Sandia Labs’ Launches New Algae Raceway

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a new algae raceway testing facility to bridge the gap between lab and real world. Today, scientists have not yet discovered a cost-competitive way to convert algae to renewable fuels. The new Sandia algae testing facility is comprised of three 1,000-liter oval raceway ponds that feature advanced monitoring.

The new algae raceway testing facility at Sandia National Laboratories will help scientists advance laboratory research to real-world applications. Shown here is one of the three 1,000-liter ponds, outfitted with custom lighting and 24-hour advanced hyper spectral monitoring. Photo credit Dino Vournas.

The new algae raceway testing facility at Sandia National Laboratories will help scientists advance laboratory research to real-world applications. Shown here is one of the three 1,000-liter ponds, outfitted with custom lighting and 24-hour advanced hyper spectral monitoring. Photo credit Dino Vournas.

“This facility helps bridge the gap from the lab to the real world by giving us an environmentally controlled raceway that we can monitor to test and fine tune discoveries,” said Ben Wu, Sandia’s Biomass Science and Conversion Technology manager. “The success of moving technologies from a research lab to large outdoor facilities is tenuous. The scale-up from flask to a 150,000-liter outdoor raceway pond is just too big.”

According to Wu, the “raceway” design features several benefits:

  • Easy scale-up to larger, outdoor raceways
  • Customizable lighting and temperature controls, operational by year end, to simulate the conditions of locations across the country
  • Fully contained for testing genetic strains and crop protection strategies
  • Advanced hyperspectral monitoring 24 hours a day

The new facility is already in use with researchers Todd Lane and Anne Ruffing testing genetically modified algae strains as part of a project funded by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. The algae raceway should enable the researchers to more quickly identify strains that promise improved performance.

“The bioeconomy is gaining momentum,” Wu said. “Biofuels from algae may be further off, but algae has sugar and proteins that can make fuel or higher valued products, such as butanol or nylon — products that currently come from fossil fuels.”

Wu expects the facility will expand opportunities for Sandia researchers to develop algae as a robust source of biofuels and increase collaborations and partnerships with the private sector, particularly in California where efforts to transform transportation energy are prevalent.

Researchers Feed Algae Cleaner CO2 for Biodiesel

melbourne1Researchers in Australia have found a way to feed cleaner carbon dioxide to algae, which would help in the production of biodiesel. This news release from the Melbourne School of Engineering says the new method purifies the carbon dioxide that is in power station flue gases by absorbing it into a liquid.

This liquid is then pumped through hollow fibre membranes. These hollow fibre membranes are like very long drinking straws, which can be immersed into the microalgae beds.

Professor Sandra Kentish, Head of the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Melbourne and leader of the research team said that supplying purified carbon dioxide by extracting it from flue gases can work, but it is expensive and takes a lot of energy.

“In this work, we have found a way to purify the carbon dioxide and to supply it to the microalgae for a much more moderate cost and using a lot less energy,” Professor Kentish said.

“The CO2 moves directly from the liquid into the microalgae culture by permeating through the fibre walls. Aside from being a cheaper approach, our research has shown that the microalgae grow faster than in other work done to date,” said another team member, Dr Greg Martin.

The process can be used to produce other products such as chemicals, proteins and nutraceuticals.

Army Turning Artillery Shells into Biodiesel

armyalgae1You’ve heard about pounding swords into plowshares. Well, how about making bombs into biodiesel? This article from the U.S. Army says that’s the idea behind Army researchers, in concert with biofuel maker Algenol Biotech LLC, using algae to turn the propellant in artillery rounds into biodiesel.

“Because the algae-based process uses photosynthesis, it actually consumes carbon dioxide,” said Pamela Sheehan, project officer and principle investigator for the M6 recycling research program at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, at Picatinny Arsenal.

“So not only is the process not carbon-dioxide generating, it goes beyond being carbon neutral to a carbon-dioxide consumer,” she said. Eliminating the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during destruction of propellant helps the Army reduce its carbon footprint and take action against climate change.

When circumstances allow it, the military recycles metal parts during the demilitarization processes.

However, the algae-based demilitarization method would allow the Army to recycle nitrogen, which is present in all propellants and explosives.

“We’ve conceptualized a process to develop a capability to extract and conserve that nitrogen using a hydrolysis process,” Sheehan said. Hydrolysis is a chemical process of decomposition.

“The nitrogen then is in the form of nitrite and nitrate, and we want to use that nitrogen to grow algae in a reactor. The algae utilizing the nitrogen will grow, and as they grow will produce ethanol, and an oil product that can later be refined into diesel fuel,” she said.

