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

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.

One of the most significant of CAB-Comm’s achievements was developing a full suite of genetic tools for cyanobacteria, green algae, and diatoms. CAB-Comm has since made these tools publicly available through the Life Technologies catalog, where more than 150 algae products are now listed and available for world-wide distribution.

The genetic tool kit developed for cyanobacteria is fully supported by an advanced web-based interface that allows in silico design of genetic tools. We have used this system to create and test over 70 genetic parts and devices including: origins of replication, improved broad-host-range plasmids, homology regions for chromosome engineering, antibiotic markers, and functional devices for gene expression. For diatoms, a set of highly useful genetic manipulation tools were developed including: new promoters; new antibiotic resistance selectable markers; markers that enables selection without GMO classification; RNAi and antisense approaches for gene regulation; and an array of fluorescent proteins and targeting vectors for sending proteins to multiple cellular locations.

—CAB-Comm Final Report

Another significant accomplishment was the world’s first outdoor field tests of a genetically modified algae strain, Scenedesmus dimorphous, run in collaboration with Sapphire Energy under approval of the US Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Substances Control Act Environmental Release Application. Results concluded that these algae did not displace native species in test cultures of local waters and that the genetically modified traits expressed were stable throughout the three months of cultivation.

CAB-Comm thoroughly investigated many crop protection strategies, identifying the most common algal pathogenic microorganisms and predators, and examining how multiple algae strains in community can result in greater productivity and resilience than monocultures. The group also developed a nutrient, water, and carbon mass balance model to assess best-practices and technologies for nutrient recycling.

In addition to accomplishments in basic research, CAB-Comm engaged the commercial sector to develop and demonstrate the production of high-value, sustainable fossil fuel replacement products.

In collaboration with Arctic Foam, CAB-Comm developed polyurethane foams for surfboard production in which 100% of the polyols were derived from algal oil. The algae-based polyurethane is sustainable, biodegradable, and meets performance requirements, and a commercial launch is anticipated in 2016. In addition, collaboration with commercial partners Heliae and Triton Health and Nutrition has resulted in the development of a strain of green algae that expresses high-value recombinant proteins, and the team is aiming this product toward the pet food supplement market.

The CAB-Comm projects were undertaken as collaboration among six academic institutions and two industrial partners: University of California, San Diego; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Rutgers University; University of California, Davis; Johns Hopkins University; Sapphire Energy; and Life Technologies.

From the academic institutions, there were 20 faculty Principal Investigators participating as well as numerous postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, Masters students and undergraduate students. Participation from the PIs labs was extensive with a significant amount of training provided to postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, Masters students and undergraduate students.

CAB-Comm education programs have, to-date, trained more than 200 research scientists and laboratory technicians for employment in the algal biofuels industry, and expanded a web-based course called “Our Energy Future” that has educated more than 50,000 students worldwide on the benefits of sustainable alternative fuels produced from algae.

To date, there have been 117 publications, 12 patent applications and 316 presentations from CAB-Comm research. The total award support was $11,031,459 in federal funds with an additional $3,096,000 in cost share from commercial partners.


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