Microalgae Project Underway in Portugal

A one-hectare pilot project for the production of microalgae is under construction in Portugal. The facility will demonstrate, what a consortium of biotechnology experts say, is an innovative approach to produce microalgae biomass with biodiesel validation in a sustainable manner.

The demonstration pilot facility is one of the milestones expected from the Integrated Sustainable Algae (InteSusAl) project. The project aims at optimizing the production of algae by both heterotrophic and phototrophic routes. It will also demonstrate integration of these production technologies to achieve the microalgae cultivation targets of 90-120 dry tonnes per hectare per year.

algae“InteSusAl’s demonstration unit comes in a time of extreme importance to ensure Europe’s energy supply security, said Dr Neil Hindle, coordinator of the InteSusAl project. “We are glad that the European Commission is making it possible to demonstrate this new approach to produce microalgae biomass. We hope that our results will attract attention from investors interested in financing a 10-hectare site to produce microalgae in a sustainable manner on an industrial scale.”

The project integrates heterotrophic and phototrophic production technologies, using biodiesel glycerol as a carbon source to the heterotrophic unit and validating the biomass output for biodiesel conversion. The demonstration unit will be located in the municipality of Olhão, in the Algarve region of Southern Portugal. The pilot site will be composed of a set of fermentation units, tubular photobioreactors and raceways.

The sustainability of this demonstration, in terms of both economic and environmental (closed carbon loop) implications will be considered across the whole process, assessed via a robust life cycle analysis.

Arizona State to Offer Algae-to-Biodiesel Showcase

azcati1Algae has a great future as a feedstock for biodiesel, as well as cleaning up wastewaters. Arizona State University will be offering a showcase on how to do both at its Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI), May 1-2.

Students from Arizona universities will demonstrate their projects to the public at the Innovation Showcase May 1, and during a formal public presentation workshop May 2. The multi-university collaboration is made possible by funding and support from the Arizona Board of Regents.

Tour the labs and the green algae testbed fields of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation from 3-6:30 p.m., May 1, during the Innovation Showcase, hosted by the College of Technology and Innovation. Throughout the showcase, Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University faculty and students will discuss their algae projects, and AzCATI representatives will host tours throughout the center. Stop by the AzCATI booth at the Innovation Showcase in the Sun Devil Fitness Complex to learn about algae and begin a guided site tour.

The school promises more in-depth insight into the students’ leading-edge research on May 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with tours of the AzCATI facility to follow.

TX Algae Operation Confirms Commercial Potential

auroraalgae1An algae growing operation in South Texas has confirmed it is about ready to go commercial scale. Aurora Algae says after six months of testing and evaluation, it has the potential to go commercial-scale, and the company is expanding its test facility with four, one-acre cultivation ponds and a harvesting system.

“We have successfully tested our algae cultivation system in countries around the world, including Australia, India, Italy, Mexico, and multiple locations in the United States,” said Greg Bafalis, Aurora Algae CEO. “Our most recent test site, near Harlingen, Texas, is meeting and surpassing our growth rate expectations for this area.”

Aurora Algae operated a demonstration-scale algae cultivation facility in Karratha, Western Australia, for over two-and-a-half years, successfully demonstrating production of up to 15 tonnes of dried algal biomass per month while continuing to refine its cultivation and harvesting processes. Aurora management believes the Karratha facility to have been the most technologically advanced algae production system in the world.

Located nine miles from Harlingen, the Aurora Algae evaluation site in Rio Hondo, Texas, sits on a 1,880-acre parcel, which was formerly home to a shrimp farming operation.

Company officials say their particular variety of algae grows best in salt water in warm. arid climates.

UC San Diego Has Top Algae-Biodiesel Programs

scripps1Plenty of warm Southern California sun must be helping fuel the brains of algae-biodiesel researchers, as two programs at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are rated tops in the Nation. This article from the school says the U.S. Department of Energy bestowed the high marks.

A program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography was rated the best in the nation. Mark Hildebrand and his team in the Marine Biology Research Division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography received the top honor… The report specifically cited the lab’s “outstanding research” in the genetic manipulation of algae to improve the yield of key components for biofuel production. Another UC San Diego research group, the UC San Diego Consortium for Algae Biofuel Commercialization (CAB-Comm), led by UC San Diego molecular biologist Stephen Mayfield, was recognized by the DOE as the number two-ranked research program.

… Hildebrand’s group has found that diatoms, among the most prevalent oceanic algae, are uniquely suited to biofuel production. In particular, diatoms are a good system for scientists like Hildebrand who hope to use genetic tools to perfect algae biofuel production.

CAB-Comm … partners with industry collaborators Sapphire Energy and Life Technologies, focuses on green algae and cyanobacteria, and was cited by the DOE for “demonstrating how the yield potential of algae can be preserved by controlling pests through development of resistant strains, use of chemical pesticides, and cultivation of consortia of strains.”

