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Algal Fuels

[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.]

Joint ASU, Tel Aviv Univ. project to improve algal hydrogen production to industrial scale

November 13, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $400,000 grant (Nº 1706960) to Arizona State University and Kevin Redding, professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and director of the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis (CB&P) to obtain industrial-scale algal hydrogen production—a goal that requires an improvement over current technology by at least five-fold.

The NSF grant is part of US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) funding work. BSF projects bring a US scientist and Israeli scientist together to form a joint project. The US partner submits a grant on the joint project to the NSF, and the Israeli partner submits the same grant to the ISF (Israel Science Foundation). Both agencies must agree to fund the project in order to obtain the BSF funding. Prof. Iftach Yacoby of Tel Aviv University. Redding’s partner on the BSF project, is a young scientist who first started at TAU about 5 years ago and has focused on different ways to increase algal biohydrogen production.

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Woods Hole awarded $5.7M for seaweed-to-biofuels projects

October 08, 2017

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have been awarded $5.7 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) Program for two projects that develop tools and technology to advance the mass production of seaweed for biofuels and bio-based chemicals. The two WHOI awards are among 18 innovative projects that received a total of $22 million in funding from ARPA-E. (Earlier post.)

Currently in the US, seaweed is primarily used in food and food processing for humans and animals, and mostly comes from imported farmed product or wild harvests. Expanding seaweed farming domestically relieves pressure on wild stocks, creates jobs and revitalizes working waterfronts. Ultimately expanded and more efficient production will lead to expanded markets including feedstocks for biofuels. The ARPA-E estimates that in the US combined brown and red seaweed farming could yield about 300 million dry metric tons per year. When converted to energy, that could fuel about 10% of the nation’s annual transportation needs.

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WSU, PNNL researchers convert algal biofuel waste from hydrothermal liquefaction into commodity using anaerobes; sewage sludge next

Researchers at Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have devised a method of converting a waste product generated by the conversion of algae into bio-crude into a usable and valuable commodity. The results of the team’s research are published in the journal Bioresource Technology.

Converting algae to biofuels can utilize a two-step process. The first, developed by PNNL, applies high pressure and high temperature to algae to create bio-oil. The second converts that bio-oil into biofuel, which can replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The first step—hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL)—produces waste; approximately 25 to 40 percent of carbon and 80 percent of nutrients from the algae are left behind in wastewater streams.

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J. Craig Venter Institute-led team awarded $10.7M by DOE to boost lipid production in diatoms for next-gen biofuels and bioproducts

October 04, 2017

Scientists led by the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit genomic research organization, were recently awarded a 5-year, $10.7-million grant by the United States Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research (BER), BER Genomic Science Program to optimize metabolic networks in model photosynthetic microalgae, called diatoms. The aim of this work is to substantially increase oil (lipid) production, enabling next-generation biofuels and bioproducts.

Building on prior synthetic biology and diatom research, methodologies will be developed and optimized for introducing and transplanting new biological functions into diatoms—a globally abundant class of algae. Initial modeling exercises will guide targeted genetic manipulations, associated systems biology experiments, and result in iterative network and genome-scale cellular modeling.

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BTI, Texas A&M team devises new droplet bioreactor to accelerate search for optimal algal strains for biofuels

October 02, 2017

Researchers from Boyce Thompson Institute and Texas A&M University have developed algal droplet bioreactors on a chip that can accelerate the search for optimized algal strains for the production of biofuels.

The new high-throughput droplet microfluidics-based screening platform can analyze growth and lipid content in populations derived from single cells of randomly mutated algae to identify and to sort variants that exhibit the desired traits such as higher growth rate and increased lipid content. An open-access paper in the journal Plant Direct describes the work.

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DOE awarding up to $3.5M to additional algal biomass yield project

September 27, 2017

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected one additional project, for up to $3.5 million, as part of the Bioenergy Technologies Office’s (BETO’s) Advanced Algal Systems Program funding opportunity announcement (FOA). For Algal Biomass Yield, Phase 2 (ABY2), in Fiscal Year 2016, DOE awarded $15 million for three projects. (Earlier post.) In Fiscal Year 2017, DOE has selected one more project: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “Rewiring Algal Carbon Energetics for Renewables (RACER)”.

