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Algae

[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.]

Joule first to gain US EPA clearance for commercial use of modified cyanobacteria for fuel production

July 01, 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has favorably reviewed Joule’s Microbial Commercial Activity Notice (MCAN) for the company’s first commercial ethanol-producing catalyst (a modified Synechococcus cyanobacterium). This clears the catalyst for commercial use at the company’s demonstration plant in Hobbs, New Mexico.

This also marks the first time that EPA has allowed the commercial use of a modified cyanobacterium (although not of other modified microorganisms such as S. cerevisiae, E. coli, T. reesei, etc.). (The full list of EPA notifications under the Toxic Substances Control Act—TSCA—is available here.)

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PNNL team develops continuous flow process for rapid production of green crude from algae; licensed for commercialization

December 18, 2013

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Process flow for liquid fuels from algae by hydrothermal processing. Elliott et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have created a continuous-flow process that produces useful crude oil less than one hour after receiving harvested algae. The research was reported recently in the journal Algal Research. A biofuels company, Utah-based Genifuel Corp., has licensed the technology and is working with an industrial partner to build a pilot plant using the technology. (Earlier post.)

The system runs at around 350 °C (662 °F) at a pressure of around 3,000 psi (20.7 MPa), and combines hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) and catalytic hydrothermal gasification. HTL converts wet algae slurries into an upgradeable biocrude. Catalytic hydrothermal gasification is applied for HTL byproduct water cleanup and fuel gas production from water soluble organics, allowing the water to be considered for recycle of nutrients to the algae growth ponds. The combined process yields high conversion of algae to liquid hydrocarbon and gas products, along with low levels of organic contamination in the byproduct water.

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Venter: algae biofuels require “real scientific breakthroughs”; biofuels need a carbon tax to be viable

December 11, 2013

During his keynote and subsequent question-and-answer session at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in San Diego this week, Dr. Craig Venter, Founder, Chairman, and CEO, J. Craig Venter Institute and Founder and CEO, Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI) tangentially provided a brief update on the status of SGI’s research work with ExxonMobil into algae biofuels, as well as some general observations on the prospects for algae biofuels.

As far as I know, the same experiment has been done over and over again for the last 50 years. To my knowledge, not one single group has achieved higher lipid levels than you can get out of natural occurring algae. For it to be economically viable we need at least five times that rate. … In my view, we need some real scientific breakthroughs that change what algae can do,” said Dr. Venter.

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Sapphire Energy and Phillips 66 parter on co-processing of algae crude oil with conventional crude

December 10, 2013

San Diego-based Sapphire Energy, Inc., one of the world leaders in algae-based “Green Crude” oil production, and Phillips 66, an integrated energy manufacturing and logistics company, have entered a strategic joint development agreement aimed at taking production of algae crude oil a significant step toward commercialization.

The companies will work together to collect and to analyze data from co-processing of algae and conventional crude oil into fuels. The goal is to complete fuel certifications to ready Sapphire Energy’s renewable crude oil for wide-scale oil refining.

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BAL scientists engineer yeast to produce ethanol from brown seaweed; brown seaweed biorefinery

December 03, 2013

An international team of researchers from Bio Architecture Labs, a synthetic biology and enzyme design company focused on the production of biofuels and biochemicals from macroalgae (seaweed) (earlier post), reports the development of a synthetic yeast platform based on Saccharomyces cerevisiae that can efficiently produce ethanol from brown seaweed; the paper is published in the journal Nature.

In January 2012, BAL scientists reported the engineering a strain of Eschericia coli that could break down and then ferment alginate—one of the most abundant sugars in brown algae, but a sugar that industrial microbes can’t metabolize—into ethanol. That paper was featured on the cover of the journal Science. (Earlier post.)

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Scripps Oceanography researchers increase lipids yields in microalgae without compromising growth; potential boon for economical algal biofuels

November 22, 2013

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego report in an open access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that disrupting lipid catabolism is a practical approach to increase lipid yields in microalgae without affecting growth or biomass. This is turn, could greatly improve the economics of algal biofuel production.

In their study, they developed transgenic strains of the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana through targeted metabolic engineering that show increased lipid accumulation, biomass, and lipid yields. Two engineered strains exhibited wild-type–like growth and increased lipid content under both continuous light and alternating light/dark conditions.

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Study finds HTL algal biofuels offer 50-70% lifecycle CO2 reduction compared to petroleum fuels; EROI and GHG comparable to or better than other biofuels

September 20, 2013

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The EROI ratio and GHG emissions/MJ of (a) algae-derived diesel and (b) algae-derived gasoline produced using HTL. The results are benchmarked against commercialized biodiesel or bioethanol as well as petroleum-derived versions of the drop-in fuels. Credit: Liu et al. Click to enlarge.

A new life cycle analysis by a team led by researchers at the University of Virginia has concluded that biofuel produced from algae via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) can reduce life cycle CO2 emissions by 50 to 70% compared to petroleum fuels, and also has energy burdens and GHG (greenhouse gas) emission profiles that are comparable to or better than conventional biofuels, cellulosic ethanol and soybean biodiesel.

HTL algae-derived gasoline has a considerably lower GHG footprint and a better EROI relative to conventional ethanol made from corn on a per MJ basis, the team found. The data suggest that a shift to algae-derived gasoline could have immediate climate benefits even using existing technologies, the authors noted. In addition, given expected technological improvements, the benefits of algae-derived gasoline will likely improve.

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DEMA consortium targeting direct production ethanol from algae at less than $2/gallon

September 03, 2013

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.

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LanzaTech and India’s Centre for Advanced Bio-Energy Research developing novel waste CO2 to fuels process

August 14, 2013

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CO2 to acetic acid fermentation. Source: LanzaTech. Click to enlarge.

LanzaTech, a producer of low-carbon fuels and chemicals from waste gases, has partnered with the Centre for Advanced Bio-Energy, a joint venture between Indian Oil Corporation, Ltd. (IOC) and the Indian government’s Department for Biotechnology (DBT), to create a novel process for the direct production of low carbon fuels from industrial CO2 emissions.

LanzaTech and the Centre will leverage each other’s expertise to create a new process for the direct conversion of waste CO2 into drop-in fuels through an acetates-to-lipids pathway. LanzaTech has developed gas fermentation technology that can directly convert waste CO2 gases into acetates. (Earlier post.) The Centre for Advanced Bio-Energy is working to increase the production yield of lipids (oils) by “feeding” acetates to microalgae.

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DOE awarding $22 million for algal fuel and biomass feedstock supply chain projects

August 01, 2013

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced more than $22 million in new investments to help develop cost-competitive algae fuels and streamline the biomass feedstock supply chain for advanced biofuels. Moniz was speaking at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Biomass 2013 conference.

Nearly $16.5 million goes to four projects intended to boost the productivity of sustainable algae, while cutting capital and operating costs of commercial-scale production. The projects include:

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NSF awards $2M to U-Mich for algal biofuel work; looking to algal communities to enhance yield

A team of University of Michigan researchers has been awarded a $2-million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to identify and to test naturally diverse groups of green algae that can be grown together to create a high-yield, environmentally sustainable and cost-effective system to produce next-generation biofuels.

National Science Foundation funding for the project begins 1 Sept. and will continue for four years. The effort will involve growing various combinations of lake algae in 180 aquariums at a novel U-M laboratory, then field-testing the most promising candidates inside 80 fiberglass cattle tanks at the university's E.S. George Reserve, a 1,300-acre biological research station near Pinckney, Mich.

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