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Creating Algal Biofuels Out of Thin Air

March 2015
Creating Algal Biofuels Out of Thin Air
PNNL's Marine Sciences Laboratory, located on Sequim Bay
in Washington's Puget Sound.
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Producing sustainable biofuels with microalgae has gained widespread interest, with projections that these microscopic aquatic plants could contribute significantly to future oil production in the United States. The projections assume the availability of suitable, concentrated point sources of carbon dioxide (CO2—such as flue gases from power plants—which are currently required for the cultivation of microalgae. However, such concentrated CO2 sources are generally not co-located where water, land, sunlight, and temperatures are optimal for achieving microalgae's production potential. In addition, the costs to transfer CO2 from power plants or other sources to algal cultivation systems are high.

Might it be possible to cultivate microalgae at high productivity with just the CO2 found in air? Researchers in PNNL's Coastal Sciences division will be partnering with Micro BioEngineering, Inc. to pursue this concept over the next two years through a recently awarded $900,000 grant from DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Research at PNNL’s Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, Wash. and MicroBio Engineering, Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Cal. will use a combination of physical, chemical, and biological manipulations to maximize the transfer of CO2 from air into algal pond cultures. This process, called AlgaeAirFix™, will be compared with baseline of productivities achieved with concentrated sources of CO2.

The goal of this research is to demonstrate the possibility of meeting DOE microalgae biofuel program goals to produce up to 2,500 gallons of algal oil a year without depending on power plant or other such point sources of CO2.

To learn more about the grant, read DOE's announcement.

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