[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.]
Canada backs demonstration-scale algal biorefinery project in the oil sands; Algal Carbon Conversion
May 19, 2013
The Government of Canada is supporting a three-year project that will result in the construction of a $19-million, demonstration-scale facility in Alberta that will use algae to recycle industrial carbon dioxide emissions from an oil sands facility into commercial products such as biofuels. The Algal Carbon Conversion (ACC) Pilot Project is a partnership among the National Research Council of Canada (NRC); Canadian Natural Resources Limited, one of the largest independent crude oil and natural gas producers in Canada; and Pond Biofuels.
The demonstration-scale algal biorefinery will be established at Canadian Natural’s Primrose South oil sands site, near Bonnyville, Alberta. The demonstration facility will be integrated into the Canadian Natural’s operations with direct access to industrial flue gas emissions, wastewater and waste heat.
Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil in new co-funded research agreement to develop algae biofuels
May 16, 2013
Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) announced a new co-funded research agreement with ExxonMobil to develop algae biofuels. The new agreement is a basic science research program that focuses on developing algal strains with significantly improved production characteristics by employing synthetic genomic science and technology. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
In June 2009, SGI and ExxonMobil announced a research and development alliance focused on naturally occurring and conventionally modified algae strains. (Earlier post.) Over the nearly four years working together the companies gained considerable knowledge about the challenges in developing economical and scalable algae biofuels. (Earlier post.)
California Energy Commission awards more than $5.5M for green transportation projects and $1.8M for 20 energy research projects
March 21, 2013
The California Energy Commission (CEC) approved $5,580,773 for clean-energy transportation projects including biodiesel production, power control electronics for medium-and heavy-duty battery electric vehicles, and buydowns for propane vehicles. The awards were made through the Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program.
In addition, CEC awarded $1,815,274 to fund 20 energy research projects in the areas of transportation, electricity, and natural gas. Funds for these projects—which span areas as diverse as a new crossover valve for the split-cycle Tour Engine (earlier post) to a new solar thermal storage device capable of integration with utility scale solar thermal power plants—come from Commission’s Energy Innovations Small Grant (EISG) program.
Researchers demonstrate sustainable integrated process for wastewater algae to biocrude via hydrothermal liquefaction
February 11, 2013
|Flow diagram of the solvent extraction and product recovery method used. Credit: ACS, Roberts et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team at the University of Kansas has demonstrated the feasibility of an integrated wastewater algae-to-biocrude process using hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) that can sustainably cultivate algal biomass for biofuel production. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.
This study is the first of hydrothermal liquefaction of wastewater-derived microalgae, the team said. The municipal wastewater matrix and resultant mixed-culture biomass significantly influenced liquefaction product distribution, yielding a higher proportion of biochar, which may be a valuable co-product, they found.
UDRI researchers conclude that an algal renewable jet fuel strategy that maximizes the highest liquid fuel yield should focus on renewable diesel
February 08, 2013
Researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) investigating the conversion of algal triglycerides to renewable diesel and HEFA (hydrotreated esters and fatty acids) renewable jet fuel have concluded that a renewable aviation turbine fuel strategy that preserves the overall highest liquid fuel yield from the renewable feedstocks would target the production of primarily diesel fuel.
Renewable aviation fuel would be recovered from the cracked fraction that naturally accompanies the hydroisomerization of the original n-alkanes derived from the algal triglycerides to the extent required for meeting an appropriate diesel fuel pour point specification. Such an approach would limit the loss of algal alkane fuel value to less than 10%, according to their paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.
DOE announces funding opportunity for enhancing algal biomass yield to support cost-competitive algal biofuels
January 17, 2013
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to support longer-term projects to boost significantly the yield per acre cultivation equivalent of algae for use as a feedstock for algal biofuels. Approximately $10-20 million is expected to be available for new awards in FY 2013, and an additional $10-20 million is expected to be available for continuation awards made under this announcement in FY2014 through FY2016. DOE anticipates selecting 2 to 7 applications under this FOA.
The objective of the Advancements in Algal Biomass Yield (ABY) funding opportunity DE-FOA-0000811) is to demonstrate, at a process development unit scale of 1 acre cultivation equivalent, algal biofuel intermediate yield of 2,500 gallons of biofuel feedstock (or equivalent dry weight basis) per acre per year by 2018. The Biomass Technologies Office believes this target is an important milestone in reducing the cost of algal biofuels to cost-competitive levels on the way to achieving 5,000 gallons per acre by 2022.
Cornell team quantifies uncertainty in life cycle assessments of algae biofuel production; suggests reporting results as ranges of expected values
January 01, 2013
A Cornell University team has used a Monte Carlo approach to quantify the role of uncertainty associated with process parameters in life cycle analysis (LCA) of algae-to-biofuel schemes for determining metrics such as Energy Return on (Energy) Invested (EROI) and global warming potential global warming potential (GWP). The results, reported in a paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, show that uncertainties exist at all stages of biofuel production from microalgae, from cultivation to dewatering to conversion processes and production of coproducts.
