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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.]

Audi testing finds e-ethanol and e-diesel produced by Joule often perform better than conventional counterparts

February 03, 2014

Audi investigating its e-fuels in an optical research engine using laser-induced fluorescence. Click to enlarge.

Audi testing of synthetic ethanol (Audi e-ethanol = Joule Sunflow-E) and synthetic diesel (Audi e-diesel = Joule Sunflow-D), produced in partnership with Joule (earlier post) in a pressure chamber and optical research engine has shown that the Audi e-fuels often perform better than their conventional counterparts.

Joule’s Helioculture platform uses engineered microorganisms directly and continuously to convert sunlight and waste CO2 into infrastructure-ready fuels, including ethanol and hydrocarbons (n-alkanes) that serve as the essential chemical building blocks for diesel.

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

December 18, 2013

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

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

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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Australian techno-economic analysis of renewable aviation fuels identifies research priorities to lower the high costs

May 22, 2013

A techno-economic analysis of renewable aviation fuels by Australian researchers has found that, based on currently available long-term reputable technological data, biorefineries producing biofuels from microalgae, oil seeds of the Pongamia tree, and sugarcane feedstocks would be competitive with crude oil prices at $1,343, $374, and $301/bbl, respectively.

Sensitivity analyses of the major economic drivers suggest technological and market developments that would bring the corresponding figures down to $385, $255, and $168/bbl, the researchers said in their paper, published in the journal Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining. The results of the study, which was conducted as part of the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative, were presented at the Boeing-hosted Aero Environment Summit in Sydney.

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PNNL study finds US could grow enough algae to produce 25B gallons of fuel per year

May 21, 2013

Trade-off analysis map showing the available and least expensive water option for each site. Sites where water supply costs are <20% of biofuel value are colored according to the least expensive available source. Where freshwater was not available and alternative water cost was greater than 20% of biofuel value, the water costs are displayed as a percent of biofuel value. Credit: ACS, Venteris et al. Click to enlarge.

A new analysis by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) finds that the US’ land and water resources could likely support the growth of enough algae to produce up to 25 billion gallons of algae-based fuel per year—one-twelfth of the country’s yearly needs. The partial techno−economic assessment was based on the availability of freshwater, saline groundwater, and seawater for use in open pond algae cultivation systems.

Achieving larger production volumes would require the utilization of less water-efficient sites and relatively expensive saline waters, they suggested. Freshwater availability and saline water delivery costs are most favorable for the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida peninsula, where evaporation relative to precipitation is moderate. The results are published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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