Researchers from both groups at UCSD hope the high ratings will help them secure more government funding for their projects.

Better Sites for Algae Helps Biofuels Production

ABOA new process for identifying and evaluating algae production facilities could help with biofuels production. The article, “Siting Algae Cultivation Facilities for Biofuel Production in the United States: Trade-Offs between Growth Rate, Site Constructability, Water Availability, and Infrastructure,” in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, talks about the new method developed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sapphire Energy and was welcomed by the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), the trade association for the algae industry.

“Effectively siting algae cultivation facilities for commercial biofuel production is critical to the success of every commercial algae project,” said Margaret McCormick, chair of the Algae Biomass Organization and CEO of algae company Matrix Genetics. “The biology is so complex, existing ‘off-the-shelf’ measurement tools fall short. Because this analysis considers numerous variables along with real-world algae cultivation data, it offers project developers a much more complete and rigorous evaluation of sites.”

Site selection for large construction projects is a complex task, but a particularly challenging one in the case of algae cultivation in open ponds, where facilities could be thousands of acres in size. The factors that drive success include: a warm and sunny climate, available water, economically available land with soils good for construction, and proximity to transportation and utility infrastructure. In addition, special consideration must be given to local issues that are difficult for national-scale models to address, such as regulatory constraints, tax incentives, receptivity of local populations and ecological constraints.

The study found that there is good potential for cultivating green algae along the Gulf of Mexico, especially on the Florida peninsula. It also says that the type of algae to be grown is a big factor when choosing a site.

MSU Increases Odds of Algal-Biofuel Success

david-kramerA team of Michigan State University (MSU) scientists have invented a new technology that they believe increases the odds of helping algae-based biofuels bridge the gap to success. The environmental photobioreactor or ePBR system is the first standard algae growing platform and it stimulates dynamic natural environments. The system is featured in the current issue of Algal Research.

To better visualize the technology, ePBR is in essence a pond in a jar that helps identify, cultivate and test algal strains that have the potential to make the leap from lab to pond – or thrive and multiple in real-world, real-pond settings and produce vast amounts of oil.

As the quest for “better biofuels” continues, many researchers are looking to algae as a viable solution, but a barrier to commercial success has been that algal strains that perform well in labs don’t often perform well when moved to commercial scale applications.

“It’s like training elementary kids to be really good pingpong players,” explains Ben Lucker, MSU research associate.. “But then they take the kids and throw them into a football game against professional players; in those settings, they simply can’t compete at all.”

epbrThe ePBRs, which the team believes will help make algae biofuel research more desirable to investors, were the brainchild of David Kramer, Hannah Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at MSU. His lab is unique. Although it’s housed among other plant biologists, it could be mistaken for an electronics factory. The benches are covered with wires, soldering irons and printed circuit boards. There are even few early prototypes that provide a history of ePBR’s progress.

The latest models glow green and whir quietly as they test various strains. By allowing scientists to duplicate natural settings in a lab, ePBRs eliminate many variables before scaling up. The bioreactors are about the size of coffee makers and can induce changes in light, temperature, carbon dioxide, oxygen, evaporation, nutrient availability and more.

The ePBR system also can duplicate and confirm results from experiments conducted anywhere in the world. It replaces home-built growing platforms made from flasks, tubing, aluminum foil and grow lights and gives researchers a tool that can consistently replicate conditions and reproduce results, Lucker said.

The potential of ePBRs has already inspired the launch of a company, Phenometrics, an MSU spinoff headquartered in Lansing, Michigan, and while only two years old, steady orders for the bioreactors have the company on the same track of success as algal biofuels.

Advancements in Algal Biofuels: Year in Review

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has released its Advancements in Algal Biofuels: Year in Review. The goal of BETO is to support advanced in the production of algal biofuel – especially those that lower the cost of production.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 11.09.14 AMThe report highlights several notable R&D breakthrough including:

  • Fast algae-to-bio-crude oil process reduces production costs – DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is receiving national recognition for developing a process to turn algae into bio-crude oil in just minutes. PNNL’s technology eliminates the lipid extraction step and subjects whole algae to very hot water under high pressure to convert the algae biomass into bio-crude oil (a process called hydrothermal liquefaction). PNNL successfully treated wet algae biomass in a commercially relevant, continuous process that doesn’t require drying steps or solvents to make the bio-crude oil.
  • Discovery in algae cell biology overcomes key challenge to algal biofuels – Researchers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) made a significant breakthrough in the metabolic engineering of algae to improve yield of lipids (the energy-storing fat molecules that can be used in biofuel production). Algae typically only accumulate lots of lipids when they are starved for nutrients, but the drawback to starvation is that it limits organism growth. The SIO research team genetically engineered a disruption in the synthesis of the enzymes that breakdown the storage lipids that are produced during normal growth, allowing for lots of lipid accumulation without starving the algae. The resulting algae both grow fast and accumulate lipid at the same time. The high lipid yields that result from utilizing this method can potentially improve the economics of algal biofuel production.
  • Collaborative outdoor algae production testing facilities come online – Two national algae R&D testbed programs kicked off their project work in 2013. The Arizona State University-led Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) and the University of Arizona Regional Algae Feedstock Testbed Partnership manage algal biofuel R&D facilities across the United States and serve as engines for algal technology innovation and validation, job training and workforce development, and long-term cultivation data.

