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.
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.
Targets for analytic and tool development may include efficiency, accuracy, and precision of the analytics and tools, and feasibility in industrial and academic settings.
Topic Area 1: Strain Improvement. This topic area is for small teams to develop enhanced algal strains with increased areal productivity and biofuel yield, along with improved or novel algal toolkits and/or methods. Strain improvement methods may include gene discovery and biological pathway analysis, directed evolution, breeding, and/or genetic engineering of novel algal strains that can reproducibly out-perform the current best available strains in outdoor conditions, where “performance” is represented by productivity, robustness, and composition.
Topic Area 2: Cultivation Biology Improvement. This topic area is for small teams to develop increased areal productivity and biofuel yield through enhanced management of ecological or abiotic contributions to cultivation biology, along with improved or novel algal toolkits and/or methods. Cultivation biology development improvements may include leveraging natural or designed microbial assemblages of the algal culture ecosystem to boost performance and resist pathogens, and understanding species-specific cultivation conditions.
This topic area is about improving management of a current cultivation system. Abiotic contributions, including nutrient and stochastic climatological variables, can have a profound effect on outdoor performance. Topic Area 2 supports improving the understanding of physiology and performance under fluctuating and uncontrollable abiotic conditions.
The FOA will require selected projects to participate in a cultivation readiness validation and benchmarking, or friendly “challenge”, the PEAK Challenge. In the PEAK Challenge, project performers will, after passing an interim Go/No-Go decision point to validate seasonal areal productivity and biomass composition, and towards the conclusion of their development efforts, cultivate their organism(s) in an outdoor relevant environment—a field-based campaign with adequate controls and duration.
Utilizing the growing season and cultivation equipment of their choice, each team will demonstrate their peak productivity potential over the course of their culture’s growth curve during this field challenge.