Friday, January 21, 2011

Prospecting the Wild West for Promising Algae

Synthetic biology approaches to microbial fuels tend to attract a lot of money and investment, but mother nature still has a few tricks up her sleeve. Evolution has been working on algal species for many hundreds of millions of years.

Lee Elliott works at the US National Renewable Energy Labs, and roams the western US in search of "the perfect algae."
Elliott, a graduate student at theColorado School of Mines and a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, logged 3,500 miles last year driving his car across the West in search of promising algae. _LabEquipment

Whoever first finds the key to the profitable production of microbial fuels will find plenty of customers waiting.

The US government is beginning to get serious about helping fund advanced biofuels efforts. The US Department of Agriculture is providing over $405 million in loan guarantees to three separate ventures -- all three utilising gasification of biomass as the first stage of multi-stage processing of biomass to fuels. The US Department of Energy is providing a $241 million loan guarantee to a new advanced biodiesel plant in Louisiana. The new plant will use a hydrotreating/isomerisation process to convert animal and vegetable oils to high quality bio-diesel.

Abu Dhabi's Masdar Institute along with Boeing and Honeywell, have completed an assessment of an integrated seawater agriculture system (ISAS) to produce fuels and other high value products from salt and brackish water estuaries that are not suitable for traditional agriculture.
The program under the SBRC will be a 5-year research and demonstration project designed to drive the commercial viability of halophyte-derived bioenergy, including renewable jet fuels. The program will use integrated seawater agricultural systems to support the development and commercialization of biofuel sources for aviation, and co-products.

ISAS combines aquaculture, Salicornia cultivation, and mangrove silviculture into an integrated low-impact system for biofuel production that relies on seawater irrigation and does not compete for arable land. It also offers the prospect of contributing to the development of an alternative fuel source that can alleviate a portion of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions without negative environmental impacts. _GCC

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