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.


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.”

Molecular Swiss Army Knife Improves Algae-Fuel

A molecular Swiss Army knife may hold the key to making blue-green algae biofuel and biochemical production more viable. A research team from Michigan State University (MSU) fabricated a synthetic protein that both improves the assembly of the carbon-fixing factory of cyanobacteria while providing proof of concept for a device that could potentially improve plant photosynthesis or be used to install new metabolic pathways in bacteria. Study results were published this month in The Plant Cell journal.

MSU scientists have built a molecular Swiss Army knife that makes biofuels and other green chemical production from algae more viable. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

MSU scientists have built a molecular Swiss Army knife that makes biofuels and other green chemical production from algae more viable. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

“The multifunctional protein we’ve built can be compared to a Swiss Army knife,” explained Raul Gonzalez-Esquer, MSU doctoral researcher and the paper’s lead author. “From known, existing parts, we’ve built a new protein that does several essential functions.”

For this research, Gonzalez-Esquer worked with Cheryl Kerfeld, the Hannah Distinguished Professor of Structural Bioengineering in MSU’s-DOE Plant Research Lab, and Tyler Shubitowski, MSU undergraduate student. Kerfield’s lab studies bacterial microcompartments, or BMCs. These are self-assembling cellular organs that perform myriad metabolic functions. In other words, they can be though of as molecular factories with many different pieces of machinery.

The research team modernized the factory by creating, in essence, a hybrid protein in cyanobacteria, organisms that have many potential uses for making green chemicals or biofuels. Basically the protein speeds up the process of taking CO2 out of the athmosphere and converting it to sugars.

“It’s comparable to making coffee. Rather than getting an oven to roast the coffee beans, a grinder to process them and a brewing machine, we’ve built a single coffeemaker where it all happens in one place,” Gonzalez-Esquer said. “The new tool takes raw material and produces the finished product with a smaller investment.”

However, this altered cyanobacterial species won’t be taking over any ponds near you just yet. While the improved organisms excel at photosynthesis in a lab setting, the researchers said they are still ill prepared to compete with other bacteria. Hopefully, this will change as the team continues to develop and refine the photosynthesis process in algae.

Algenol’s Algae-based Ethanol to Be Sold Via Protec

Protec Fuel Management has taken another innovative route to bring ethanol to consumers. The company has signed an agreement to market and distribute Algenol Biotech’s algae-based ethanol being produced in Fort Myers, Florida. In addition, Protec will purchase 18 million gallons per year from Algenol’s commercial plant expected to be online in 2016 and distribute the fuel as E15 and E85 in both retail stations for consumers and stations dedicated to fleets.

Algenol makes ethanol from algae“This alliance is a logical step for Algenol as our commercial fuels are coming on-line,” said Algenol Founder and CEO Paul Woods. “We are excited about partnering with a successful, innovative renewable fuels distributor, who is knowledgeable in the regional and Florida ethanol market and has the expertise and relationships to grow the partnership nationally.”

According to Algenol, the partnership will enable them to leverage Protec’s established network of retail clients for the distribution of Algenol’s E85, E15 and other advanced biofuels. While the partnership will initially focus on Florida, the agreement provides for expansion into a national partnership scope as Algenol develops projects in other markets. Algenol’s Florida-based production facilities will provide both parties and their customers with a substantial margin advantage versus fuels shipped from out-of-state.

“We know that advanced ethanol is a key element of the future of fuels, and we are excited to partner with Algenol, the leader in the development of algae-based fuels,” added Todd Garner, CEO, Protec Fuel. “The key components and priority of ethanol’s use are sustainability, cleaner air, and to provide the public with lower-cost fuel,” he said. “To be able to offer a fuel that can accomplish the three key components only bolsters this advanced biofuel’s future.”

This agreement follows a series of successful commercialization milestones achieved by Algenol, which include its pathway approval by the EPA in December 2014, its organism approval by both the state of Florida and by the EPA in the same year, and the June 2015 completion of its 2-acre commercial demonstration module funded in part by a $25 million DOE Recovery Act grant. Algenol is producing ethanol meeting the D4806 ASTM specifications on a daily basis, and it can be sold commercially as E85.

Tokyo Scientists Increase Algal Oil Production

Hiroyuki Ohta, a researcher at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, together with scientists based at institutions across Tokyo, Japan, have discovered a way of increasing the oil production in algae. The oils are used to create biofuels and biochemicals and researchers are looking for ways to increase the production of triacylglycerols in the Nannochloropsis algal strain NIES-2145.

Triacylglycerols, or TAGs, are a class of lipids which form the backbone to biofuels in algae. The molecules are comprised of glycerol attached to three fatty acid chains, and microalgae is known to produce more TAGs under nutrient stress conditions. When the algal strain Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is starved of phosphorus, TAGs accumulate rapidly following the overexpression of an enzyme known as CrDGTT4, which in turn is triggered by gene promoter SQD2.

