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ARPA-E Awards $8.8M to DuPont and BAL for Macroalgae to BioButanol Work

Photo of seaweed used by Bio Architecture Lab. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded a Technology Investment Agreement to DuPont for the development of a process to convert sugars produced by macroalgae into isobutanol. Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) will be a subrecipient on the program. The DuPont-BAL project was one of 37 selected by ARPA-E for funding in its first round. (Earlier post.)

Under this award, the DOE will fund $8.8 million and DuPont and BAL will cost share the balance of the total award, forming a joint cost share program between DOE and DuPont. Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture between DuPont and BP, will be responsible for commercialization of the resulting technology package.

Bio Architecture Lab is a pioneer in the application of synthetic biology and enzyme design to the development of biofuels and renewable chemicals from aquafarmed, native macroalgae (seaweed), which is a low cost, scalable and sustainable biomass.

The macroalgae-to-isobutanol project plans to establish technology and intellectual property leadership in the use of macroalgae as a low-cost, scalable and environmentally sustainable biomass for biofuel production. Efforts in the project will focus on:

  • Improving domestic macroalgae aquaculture;
  • Converting macroalgae to bio-available sugars;
  • Converting those sugars to isobutanol; and
  • Economic and environmental optimization of the production process.

More than 60 scientists in Wilmington, Del., and Berkeley, Calif., will work on this research and development program. The macroalgae aquafarming project will be conducted in Southern California.

Butamax has a multi-generational program to introduce isobutanol from different feedstocks to the market. Initially, isobutanol will be produced from feedstocks such as corn, wheat, and sugarcane. Subsequently, isobutanol production can be based on cellulosic feedstocks and, eventually, advanced feedstocks such as macroalgae.

We project macroalgae to biobutanol technology will reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly compared to petroleum. Butamax is expanding its feedstock flexibility to deliver isobutanol sustainably to achieve ever-cleaner transportation fuels. This evolutionary feedstock approach will enable greater reductions in carbon intensity as sustainable lower carbon feedstocks emerge.

—Butamax CEO Tim Potter

DuPont and BP formalized their partnership around biobutanol in July 2009 with the creation of the Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC joint venture. Butamax and its parent companies have validated the potential of isobutanol to be a viable opportunity to advance biofuels through fleet testing and examination of the fuel value chain.

Isobutanol is a fuel that has a higher energy content per gallon than many first generation biofuels; does not absorb water and can be transported through the existing oil and gasoline distribution infrastructure; and can be used in gasoline-powered vehicles without modification at higher volumes than first generation biofuels, enabling greater concentrations of renewables into the transport fuel mix. (Earlier post, earlier post.)



Dupont and BP announced their joint cellulosic ethanol and butanol research in June 2006. They created Butamax in Summer 2009. They have a great technical and commercial pedigree. They are partnering with some UCB spinoff researchers who also have some pedigree. They are playing for all the marbles by taking the most land-efficient feed stock (algae) and the most gasoline-like biofuel (butanol) and trying to come up with a very scalable business model that could really change the market. That's all encouraging.

What I wonder about is, if BP and Dupont, which collectively have $270 Billion in revenue and $14 Billion in profit, think they need an $8 million grant to commercialize cellulosic algal biobutanol...WTF?


"What I wonder about is, if BP and Dupont, which collectively have $270 Billion in revenue and $14 Billion in profit, think they need an $8 million grant to commercialize cellulosic algal biobutanol...WTF?"

Future business/legal/legislative bribes are an unknown..


They show seaweed that could be grown in sea pens at a rapid rate. Making butanol would be good, it can be used much like gasoline without problems. There are many solutions and I hope that we get on with implementing and deploying them ASAP.

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