biofuel from P. ellipsoidea microalgae

August 19, 2015

Japan-based global automotive supplier DENSO Corporation will build a large 20,000 square meter test facility for the culture of Pseudochoricystis ellipsoidea, an oil-producing microalga patented by DENSO. The new facility located in Amakusa, Kumamoto, Japan will be used to perform verification tests needed to establish large-scale microalga cultivation technologies required to improve biofuel production efficiency. The facility will start operations in April, 2016.

DENSO has been working in collaboration with Keio University’s Institute for Advanced Biosciences since April 2008 to produce biofuel extracted from P. ellipsoidea—a fast-growing, vigorous, and easy-to-cultivate microalga, on which DENSO holds patents. Hydrocarbons and triglycerides can be produced photoautotrophically to up to 30% of the dried biomass (Satoh et al.). The hydrocarbon fraction is more than 10 times higher in nitrogen depleted cells.

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Proposed process for low-emissions coal-to-liquids

August 05, 2015

The EMS (Earth and Mineral Science) Energy Institute at Penn State has developed a conceptual novel process configuration for producing clean middle-distillate fuels from coal with some algal input with minimal emissions.

The Institute was involved for about 20 years in a project intended to develop a coal-derived jet fuel; a number of papers and reports have already been published on that work. In a new paper in the journal Technology, Professor (Emeritus) Harold Schobert combined a review of the two decades of development with the novel conceptual approach for near-zero emissions coal-to-liquids.

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DOE JGI team identify regulators of lipid production in algae; potential boost for algal fuels development

August 04, 2015

Algae naturally produce oils that can be converted into transportation fuels, making this a potentially attractive pathway for large-scale biofuel production. However, high-yield lipid production in algae is a stress response—induced, for example, through conditions such as nutrient deprivation. One of the challenges of optimizing this oil production pathway has been stressing the algae just enough to produce lipids in high yields, but not stressing them enough to kill them.

Now, a team led by scientists from the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has analyzed the genes that are being activated during algal lipid production, and in particular the molecular machinery that orchestrates these gene activities inside the cell when it produces lipids. The work, published in a paper in the journal Nature Plants, may help algal bioenergy researchers develop more targeted approaches for producing lipids for fuels.

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EPA opens door to consider Carbon Capture and Utilization as part of new Clean Power Plan; algae industry locks on

EPA’s newly released voluminous final Clean Power Plan rule (earlier post) has established the first national standards to limit CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants (Electric Generating Units, EGUs), with a target of a 32% reduction against a 2005 baseline by 2030.

The plan calls for each US state to establish a plan to meet the targeted reductions. Within the text of the final CPP rules, EPA opened up the possibility of allowing “affected EGU (Electric Generating Units) to use qualifying CCU [Carbon Capture and Utilization] technologies to reduce CO2 emissions that are subject to an emission standard, or those that are counted when demonstrating achievement of the CO2 emission performance rates or a state rate-based or mass-based CO2 emission.

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DOE awards $18M to six projects for algae-based biofuels; targeting <$5/gge

July 10, 2015

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award up to $18 million in funding to six projects to reduce the modeled price of algae-based biofuels to less than $5 per gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) by 2019.

Algal biomass can be converted to advanced biofuels that offer promising alternatives to petroleum-based diesel and jet fuels. Additionally, algae can be used to make a range of other valuable bioproducts, such as industrial chemicals, bio-based polymers, and proteins. However, barriers related to algae cultivation, harvesting, and conversion to fuels and products need to be overcome to achieve the Department’s target of $3/gge for advanced algal biofuels by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the Department is investing in applied research and development technologies that can achieve higher yields of targeted bioproducts and biofuels from algae—increasing the overall value for algae biomass.

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DOE to issue incubator funding opportunity to help advance bioenergy development; algal biofuels a main focus

June 19, 2015

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE EERE) intends (DE-FOA-0001343) to issue, on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0001320) targeting innovative technologies and solutions to help advance bioenergy development. DOE anticipates posting the FOA in or around July 2015.

The incubator opportunity is intended to fund projects that will pursue research and development (R&D) not significantly represented in BETO’s current portfolio, as a way to support and explore innovative new approaches for integration into the Office’s future program plans. The FOA will seek to support projects that facilitate BETO’s goals in Algal Biofuels R&D; Feedstocks Supply and Logistics R&D; and Conversion Technologies R&D.

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Audi partner Joule announces its “CO2-recycled” ethanol meets US and Euro specs; $40M financing

May 11, 2015

Joule, the developer of a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of solar hydrocarbon fuels using engineered cyanobacteria (earlier post), announced the successful results from third-party testing of its ethanol fuel (Sunflow-E), setting the stage to obtain certification for commercial use.

Initiated by Audi, Joule’s strategic partner in the automotive space (earlier post), the test results confirm that Joule’s ethanol meets: American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D4806 – Denatured fuel ethanol for blending with gasolines for use as automotive spark-ignition engine fuel; and German Institute for Standardization (DIN) EN 15376 – Ethanol as a blending component for petrol.

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Rice study shows algae monocultures for biofuel stably grown in open reactors fed by municipal wastewater

April 03, 2015

Results of a 14-week study by Rice University researchers suggest that algae monocultures for biofuel feedstock can be grown in open tank bioreactors using municipal wastewater as a nutrient source. The stable productivity of monocultures suggests that this may be a viable production method to procure algal biomass for biofuel production.

In an open access paper published in the journal Algae, the researchers reported that they easily grew high-value strains of oil-rich algae while simultaneously removing more than 90% of nitrates and more than 50% of phosphorous from municipal wastewater. Co-author Meenakshi Bhattacharjee said the use of wastewater is one of the most promising solutions for eliminating the algae industry’s dependence on chemical fertilizers.

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DOE BETO awards $10M to 7 advanced biofuels projects

February 21, 2015

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has selected seven projects to receive up to $10 million to support innovative technologies and solutions to help advance the development of advanced biofuels, including bugaboo and drop-in hydrocarbons.

The Bioenergy Technologies Office is working to produce cost-competitive ($3/gallon of gasoline equivalent) advanced biofuels from non-food biomass resources that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% or more versus petroleum-based alternatives. These newly selected projects are intended to support this effort.

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Researchers devise method to produce jet-range hydrocarbons as co-product of production of algal biodiesel; role of alkenones

January 22, 2015

Isochrysis extraction and fractionation scheme with yields given in parentheses for the different products obtained from each step. Credit: ACS, O’Neil et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from Western Washington University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have developed a method to produce jet-fuel range hydrocarbons as a co-product of the production of algal biodiesel from the biomass of the industrially grown marine microalgae Isochrysis. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

Certain species of algae—including Isochrysis—synthesize a unique class of lipids: long-chain (35-40 carbons) alkenones. The structure of alkenones is characterized by a very long liner carbon chain with trans double bonds and a methyl or ethyl ketone. The researchers developed a method for the isolation of pure alkenones from Isochrysis biomass in parallel with biodiesel production.

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EPA approves Algenol ethanol as RFS advanced biofuel with D5 code; 69% reduction in GHG compared to gasoline

January 13, 2015

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved ethanol made from Algenol’s process as an advanced biofuel, meeting the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction requirements under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Algenol’s ethanol, produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria, is now eligible for a Renewable Identification Number (RIN) under the D5 classification. (Earlier post.)

As part of this approval, the EPA determined that ethanol produced from the Algenol Direct to Ethanol (DTE) process resulted in an approximate 69% reduction in greenhouse gases when compared to gasoline.

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