Officials also point out that the process will provide a source of revenue from what is usually a costly, waste-stream process.

Researchers Sequence Algae Genome for Biodiesel

chrysochromulinaResearchers at the University of Washington have sequenced the genome for a type of algae and found important information for biodiesel production. This news release from the school says the scientists sequenced the complete genetic makeup of the important and plentiful algae, known as haptophytes.

“Haptophytes are really important in carbon dioxide management and they form a critical link in the aquatic foodchain,” said senior author and UW biology professor Rose Ann Cattolico. “This new genome shows us so much about this group.”

The haptophyte Cattolico and her team studied is Chrysochromulina tobin, and it thrives in oceans across the globe. The researchers spent years on a series of experiments to sequence all of Chrysochromulina‘s genes and understand how this creature turns different genes on and off throughout the day. In the process, they discovered that Chrysochromulina would make an ideal subject for investigating how algae make fat, a process important for nutrition, ecology and biofuel production.

“It turns out that their fat content gets high during the day and goes down during the night,” said Cattolico. “A very simple pattern, and ideal for follow-up.”

She believes that that these extreme changes in fat content — even within the span of a single day — may help ecologists understand when microscopic animals in the water column choose to feast upon these algae. But knowledge of how the algal species regulates its fat stores could also help humans.

“Algae recently became more familiar to the general populace because of biofuel production,” said Cattolico. “We needed a simple alga for looking at fat production and fat regulation.”

The research was published Sept. 23 in the online, open-access journal PLOS Genetics.

BDI – BioEnergy to Build UK Biodiesel Plant

BDIAustrian-based BDI – BioEnergy International will build a new biodiesel plant in the U.K. This news release from the company says the plant is part of of a larger project by the company also constructing an industrial-sized algae plant.

BDI – BioEnergy International AG developed a new process for the production of high valuable products from algae in its in-house research and development department. The newly founded 100 percent subsidiary “BDI – BioLife Science GmbH”, now invests in the construction of an own production plant at the location in Hartberg/Steiermark.

The implementation of the follow-up order of an existing client in the UK was successfully started. The BioDiesel project for the same client – for the treatment of commercial and industrial waste fats – which has been started beginning of the year is already in the installation phase. The BioGas plant built in Austria for the Heineken Group is currently undergoing its biological start-up. In addition, the BioGas plant in Poland is close to completion.

Algae Foundation to Launch Algal College Program

The Algae Foundation logoThe Algae Foundation will be creating a college degree in algal cultivation technologies and an aquaculture extension training program. The nonprofit received a multi-year grant from the Department of Energy and with the funds has formed the Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC). The Consortium, a partnership between academic institutions, national research laboratories, and industry leaders, will develop educational programs to strengthen the industry workforce working on developing algal products.

“We believe this will be the first ever associates degree in algal biology, cultivation and technology,” said Ira Levine, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Southern Maine and the P.I. of the grant. “This will help develop the next generation of algae researchers, scientists and engineers whose skills are in great demand from the hundreds of companies developing and deploying algae technology in the U.S. and around the world.”

The grant will fund a three-year program, during which the Algae Foundation will establish the ATEC team, design a curriculum for a college degree, develop and publish textbooks, and partner with community or technical colleges to implement the degree. The team will deploy an educational assessment team to evaluate the college courses created for the degree.

“National Renewable Energy Lab is committed to supporting and advancing algal technologies and we are very excited to participate in this project as strong growth in this industry is anticipated, added Cindy Gerk, NREL Project Leader. “We look forward to the success of this project and enabling high value jobs for the workforce of tomorrow.”

Virginia School Reviving Algae-to-Biodiesel Operation

hatcher1A Virginia farm that grew algae for biodiesel has been shut down, but researchers at a nearby university are helping the operation produce the green fuel from the green slime again. This article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch says Old Dominion University is working on the issue and hoping to make it commercially viable.

Patrick G. Hatcher, an Old Dominion University geochemist who was a major force behind the project, is trying to keep the dream alive.

“We are still actively pursuing the technology and trying to go commercial,” Hatcher said. “Right now is not the best time because the price of gas is cheap, the price of oil is low, and nobody gives a darn about biodiesel anymore.”

He said he hopes to find investors willing to put up $75 million to $100 million to produce biodiesel on a commercial scale.

“To make money, you need to do this on a large scale — thousands of acres,” Hatcher said.

ODU and the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, a group created by the state legislature, started the project back in 2006, but it failed to take off. A new patented process could make this newest iteration of the project more successful.