The funding will help BETO support a project 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.

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NREL team demonstrates sustainable process for conversion of algal lipids to renewable diesel

September 25, 2017

A team at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has demonstrated a sustainable process for converting crude extracted algal lipids to renewable diesel fuel via bleaching, deoxygenation, and hydroisomerization. A paper on their study is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

They explored the effects of bleaching (using two methods) on oil deoxygenation over Pd/C and hydroisomerization over Pt/SAPO-11 catalysts. The raw oil was completely deoxygenated and 90% denitrogenated after dilution to 25 wt % in hexanes. The bleaching operations removed 85–90% of the nitrogen and led to 95–99% nitrogen removal after deoxygenation. Oil processability was also improved by bleaching.

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ARPA-E to award $22M to 18 projects to accelerate production of macroalgae for energy and other uses; MARINER

September 19, 2017

The Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will award $22 million in funding to 18 projects as part of the Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program. (Earlier post.) MARINER projects are to develop the tools to enable the United States to become a leading producer of macroalgae (seaweed). Macroalgae can be utilized as a feedstock for domestic transportation fuels, chemicals and other commercial products without competing with food crops for land and water.

Today, nearly all domestic biomass produced for electricity generation and liquid fuels occurs on land. While macroalgae production has increased substantially over the past quarter-century, it is not currently capable of achieving the scale, cost, and efficiency needed for an impactful seaweed-to-fuels process. Achieving this heightened productivity requires a technology-driven approach focusing on transformative, systems-level improvements and engineering, including advanced research in farm design and autonomous operation.

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DOE selects 4 more algae technology projects for up to $8.8M in funding; > $16M total

September 08, 2017

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected four additional projects from the Productivity Enhanced Algae and ToolKits funding opportunity (earlier post) to receive up to $8.8 million. These projects are intended to deliver high-impact tools and techniques for increasing the productivity of algae organisms in order to reduce the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts.

Technical targets for the FOA include both demonstrable improvements in cultivation performance as well as in toolkit availability. Therefore, technical targets at project conclusion (anticipated in 2020) include achievement of an annual average algal biomass productivity of at least 18 g/m2/day, extrapolated from the combination of relevant seasonal data from the project and literature values for seasonal regimes not targeted by a given project, while achieving a minimum of 80 GGE per ton of biomass potential.The funding for this initiative now totals more than $16 million.

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French team finds light-driven algal enzyme that converts fatty acids to hydrocarbons

September 01, 2017

A team of researchers in France has discovered an algal photoenzyme that catalyzes the decarboxylation of free fatty acids to n-alkanes or -alkenes in response to blue light. In a paper in the journal Science, the researchers suggest that the photoenzyme, which they named fatty acid photodecarboxylase, may be useful in light-driven, bio-based production of hydrocarbons.

Many organisms—photosynthetic and nonphotosynthetic—use light for processes such as growth, development, and metabolism. In most cases, the researchers note, the effects of light on cell physiology are mediated by photoactive proteins, which include light-sensitive ion channels and pumps, photoreceptors, photosynthetic antenna proteins, and light-dependent enzymes. There are two different types of light-dependent enzymes: light-activated, which requires only a flash of light to become active; and photoenzymes, which require a continuous flux of photons to remain catalytically active. Photoenzymes, they note, are rare.

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HelioBioSys, Sandia Labs, Berkeley Lab partnering on sugar-producing cyanobacteria for biofuel production

August 28, 2017

HelioBioSys has patented a group of three marine cyanobacteria that, when grown together, can produce high quantities of sugar just right for making biofuels. Sandia National Laboratories is helping HelioBioSys Inc. learn whether farming them on a large scale would be successful.

Until the early 1900s, cyanobacteria were mistaken for algae. Like algae, colonies of cyanobacteria grow in water and have incorrectly been referred to as “blue-green algae.” But unlike algae, these marine cyanobacteria excrete sugars directly into the water where they grow.

