DOE Official: Algae and Biomass Future of Biofuels

John Davis

DOEOil from algae and the biomass from the green microbes could be the future for advanced biofuels… that word from a top U.S. Department of Energy official.

Biomass Magazine reports that Valerie Reed of the U.S. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy said at the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy held this week in Honolulu, Hawaii the her agency will develop advanced biofuels faster than cellulosic ethanol:

“We learned a lot over the past 20 years, and we believe we can apply that to a faster deployment phase,” Reed said, adding that biomass-based liquid transportation fuels are going to be the only adequate displacements for jet fuel. “This is now becoming a priority fuel we need to consider, and that’s why we’re moving into the advanced biofuels arena,” she said.

Algae has the potential to fit in our advanced biofuels scenario and has been a topic of great attention over the past couple of years, Reed said. “Why is this important to us? It’s an extremely diverse feedstock that comes from several kingdoms—this broad scope of diversity is something that we’d like to tap into and capture.”

Reed highlighted the high productivity of algae and it’s massive presence in the ocean, pointing out that if each algal cell were lined end to end there would be enough algae to reach the moon and back 15 billion times. She also pointed out that a troublesome algal bloom near the Olympic Stadium in China yielded more than 3 million tons of biomass in a three-month period. “Their nightmare is our opportunity,” she said. “If we can harness that type of productivity, and do so in a sustainable fashion, we can look at this in a different scenario.”

The article goes on to say that a DOE study from a few years ago shows the U.S. has 1.3 billion tons of sustainably available biomass. And Reed believes about 60 billion tons of cellulosic ethanol could be produced from that … about one-third of what is anticipated that will be needed for transportation. She says that doesn’t even count for what algae could produce, possibly 100 percent of U.S. fuel needs.

Reed admits there are some barriers, but that’s where research would come in and help overcome those obstacles.

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