In response to the report, the National Algae Association’s (NAA) Barry Cohen said that while the advancements might be news in Washington, none of them are newsworthy to the algae production industry.

For example, Cohen said the work being done at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is not news. “Hydrothermal liquefaction is another name for a process that has been used in petroleum refining for more than 100 years.”

He also noted in regards to the two national algae testbeds that NAA has not been able to independently verify the status of any of the facilities. “NAA has, however, created its own online Algae Production Certification Course and its second algae production incubator facility is operational,” said Cohen.

Read NAA’s full remarks regarding the report here.


Heliae Algae Techology Headed to ASU

Heliae’s algae production technology is heading to Arizona State University’s (ASU) algae testbed facility. The company is partnering with SCHOTT North America to install a Helix photobioreactor at ASU’s Department of Energy (DOE)-funded algae testbed facility.

Over the next several years, algae research staff at ASU will leverage the Helix photobioreactor, built by Heliae, for pioneering research that will forward the understanding of algae production technology, including an investigation into the effect of glass tubing innovation on the yields and economics of algae production. The reactor will also deliver the production of high-quality algae cultures, which will support broader ASU algae operations.

azcati_testbed_facility_at_asuThe DOE-sponsored testbed at ASU is part of the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3), a network of algae industry leaders, national labs, and research facilities. Led by ASU, ATP3 enables both researchers and third party companies to succeed in their algal endeavors by providing a national network of testbed systems and other services, such as research and education.

Over the course of the multi-year research plan, ASU will manage Helix operations and research, while Heliae and SCHOTT will support the project in an advisory capacity.

“To develop world-class technology, it’s essential to partner and collaborate with the best innovators in the industry,” said Dan Simon, Heliae’s president and CEO. “For glass innovation, there is no equal to SCHOTT, and the interactions between Heliae’s and SCHOTT’s research and development teams over the years have helped both companies develop world-class technology that will truly enable this industry.” Continue reading

Algae Biodiesel Fuel From Utah State

nbb-14-rhesa-ledbetterRhesa Ledbetter from Utah State University was one of the students who attended the 2014 National Biodiesel Conference. Chuck caught up with her for an interview and she explains her research in algae biodiesel fuel.

Rhesa finished her master’s in micro-biology and then decided she wanted to do a project that was really applied. To her biodiesel products seemed to make a lot of sense and something that would work well with her background.

“Our group at Utah State is focusing on biodiesel produced from algae. We have characterized a lot of properties and we also have a diesel streamliner we have been able to run out on the salt flats. It’s been great for me to be able to learn so much about a topic that I wasn’t really familiar with. Being able to interface with all these experts has been invaluable. I think collaborations will develop from this event will end up enhancing our research.”

In the future Rhesa and her team look to continue seeking more efficient ways to produce the fuel and promoting all the great traits biodiesel has.

Earlier this year Joanna did a post on the Aggie A-Salt Streamliner Rhesa mentioned. You can find that post here.

2014 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

Researchers “Milk” Algae to Get Biodiesel Feedstock

moheimaniUsually, when biodiesel producers are using algae to provide the feedstock oil to produce the green fuel, they have to destroy the algal cells to get the oil. But this article from Phys.org says Australian researchers might have found a way to “milk” the oil from the algae species Bortyococcus braunii so they can keep producing more biodiesel feedstock.

Murdoch University School of Veterinary and Life Sciences Algae R&D Centre researcher Dr Navid Moheimani and his team, in collaboration with the University of Tsukuba (Japan) have been investigating a non-destructive approach rendering the algae to be ‘milked’ and ‘remilked’ every five days.

By using a compatible solvent (n-heptane) they were able to extract oil from non-growing state algae repeatedly—producing significantly more hydrocarbon (oil) and requiring significantly less expensive nutrients (as opposed to rapid growth phase).

Dr Moheimani says B. braunii could replace its external hydrocarbon after five days [after milking] in cultures with one per cent CO2 addition.

“The overall external hydrocarbon productivity using non-destructive extraction was at least 20 per cent higher compared with B. braunii grown in conventional semi-continuous culture,” he says.

The researchers go on to say the efficiencies come from having not to regrow the algae after each extraction, which saves on fertilizer and waste biomass disposal costs, and they’ve been able to re-milk the algae for more than two months. The only real challenge might be getting those little milking stools and tiny buckets under each cell (but at least they don’t kick like an old holstein).