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Researchers develop cheaper, greener biofuels processing catalyst using waste metals and bacteria

August 25, 2017

A team from the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois, with colleagues from the University of Birmingham and Aarhus University, have developed a nanosized bio-Pd/C catalyst for upgrading algal bio-oil.

Published in an open-access paper in the journal Fuel, their findings point to a cheaper, more environmentally friendly and renewable catalyst for processing that uses common bacteria and the metal palladium, which can be recovered from waste sources such as discarded electronics, catalytic converters, street sweeper dust and processed sewage.

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New biofilm reactor accelerates algae growth

July 25, 2017

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have developed a unique biofilm reactor that recycles gasses and uses less water and lower light than typical reactors. The new reactor grows algae more efficiently—in days instead of weeks—and makes the algae more viable for several industries, including biofuels.

The main fatty acids produced were C18:1, C18:2 and C16:0, and there was a low saturated fatty acid content of 23.37%. The biofilm growth mode affected algae metabolism such that the cell met its CO2 requirements internally (i.e., no exogenous CO2) and a high oil yield was obtained without nitrogen starvation. A paper on the work is published in the journal Algal Research.

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DOE to award up to $8M to three algae-based biofuels projects

July 11, 2017

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected three projects to receive up to $8 million, aimed at reducing the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts. These projects are to deliver high-impact tools and techniques for increasing the productivity of algae organisms and cultures.

They will also deliver biology-focused breakthroughs while enabling accelerated future innovations through data sharing within the research and development community. The selected projects are:

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ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics double lipid production in algae species without inhibiting growth

June 20, 2017

ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics Inc. reported a breakthrough in their joint research (earlier post) into advanced biofuels involving the modification of an algae strain that more than doubled its oil content without significantly inhibiting the strain’s growth.

Using advanced cell engineering technologies at Synthetic Genomics, the ExxonMobil-Synthetic Genomics research team modified an algae strain to enhance the algae’s oil content from 20% to more than 40%. Results of the research are published in the journal Nature Biotechnology by lead authors Imad Ajjawi and Eric Moellering of Synthetic Genomics.

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DISCOVR project seeking high productivity algae to reduce cost of biofuels

June 12, 2017

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, with colleagues from Los Alamos, Sandia and NREL, are working to lower the cost of producing biofuels from algae. The project, called the Development of Integrated Screening, Cultivar Optimization, and Validation Research (DISCOVR), is funded by the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and has created an integrated screening platform for the rapid discovery of high-productivity strains for resilient, year-round outdoor cultivation via crop rotation.

The DISCOVR project, which started 1 October 2016, is currently in its first phase, and is utilizing PNNL’s Laboratory Environmental Algae Pond Simulator (LEAPS) mini-photobioreactors to cultivate algae indoors, in a controlled environment, while mimicking the frequently shifting water temperatures and lighting conditions that occur in outdoor ponds.

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Researchers uncover mechanism behind oil synthesis in algae

April 20, 2017

Researchers led by a team from Kobe University in Japan have revealed the mechanism behind oil synthesis within microalgae cells. Many species of algae are capable of producing large amounts of oil (lipids), but this is the first time that researchers have captured the metabolic changes occurring on a molecular level when lipids are produced in algae cells.

The discovery could contribute to the development of biofuels. The findings were published in an open access paper in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil renew algae biofuels research agreement

January 19, 2017

Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil have extended their agreement to conduct joint research into advanced algae biofuels after making significant progress in understanding algae genetics, growth characteristics and increasing oil production.

ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics have been jointly researching and developing oil from algae for use as a renewable, lower-emission alternative to traditional transportation fuels since launching the program in 2009. (Earlier post.) Work continues toward developing strains of algae that demonstrate significantly improved photosynthetic efficiency and oil production through selection and genetic engineering of higher-performance algae strains. The agreement continues to focus on Synthetic Genomics’ core strengths in synthetic biology and builds on recent discoveries of biological pathways regulating lipid production and growth in advanced algal strains.

