DOE Invests Another $24 Million into Algae Research


Earlier this year, the United States’ government announced several grants going towards algae research, one of the largest going towards the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts. This consortium received $44 million and is headed by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. In addition to this investment, other areas of the government have financially vested themselves in algae biofuels as well.

However, it seems that the U.S. government isn’t done investing in the future of algae fuels. Just last month, the government announced that it will be investing even more into the algae research field, $24 million more to be precise. This grant will be split between three different consortiums, each focusing on a different area of research.

Here are the details from the U.S. Department of Energy’s press release:

Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium (Mesa, Arizona): Led by Arizona State University, this consortium will focus on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-based fuels. Tasks include investigating biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products, and analyzing physical chemistry properties of algal fuels and fuel intermediates. (DOE share: up to $6 million)

Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization (San Diego, California): Led by the University of California, San Diego, this consortium will concentrate on developing algae as a robust biofuels feedstock. Tasks include investigating new approaches for algal crop protection, algal nutrient utilization and recycling, and developing genetic tools. (DOE funding: up to $9 million)

Cellana, LLC Consortium (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii): Led by Cellana, LLC, this consortium will examine large-scale production of fuels and feed from microalgae grown in seawater. Tasks include integrating new algal harvesting technologies with pilot-scale cultivation test beds, and developing marine microalgae as animal feed for the aquaculture industry. (DOE funding: up to $9 million)

I have seen some hint that these sorts of investments just lead to more research, which they seem to imply isn’t needed for successful commercialization efforts. However, this isn’t the case and more research is exactly what is needed. In fact, the DOE’s recent release of the finalized “National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap” states that much.

See, with algae, we seem to be somewhere in the middle of the entire development and commercialization process. What I mean by this is that we have scientifically proven that we can produce algae oil, which can be refined into the various products we need. That is the “first” stage that needed to be accomplished and, essentially, has been since algae biofuel research first started.

The “last” stage required before algae biofuels can be successfully commercialized has also already been completed. This stage refers to the infrastructure needed to refine, transport, and run the fuels. Since algal fuels can essentially be used the exact same way as petroleum fuels, no vast overhaul of our transportation infrastructure will be required. This means that the vast majority infrastructure is already in place and fuel produced from algae can be run in your car’s current engine.

What is missing is the whole “middle” stage, which consists of research to develop methods that takes the algae oil we know we can produce and cut down the costs to levels that are cost competitive with traditional petroleum.

That is what grants like these are trying to do. Just like the DOE’s $44 million grant to set up NAABB, each research consortium will focus on a specific aspect of the algae production model (growth, harvesting, extraction, contamination control, etc.) and try to develop a cost effective way to do it.

The great news is that once we have this “middle research” completed, the time to widespread commercialization will be reduced since the infrastructure is already in place.

One of the lead authors on the DOE’s roadmap stated this optimistic view about what grants like these can accomplish.

“Biotechnology has come a long way” since the earlier project, says Valerie Sarisky-Reed of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, one of the lead authors of the roadmap. “With a dedicated research and development program, we can bring the economics to a suitable place within a 10-year time frame,” she says. “We chose to invest in it again because we felt we were within striking distance.”

While grants like these won’t be the magic bullet to answering all the algae barriers, when they are combined with the research and development from private companies’, the future of algae biofuels certainly looks bright.

Article by Jonathan Williams appearing courtesy Celsias.

photo: derekkeats

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. Theodore sturos on

    Great article, just want to get the word out that the Australian government is hard at work pushing algae bio fuels too!

     Proof that Origin Oil’s and MBD Energy technology works? Aussie government grants 5 million!

    Mbd energy is origin oils first customer. The two are collaborating to capture carbon from existing power plants and produce oil. If successful profitability is inevitable.  The oil produced will be able to take part in fueling our nations energy needs.

    Below is a quote and link explaining their agreement. 

    Article published may 11


     ” In the initial phase, OriginOil will equip MBD Energy’s research and development facility at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, where testing will take place. The two companies agreed that, subject to the success of the initial test phase, MBD will purchase significantly larger feeding and OriginOil extraction units to serve facilities planned for its three Algal Synthesizer power station projects in Australia: Tarong Energy (Queensland), Loy Yang A (Victoria) and Eraring energy(New South Wales).”

    (If trials work, mbd will be fully financially committed to the  purchasing and production of this technology.)

    This article published by James Cook university allows potential investors and thosfogng origin oil and mbd energy to conclude that the tests were a success and that mbd energy is going to be purchasing larger more expensive units from Origin Oil. The link  below followed by an important quote will explain my claims.

    article from july 9th

    “Senator Carr visited the MBD-JCU research facility at the Townsville campus and inspected the facility – a pilot project that is aimed at commercializing the development of Bio Carbon and Capture Storage technology. The process consumes large quantities of greenhouse gases while producing low cost bio-oil and animal feedstock” after the inspection the Aussie government grant MBD energy with a 5 million dollar grant.

    (the research facility at the Townsville campus was an integration of Mbd and Originoil’s technology.)

    Summary-First, Origin Oil and MBD energy integrated and tested each others technology at James Cook university.  The trials were successful.  They called in the Aussie government to evaluate. The Aussie government evaluated the facility and their successes with government funding.      

    You may be wondering-

     If this is true why hasn’t Origin Oil reported it?

     This is because MBD Energy is a private company and the two companies have most likely signed to a non disclosure agreement. Meaning origin oil by law is not able to publicly report the process of the project till time stated in contract.