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PNNL and MicroBioengineering developing a high-yield process to produce algae using CO2 in the air

Supported by a recent $900,000 award from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (earlier post) researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Micro BioEngineering, Inc. are developing a process to produce microalgae directly from CO2 in air at high productivities, thereby decoupling algal growth from CO2 sources.

Traditional CO2 sources associated with microalgae production, such as flue gases from power plants, are concentrated and not often co-located with land and water sources of sufficient abundance to support large-scale biofuels production. Even when co-located, the cost of CO2 capture is high.

During the two-year project, the PNNL-led team will develop and demonstrate a new process called AlgaeAirFix, designed to overcome the energy intensity limitations associated with current air-CO2 processes. The novel process is estimated to produce up to 2,500 gallons of algal oil a year, meeting DOE microalgae biofuel program goals based on flue gas CO2-grown algae—without the dependency on flue gas.

Research will be conducted at PNNL’s Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, Washington, where AlgaeAirFix will be used to maximize the transfer of CO2 from air into large-scale algal pond cultures using a combination of physical, chemical and biological processes.

Laboratory studies also will be conducted under controlled conditions to provide both a baseline of productivity with current pond designs and operations, and those achieved using the AlgaeAirFix process.

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