This indicates, the researchers suggest, that the values reported in earlier studies are not incorrect, but, rather each represent a specific case. These cases should not be used solely to conclude whether algal biofuels are expected to be energetically viable or environmentally sustainable, the authors say. Instead, LCA results, especially those associated with developing technologies such as algal biofuel, should be reported as ranges of expected values to provide decision makers with reliable results, they conclude.
UCSD/Sapphire team shows marine algae can be engineered to perform as well as fresh water algae to produce enzymes and biofuels; removing the constraint of fresh water
November 27, 2012
Researchers from UC San Diego and Sapphire Energy, Inc. have demonstrated for the first time that genetically engineered marine algae can be just as capable as fresh water algae in producing industrially relevant products such as enzymes or biofuels.
The scientists engineered marine algae to produce five different kinds of industrially important enzymes; they suggest the same process could be used to enhance the yield of petroleum-like compounds from these salt water algae. Their achievement is detailed in a paper published online in the current issue of the journal Algal Research.
Solazyme expanding renewable oil production capacity with JV partner Bunge, signs strategic collaboration agreement with ADM
November 15, 2012
Solazyme, Inc., a renewable oil and bioproducts company, and Bunge Global Innovation LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bunge Limited, a leading global agribusiness and food company, signed an agreement expressing their intent to expand their joint venture-owned oil production capacity at Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils from the current 100,000 metric tons under construction in Brazil to 300,000 metric tons by 2016 at select Bunge owned and operated processing facilities worldwide. (Earlier post.)
Separately, Solazyme and Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, a leading global agricultural processor, signed strategic collaboration, manufacturing and market development agreements in which Solazyme and ADM will produce Solazyme’s tailored algal oils in ADM’s advanced fermentation plant at Clinton, Iowa.
New fast hydrothermal process converts 65% of wet algae feedstock sample to biocrude in one minute
November 08, 2012
|Biocrude from Nannochloropsis. Credit: Savage Lab. Click to enlarge.|
A team led by Prof. Phillip Savage at the University of Michigan has found that with appropriate parameters, hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) can convert 65% of wet algae (a Nannochloropsis species) into biocrude in one minute. The team, which has been investigating HTL processing of algae to biocrude—along with techniques for dexoygenating the product for subsequent refining—for several years, presented its latest results at the 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.
An hydrothermal process is one that involves water at elevated temperatures and pressures; hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is one of a number of methods for converting biomass conversion to biofuels or biofuel precursors. HTL avoids energy-intensive drying steps, and is thus more energy efficient for biomass with very high moisture content—such as microalgae—the researchers note.
NRC report finds that large-scale production of algal biofuels poses sustainability concerns; not a definitive barrier
October 24, 2012
Scaling up the production of algal biofuels to meet at least 5%—approximately 39 billion liters—of US transportation fuel needs would place unsustainable demands on energy, water, and nutrients, according to a new report from the National Research Council. However, these concerns are not a definitive barrier for future production, the report says; innovations that would require research and development could help realize algal biofuels’ full potential.
The committee that wrote the report said that concerns related to large-scale algal biofuel development differ depending on the pathways used to produce the fuels. Producing fuels from algae could be done in many ways, including cultivating freshwater or saltwater algae, growing algae in closed photobioreactors or open-pond systems, processing the oils produced by microalgae, or refining all parts of macroalgae.
Texas A&M-led team receives $2M NSF award for microfluidic lab-on-chip devices for algal biofuels
September 01, 2012
|Oil squeezing out from microalga. Click to enlarge.|
Dr. Arum Han, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University, has received a $2-million award from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) office to lead a multidisciplinary team of investigators for developing technologies for next-generation microalgae-based biofuel.
Collaborators include Dr. Tim Devarenne from the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M, Dr. David Stern from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Dr. Jefferson Tester from Cornell University and Dr. Tzachi Samocha from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The team received the award for their proposal, “Microalgae Lab-on-Chip Photobioreactor Platform for Genetic Screening and Metabolic Analysis Leading to Scalable Biofuel Production,” under the photosynthetic biorefinery topic.
Sapphire Energy’s commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility now operational; 81 tons harvested [corrected]
August 27, 2012
|Aerial photo of Green Crude Farm in November 2011. Click to enlarge.|
Sapphire Energy, Inc. announced that the first phase of its Green Crude Farm, a commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility, is now operational. Construction of this first phase, which began on 1 June 2011, was completed on time and on budget. When completed, the facility will produce 1.5 million gallons per year of crude oil and consist of approximately 300 acres of algae cultivation ponds and processing facilities.
The Green Crude Farm, also known as an Integrated Algal Bio-Refinery, was funded with both private and public funds, including $85 million in private investment from Sapphire Energy backed by a USDA loan guarantee and a $50 million grant from the US DOE.