MSU, ExxonMobil Partner for Algae Biodiesel

david-kramer1One of the nation’s premier research universities is partnering with one of the biggest oil producers to make renewable, algae-based biodiesel. This news release from Michigan State says the school and ExxonMobil will expand research designed to progress the fundamental science required to advance algae-based fuels.

David Kramer, MSU’s John Hannah Distinguished Professor in Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics at the MSU-DOE Plant and Research Laboratory, says that the overall goal of the partnership is to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in microalgae to produce biofuels and bioproducts.

“Photosynthesis is the biological process that plants and algae use to store solar energy in biomass. It is how all our food is made, and we would starve without it,” said Kramer, who is leading the grant with Ben Lucker with the PRL and Joe Weissman, Distinguished Scientific Associate at ExxonMobil.

The key to bioenergy is the efficiency of photosynthesis, the process algae use to capture solar energy and the first step in converting the energy from the sun into a liquid fuel. Past research has shown that algae photosynthesis can be highly efficient under optimal conditions in the laboratory. Under realistic growth conditions however, this efficiency drops. There is a need to improve photosynthesis under simulated production environments.

“Fortunately, nature has provided us with a great potential for improvement. There are many different strains of algae that have adapted to work well in different environments,” Kramer said. “What we want to do is figure out how they are able to do this and what genes are responsible. With this knowledge, we can potentially combine traits to make strains that are more efficient even under harsh conditions.”

“We know certain types of algae produce bio-oils,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “The challenge is to find and develop algae that can produce bio-oils at scale on a cost-efficient basis.”

Algenol to Aid China in CO2 Reductions

Algenol is partnering with South China’s Fujian Zhongyuan New Energy Company (ZYNE) to solve three major problems: lack of clean air, clean water and the needs for sustainable, low carbon fuels. The two companies will work together on an exploration project where Algenol will take ZYNE’s captured CO2 and covert it to ethanol. Algenol’s technology, Direct to Ethanol, uses the CO2 as the feedstock for algae to produce ethanol, gas, diesel and biojet fuel.

Paul-Woods-and-Wang-Suwei-Sign-Partnership

Algenol’s CEO and Founder Paul Woods and Wang Suwei, ZYNE’s Chairman of the Board in Seattle, WA

“We all share one atmosphere. Clean air has no borders,” said Algenol CEO Paul Woods during a ceremony to solidify the partnership. “We are eager to bring our technology to China because we know that our process can remove health-damaging pollution straight from its source and turn it into renewable fuel and clean water.”

According to an Algenol press statement, this partnership unites the economic and environmental benefits of their technologies with ZYNE’s existing expertise in delivering renewable fuels in China. The companies will identify and evaluate the utilization of CO2 emissions from industrial sources such as power plants, steel mills, cement and chemical factories in the Fujian province, and other parts of Southern China. Once the CO2 sources are identified, the process will begin to incorporate Algenol’s technology solution of carbon capture and utilization and renewable fuel production. An added benefit of Algenol’s technology is the primary by-product of clean water, which is valuable to many communities in Southern China.

Partnership Fosters Algae and Biodiesel Growth

MSUPHYCOMichigan State University (MSU) and algae company PHYCO2 are developing algae technologies that cut greenhouse emissions and could eventually lead to more biodiesel. This article from MSU says PHYCO2’s revolutionary and patented concept promotes algae growth and sequesters, or captures, carbon dioxide from power plant emissions.

Under the collaborative research agreement, MSU and PHYCO2 – an algae growth and carbon dioxide sequestration company based in Santa Maria, California – will investigate the performance of PHYCO2’s algae growth and carbon dioxide absorption technology, as well as algae-processing technologies.

PHYCO2 will be testing its algae photo bioreactor, technology that continuously captures significant amounts of CO2 and grows algae with LED light, at MSU’s T.B. Simon Power Plant. MSU and PHYCO2 expect to be able to absorb up to 80 percent of captured CO2 emissions for the production of algae. MSU will be testing the growth of several algae strains and post processing of the algae that is grown.

The project’s goals are to cost-effectively grow algae while significantly absorbing CO2 for sequestration from the gas emissions at the power plant. The algae can then be sold into current markets for biofuels, bioplastics and other applications.

“MSU has always been on the forefront of cutting-edge research and development,” said Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the MSU power plant. “Our collaborative work with developers fits MSU’s research agenda to solve the world’s problems – in this case, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“We are confident that this partnership between MSU and PHYCO2 will meet and exceed the challenge issued by the White House,” said PHYCO2 CEO Bill Clary. “The PHYCO2 photobioreactor represents the future of cleaner emissions and the first CO2 capture technology that truly is market sustainable.”