blog

Feature Menu

Algae Research Expected to Yield Green Jet Fuel, Diesel, Gas

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2010 (ENS) – To create green aviation fuels, diesel, and gasoline that can be transported and sold using existing fueling infrastructure, the Obama administration is investing up to $78 million of economic stimulus money in biomass technologies, including algae, says Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Two biofuels consortia have been awarded funding to research algae-based fuels as part of the Energy Department’s larger $564 million effort to stimulate the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs announced in December.

“Advanced biofuels are crucial to building a clean energy economy,” Secretary Chu said Wednesday. “By harnessing the power of science and technology, we can bring new biofuels to the market and develop a cleaner and more sustainable transportation sector.”

Microalgae cultured in southwestern deserts that produce lipids for conversion to biodiesel fuel (Photo by Paul Roessler courtesy NREL)

Scientists and engineers from universities, private industry, and government laboratories will share expertise and technologies to break down barriers to the commercialization of algae-based and other advanced biofuels.

The two consortia selected for funding have similar names but are made up of different groups of experts who will address different goals.

NAABB, the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts, will receive $44 million.

Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center based in St. Louis, Missouri, the world’s largest independent plant research center, NAABB will develop a systems approach for sustainable commercialization of algal gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel and bioproducts.

“This award cements St. Louis as a center for the development of renewable energy from algae,” said Dr. Richard Sayre, NAABB chief scientist and director of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Center.

In 2007, the Taylor family, owners of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, joined with the Danforth Center to establish the Institute for Renewable Fuels. The aim is to create the next generation of alternative fuel technologies from environmentally sound plant sources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on non-renewable resources.

Last spring, the Danforth Center was designated an Energy Frontier Research Centers by the Energy Department and received a $15 million five year award to establish a Center for Advanced Biofuels Systems, also led by Dr. Sayre At the same time, Washington University was also designated an EFRC and received $20 million for algal research.

Now the NAABB will integrate resources from companies, universities, and national laboratories to overcome the barriers of cost, resource use and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and commercial viability.

This group will develop and demonstrate the science and technology necessary to increase production of algal biomass and lipids, efficiently harvest and extract algae and algal products, and establish valuable certified co-products that scale with renewable fuel production.

Co-products include animal feed, industrial feedstocks, and additional energy generation. Multiple test sites will be set up in diverse environmental regions to facilitate broad deployment.

NABC, the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium, will receive up to $33.8 million.

Led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL, based in Golden, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, NABC will research infrastructure compatible, biomass-based hydrocarbon fuels.

The result will be a sustainable, cost-effective production process that maximizes the use of existing refining and distribution infrastructure.

“Biofuels must be compatible with the nation’s engines, pipelines and refineries to play a substantial and effective role in reducing carbon emissions and reducing oil imports,” said NREL Associate Director for Renewable Fuels and Vehicles Dale Gardner.

John Ashworth poses with biofuel equipment at the National Bioenergy Center. (Photo courtesy NREL)

The National Renewable Energy Lab was approached by some 20 companies asking to partner for this Department of Energy solicitation, said John Ashworth, NREL team leader for partnership development at the National Bioenergy Center.

“DOE wanted private firms to be the lead organizations in any proposal, so we partnered with a number of different companies on a variety of projects,” he said.

Ashworth said the Energy Department has been consciously trying to stimulate innovation in converting non-food biomass into fuels.

“The government is putting up risk capital to attract private investors to put their money into pushing technologies forward. It’s a forward thinking approach,” Ashworth said. “It’s taking risk, but it’s working.”

“Billions of dollars are being committed to these scale-up activities, helping to cut down the timeline for when these fuels are in the marketplace,” he said.

Now NABC will investigate a variety of process strategies and select those closest to larger scale demonstration.

Then NABC plans to develop these strategies to deliver what Chu calls “a pilot-ready process, with full lifecycle analysis to measure the environmental benefits.”

Private and non-federal cost-share funds of more than $19 million will go towards total project investments of over $97 million.

Secretary Chu also announced the selection of eight infrastructure projects to receive up to $1.6 million to support expanded fueling infrastructure for ethanol blends.

E85 fuel pump in Washington, DC (Photo by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

These projects will expand ethanol blends infrastructure at existing retail fueling locations in nine states: Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

The projects will install E85 pumps, retrofit existing pumps to dispense E85, and install blender pumps that offer ethanol blends up to 85 percent at over 60 stations.

E85 contains a mixture of up to 85 percent fuel ethanol and 15 percent gasoline used in engines modified to accept higher concentrations of ethanol. These flexible-fuel vehicles are designed to run on any mixture of gasoline or ethanol with up to 85 percent ethanol by volume.

In total, these eight projects will create at least 45 E85 dispensers and 16 blender pumps along key driving corridors and areas with higher concentrations of flexible fuel vehicles.

The infrastructure projects will be matched with $3.9 million in non-federal cost-share funds, for a total investment of $5.5 million.

Click here to view the complete list of participants and project descriptions of all these awards.

In December 2009, Secretary Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the selection of 19 integrated biorefinery projects to receive up to $564 million in economic stimulus funds to produce advanced biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts using biomass feedstocks at the pilot, demonstration, and full commercial scales.

These projects, in 15 states, will validate refining technologies and help lay the foundation for full commercial-scale development of a biomass industry in the United States.

View This Story On Eco–mmunity Map.