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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.]

DOE awarding $15M to 3 algae-based biofuel and bioproducts projects

July 14, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding up to $15 million for three projects aimed at reducing the production costs of algae-based biofuels and bioproducts through improvements in algal biomass yields.

These projects will develop highly productive algal cultivation systems and couple those systems with effective, energy-efficient, and low-cost harvest and processing technologies. This funding will advance the research and development of advanced biofuel technologies to speed the commercialization of renewable, domestically produced, and affordable fossil-fuel replacements.

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RIT and Synergy Biogas partner on algae for wastewater cleanup and biofuel production

June 03, 2016

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Synergy Biogas are exploring the environmental benefits of microalgae to clean agricultural wastewater and make biofuels. Jeff Lodge, associate professor in RIT’s Thomas Gosnell School of Life Sciences, is running a three-month pilot program at Synergy Biogas, a high-tech anaerobic digester located on Synergy Farms in Covington, N.Y, to grow microalgae on digested biomass. Microalgae will consume contaminants in wastewater and produce an algal biomass that Lodge will use as a feedstock for renewable energy.

Lodge will grow the microalgae in a 1,000-gallon tank at Synergy in a process that can be scaled up to treat 52,000 gallons, or 200,000 liters, of wastewater a day. The trial project will demonstrate the organisms’ ability to consume ammonia, phosphorous and nitrogen from digested biomass and reduce contaminants below state-mandated levels. Lodge’s laboratory experiments with microalgae have reduced phosphorous in wastewater by greater than 90% to levels of 0.1 parts per million, exceeding the required 1 parts per million in New York.

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DOE awards up to $10M to 6 projects for non-food biomass and algal biofuels and biochemicals

May 16, 2016

The US Department of Energy is awarding up to $10 million in funding for six projects that will support the Bioenergy Technologies Office’s (BETO) work to develop renewable and cost-competitive biofuels and biochemicals from non-food biomass feedstocks by reducing the technical risk associated with potentially breakthrough approaches and technologies for investors.

The projects selected include the following:

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Consortium for Algal Biofuel Commercialization releases final report on 6-year project

May 11, 2016

The Consortium for Algal Biofuel Commercialization (CAB-Comm), led by the University of California, San Diego, has released its final report, detailing the accomplishments and contributions achieved in its six years of operation.

CAB-Comm was established in 2010 through a competitive award from the Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) to conduct research to enable commercial viability of algae-based biofuels. (Earlier post.) CAB-Comm focused on three key aspects of algal biofuels production: development of genetic tools, crop protection, and nutrient utilization and recycling.

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Texas A&M-led team identifies synthetic hydrocarbon pathway in green alga B. braunii

April 07, 2016

The green microalga Botryococcus braunii is considered a promising biofuel feedstock producer due to its prodigious accumulation of hydrocarbon oils that can be converted into fuels. Now, a team led by researchers from Texas A&M AgriLife Research has identified the first committed step in the biosynthesis of hydrocarbon oil in B. braunii and has described a new enzyme which carries out this reaction.

The study, published as an open-access paper in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications, could enable scientists to use the enzyme in a plant to make large amounts of fuel-grade oil, according to Dr. Tim Devarenne, AgriLife Research biochemist in College Station and lead scientist on the team.

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China team identifies new thermophilic bacterium for direct production of ethanol from brown algae

April 04, 2016

Researchers from the Shandong Provincial Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology, Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences have identified and characterized the first thermophilic bacterium capable (Defluviitalea phaphyphila) of direct conversion of brown algae to ethanol.

D. phaphyphila Alg1 can simultaneously utilize mannitol, glucose, and alginate to produce ethanol. In an open access paper on their work published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, they report high ethanol yields of 0.47 g/g-mannitol, 0.44 g/g-glucose, and 0.3 g/g-alginate.

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NREL process boosts production of ethanol from algae

February 10, 2016

A new biorefinery process developed by scientists at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has proven to be significantly more effective at producing ethanol from algae than previous research.

The process, dubbed Combined Algal Processing (CAP), is detailed in an open-access paper in the journal Algal Research. The research follows work previously done at NREL and published in 2014 in The Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Green Chemistry. In that work, scientists examined two promising algal strains, Chlorella and Scenedesmus, to determine their applicability as biofuel and bioproduct producers. They concluded Scenedesmus performed better in this process with impressive demonstrated total fuel yields of 97 gallons gasoline equivalents (GGE) per ton of biomass.

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DOE to award up to $15M for Advancements In Algal Biomass Yield, Phase 2

January 16, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award (DE-FOA-0001471) up to $15 million in funding to develop technologies that are likely to succeed in producing 3,700 gallons of algal biofuel intermediate (or equivalent dry weight basis) per acre per year (gal/acre/yr) on an annualized average basis (not peak or projected) through multiple batch campaigns or on a semi-continuous or continuous basis, in an outdoor test environment by 2020.

Under this funding opportunity for Advancements In Algal Biomass Yield, Phase 2 (ABY2), applicants must address one comprehensive topic area with three main priority areas:

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Sandia, ASU collaborate on algae computational modeling, look for algae pond predators

December 18, 2015

Sandia National Laboratories and Arizona State University (ASU) have teamed up to improve computational models of algae growth in raceway ponds that can predict performance, improve pond design and operation and discover ways to improve algae yield outdoors.

In addition, Sandia and ASU will further develop spectro-radiometric techniques to monitor optically the growth and health of algae pond cultivation in real-time and to detect early warnings of predators and pathogens in outdoor algal ponds.

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NREL team identifies major metabolic pathway in cyanobacteria for efficient conversion of CO2; better biofuels and bioproducts

December 12, 2015

Scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have discovered that a metabolic pathway previously only suggested to be functional in photosynthetic organisms is actually a major pathway and can enable efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to organic compounds.

The discovery provides new insight into the complex metabolic network for carbon utilization in cyanobacteria, while opening the door to better ways of producing chemicals from carbon dioxide or plant biomass, rather than deriving them from petroleum.

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euglena planning commercial production of biojet and renewable diesel from algae in Japan

December 02, 2015

Japan-based euglena Co. plans to produce and supply biojet and renewable diesel in Japan at commercial scale in the 2020s with support from the City of Yokohama, Chiyoda Corporation, Itochu Enex Co., Isuzu Motors and All Nippon Airways (ANA). The company will build Japan’s first demonstration plant for the production of biojet/biodiesel fuels in Yokohama, with operations planned to begin in 2018.

The company has been investigating the production of biojet from the microalgae Euglena since May 2010 (earlier post) and has also partnered with Isuzu in research on next-generation (i.e. drop-in hydrocarbon) renewable diesel production from Euglena since June 2014. In June 2015, the company signed a Technology License Agreement for the ISOCONVERSION process with Chevron Lummus Global and Applied Research Associates (ARA). (Earlier post.)

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PNNL team presents new insight into H2 production by cyanobacterium Cyanothece

November 11, 2015

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have presented a new and more complete view on the way a cyanobacterium—Cyanothece 51142—produces hydrogen.

Using genome-scale transcript and protein profiling, the team study presented and tested a new hypothesis on the metabolic relationship between oxygenic photosynthesis and nitrogenase-mediated H2 production in Cyanothece 51142. The results, reported in an open-access paper in Nature’s Scientific Reports, show that net-positive rates of oxygenic photosynthesis and increased expression of photosystem II reaction centers correspond and are synchronized with nitrogenase expression and H2 production.

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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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