03_chlamydomonas6-2_color1aOhta and his team conducted genetic analysis of NIES-2145 and uncovered a homolog of the SQD2 gene. This implied a common expression control system between algal species in response to nutrient stress. The researchers decided to place both CrDGTT4 from C. reinhardtii and its SQD2 promoter into NIES-2145 to find out if this combination could control levels of TAGs production. Their attempt was successful – the SQD2 promoter was able to drive CrDGTT4 expression in NIES-2145 under phosphorus starvation without disturbing the membrane structure of the microalgae, and the production of TAGs in NIES-2145 increased as a result. Notably, incorporation of oleic acid (a preferentially utilized substrate by CrDGTT4) into TAG molecules was enhanced.

The findings point to the possibility of manipulating the production of TAGs, and thereforebiofuel oil production, in multiple microalgal strains. Further research is needed in order to fully understand the processes behind lipid remodeling during phosphorus starvation in algae before these methods are trialled on a larger scale.

Algae Biomass Summit to Highlight Comm’l Potential

ABOScientists and industry innovators will be talking about the commercial potential of algae at the upcoming 9th Annual Algae Biomass Summit, taking place in Washington, DC. This news release from the Algae Biomass Organization says the summit happens Sept. 30th-Oct. 2nd and features nearly 30 oral presentations on the business strategies, technologies and sustainable production methods that are bringing to market algae-based products, such as fuels.

“The leaders of the algae industry and research community are gathering in Washington, DC for the very first time at this year’s Algae Biomass Summit to highlight the unprecedented progress we have seen in algae’s potential to impact a number of multi-billion dollar markets,” said Al Darzins, Program Chair for the Algae Biomass Summit. “Companies from around the nation, and the world, are unveiling new production and process technologies, new facilities, new purchase agreements and other milestones. The commercial potential of these projects in terms of revenues, jobs and production yields will be hot topics at this year’s summit.”

The summit will have four tracks and more than 100 live presentations.

More information is available here.

The Quest for a Sustainable Highway

The Mission Zero Corridor Project in Troup County West Georgia is trying to build a ‘green highway’. The travel corridor would, according to Innovia Technology, who has been commissioned for the project, rethink the purpose and function of infrastructure to generate social, environmental and economic value.

Ray-C-Anderson-Memorial-Highway-Exit-14-artist-impressionSome of the technologies being looked at for the project include algae biodiesel gas stations, smart solar-powered roads, moon-cycle adjusting lights, wildlife bridges, driverless cars, electric-car charging lanes and cultural greenways.

“Worldwide the highway infrastructure is continuously maintained, rebuilt and expanded at considerable economic and environmental cost. The Mission Zero Corridor Project is proposing an alternative future where highways have a positive impact on our communities. It’s very exciting to be involved in making this vision a reality,” said Alastair MacGregor, CEO of Innovia Technology, of the challenge ahead.

The late Ray C. Anderson, founder of Interface, Inc. developed the Mission Zero framework to eliminate Interface’s environmental impact while maintaining productivity and still turning a profit. The aim was a promise to “eliminate any negative impacts the company may have on the environment by 2020” and the framework created a blueprint for business sustainability. As a memorial, the Ray C Anderson Foundation is using a 16 mile stretch of Interstate 85 as the living experiment of the “regenerative, restorative and sustainable highway”.

To get the project started the Foundation and Interface funded a vision study through The Georgia Conservancy’s Blueprints for Successful Communities program. Using Interface’s Mission Zero framework as a roadmap, graduate students in the School of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, with studio instruction from a team of architects from Perkins+Will in Atlanta, explored how a highway could be a tool of change. The outcome was an inspirational report that identifies a broad range of potential technologies and opportunities. Innovia’s role is to provide a creative exploration of new opportunities, evaluate the technologies for viability and scalability, and to propose a strategy to bring the vision to life.

Scottish Scientists Identify Algae Best for Biofuels

stephenslocombe1Scientists in Scotland have identified which algae are the best for biofuels. This article from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) says the researchers used a new technique to figure out which ocean-based strains had the highest oil content.

The screening revealed two marine strains, Nannochloropis oceanica and Chlorella vulgaris, which had a dry-weight oil content of more than 50 per cent. This makes them ideal sources of biofuel for vehicles and aircraft.

The results of the screening, part of the BioMara project, have been published in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports and are likely to help bring forward research into algae as a source of biodiesel and other biofuels by a number of years.

SAMS scientists have demonstrated that Nannochloropsis, for example, is very efficient at converting nutrients, so it has the perfect combination of high levels of oil and high productivity.

The report’s lead author, Dr Stephen Slocombe, SAMS research associate in molecular biology, said: “In order to produce biofuels from micro-algae we will have to generate high yields, so we need to know which strains will produce the most oil.

“While there is a lot of work being done on micro-algae biotechnology – currently around 10,000 researchers across the world – no-one has identified a shortlist of the best performing strains and how their properties could be used.”

The research also identified algae varieties best for the health food industry.