US Navy and USDA make $30M available for commercial-scale advanced drop-in biofuels, with potential for $180M follow-on; $32M from DOE for earlier stage research
July 02, 2012
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Navy will provide $30 million in federal funding (FOA-12-15-PKM) for Phase 1 projects to match private investments in commercial-scale advanced drop-in biofuels. The program envisions a subsequent investment of up to $180M in follow-on Phase 2 projects.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is also announcing a total of $32 million in new investments through two earlier-issued solicitations (DE-FOA-0000739 (earlier post) and DE-FOA-0000719) (earlier post) for earlier stage biofuels research that will continue to drive technological breakthroughs and additional cost reductions in the industry and that complement the commercial-scale efforts announced by the Navy and USDA.
DOE seeks information on enhancing algal biofuel intermediate yields for biofuel production
June 27, 2012
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a request for information (RFI) (DE-FOA-0000745) to solicit information on the development of algae production and downstream processing technology to enhance the yield of algal biofuel intermediate products. The DOE Office of the Biomass Program (OBP) considers “biofuel intermediates” to be biomass-based products that can be treated as commodities and passed from a producer to a refiner through the supply chain, being finished as a biofuel.
In the case of algae, an intermediate would be the end result of cultivation, concentration, and pre-processing of the algal biomass into a feedstock for the refining process. DOE has identified low intermediate biomass yields as a key driver of the high cost of algal biofuels because of the high capital investment projected as necessary to achieve commercial-scale volumes of biofuel. Increased yields would both decrease the total amount of capital needed, and better utilize capital investment.
VG Energy launching commercial product for palm and algae oil production based on Metabolic Disruption Technology
June 25, 2012
VG Energy, a majority-owned subsidiary of Viral Genetics, is launching its first commercial product: LipidMax, a lipid enhancement compound based on VG’s Metabolic Disruption Technology (MDT) for use in the production of oils from algae and other plants or plant-like organisms. VG is currently verifying the chemical activity in industrial scale batches of LipidMax.
VG Energy compounds manipulate the metabolic functions of oil plant cells causing them to increase the storage of fats—rather than converting them to sugar for fuel—and therefore increasing the yield of refinable oil. VG researchers say that the MDT approach increases the yields of oils stored and/or secreted by algal cells by 300%. The technology also has the ability to increase oil storage in seeds for increased production of edible oils. (Earlier post.)
EPA researcher calls for development of evaluation methodologies and tools to understand positive and negative impacts of algae industry
June 22, 2012
While algae are among the most potentially significant sources of sustainable biofuels in the future of renewable energy, issues remain regarding human exposure to algae-derived toxins, allergens, and carcinogens from both existing and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as well as the overall environmental impact of GMOs, according to a critical literature review paper by Marc Y. Menetrez of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Air Pollution Prevention and Control Division.
In a paper published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology Menetrez identifies and discusses human exposure and environmental impact issues, as well as current research and development activities of academic, commercial, and governmental groups.
Yale team advances toward a one-pot oil extraction and transesterification process for algal biodiesel using a supercritical CO2 system
June 19, 2012
A team from Yale described advances toward achieving a single-step lipid extraction and transesterification process to produce algal biodiesel during the symposium “Biobased Feedstocks for Chemical and Fuel Production” at ACS’ 16th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. Such a one-pot process would have a significant impact on the lifecycle impact of algal biodiesel production.
Led by Dr. Julie Zimmerman, Associate Professor of Green Engineering, the researchers investigated the fundamental science necessary to achieve a one-pot approach that both extracts and transesterifies lipids from algae using supercritical carbon dioxide/methanol (scCO2/MeOH) and heterogeneous catalysts.
Brookhaven study finds carbon availability is a key metabolic factor controlling oil biosynthesis in algae
June 18, 2012
|Confocal image of the algae Chlamydomonas showing the accumulation of oil droplets (golden dots). Red represents chlorophyll autofluorescence. Source: BNL. Click to enlarge.|
Although interest in microalgal oils as potential feedstocks for renewable fuels is high, the understanding of the regulatory mechanisms controlling oil biosynthesis and storage in microalgae is rather limited at this point. Further, details of oil biochemistry in algae have been lacking.
Now, scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) have countered two long-held misconceptions about oil production in algae by showing that ramping up the microbes’ overall metabolism by feeding them more carbon increases oil production as the organisms continue to grow. Before the Brookhaven research, a main approach to optimizing oil production in algae was to starve the algae of certain key nutrients, such as nitrogen. Oil output would increase, but the algae would stop growing—not an ideal outcome for continuous production.
DOE to award up to $40M for biorefineries to produce milspec drop-in hydrocarbon biofuels
June 17, 2012
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0000739) to identify, evaluate, and select innovative pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefineries that can produce hydrocarbon fuels that meet military specifications for JP-5 (jet fuel primarily for the Navy), JP-8 (jet fuel primarily for the Air Force), or F-76 (diesel). The pilot- or demonstration-scale biorefinery must be integrated from biomass input to fuel output such that the finished product can be used directly as a fuel. Ethanol from sugarcane, starch, algae, or lignocellulosic feedstocks is specifically excluded.
DOE expects approximately $20,000,000 to be available for new awards under this FOA in FY2012 with up to an additional $20,000,000 in FY2013, subject to Congressional appropriations for this program.