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DOE BETO releases new strategic plan; biofuels to constitute 25% of US transportation fuels by 2040

December 31, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) released its new strategic plan, titled Strategic Plan for a Thriving and Sustainable Bioeconomy. The strategic plan—with a vision for 2040—lays out BETO’s mission to accomplish its vision in a dynamic setting that realizes changes in the energy landscape, advances in technology, growing environmental awareness, and public expectations.

The strategic plan sets the foundation for the development of BETO’s multi-year program plans, annual operating plans, and technology program areas. It also takes a crosscutting approach to identify opportunities to adapt and align BETO activities and project portfolios with those in both the public and private sectors. The plan centers around four key opportunities: enhancing the bioenergy value proposition; mobilizing US biomass resources; cultivating end-use markets and customers; and expanding stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

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ARPA-E to award $25M for macroalgae projects; seaweed biomass to be cost-competitive with terrestrial biomass at energy-relevant scales

December 16, 2016

ARPA-E announced up to $25 million in funding for the MacroAlgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program (DE-FOA-0001726). The program will focus on developing advanced cultivation technologies that enable the cost and energy efficient production of macroalgal biomass in the ocean at a scale suitable as feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals. The deadline to submit a Concept Paper for MARINER is 5 pm ET, 14 February 2017.

The US has the world’s largest marine Exclusive Economic Zone—an area of ocean along the nation’s coast lines which is equivalent to the total land area of all 50 states. The US has the potential to utilize this resource to build and grow a thriving marine biomass industry for the production of fuels, chemicals, feed, and food. Growing macroalgal biomass in the oceans offers a unique opportunity to sidestep many of the challenges associated with terrestrial biomass production systems, particularly the growing competition for land and freshwater resources, which are likely to result from the 50 to 100% increase in demand for food expected for 2050.

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DOE to award up to $8M to develop algae-based biofuels

The US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE's) Bioenergy Technologies Office announced a funding opportunity (DE-FOA-0001628) of up to $8 million, subject to appropriations, for innovative technologies and approaches to help advance bioenergy and bioproducts from algae. This FOA, entitled “Productivity Enhanced Algae and Tool-Kits,” has two topic areas: (1) algal strain improvements and (2) algal cultivation biology improvements.

Selected projects and approaches will seek to overcome species-specific, ecological, and practical challenges to improved algal productivity and biomass composition—two key metrics in achieving high fuel yields. The FOA objectives are tightly focused on developing strain and cultivation improvements that increase algal areal productivity, in grams of ash-free dry weight of algae produced per square meter per day (g/m2/d), and fuel yield, as understood by proximate analysis of biomass composition and paper-based calculation of gasoline-gallon equivalency (GGE) using literature-based conversion factors.

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Consortium proposes large-scale industrial cultivation of marine microalgae (ICCM) as solution to global energy, food, and climate issues

December 05, 2016

Members of the Marine Algae Industrialization Consortium (MAGIC), led by Duke University in North Carolina, have published an open-access paper in the journal Oceanography presenting the large-scale industrial cultivation of marine microalgae (ICMM) as an answer to pressing global energy, food and climate security issues.

Underpinned by numerous prior research papers through MAGIC’s predecessor, the Cornell Marine Algae Biofuels Consortium, the ICMM approach delivers a series of co-products: liquid hydrocarbon fuels to power heavy-vehicles, ships and aircraft; proteins and other essential nutrients to feed the planet’s population; and biopetroleum products to store carbon for the long-term.

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DOE BETO to issue $8M funding opportunity for algae-based biofuels

December 02, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) plans (DE-FOA-0001708) to issue a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0001628) for up to $8 million, subject to appropriations, for the development of algae-based biofuels.

The FOA, entitled Productivity Enhanced Algae and Tool-Kits (PEAK), will support innovative technologies and approaches to help advance bioenergy and bioproducts from algae. These projects will support the development of cost-competitive biofuels from algal biomass by focusing on breakthroughs in advanced biology, as well as biology-based tools to improve algae cultivation productivity. Selected projects will also accelerate future innovations through data sharing within the research and development community.

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