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Algae To Biofuels

Energy Department lab, Chevron plan research collaboration

by Jeff Johnson
November 12, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 46

Credit: Warren Gertz/NREL
Credit: Warren Gertz/NREL

The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Chevron have forged an R&D collaboration to study advanced technologies to make liquid transportation fuels from algae. The agreement will restart an NREL R&D program examining the energy potential in algae oils and lipids. The program was phased out in 1996 after 20 years of work, says Al Darzins of NREL's National Bioenergy Center.

In the mid-1990s, algae-based fuels could not compete with cheap oil, Darzins notes, but they remained a promising biofuel feedstock because some algae species contain high amounts of oil and are abundant and fast-growing. The rejuvenated program's focus will be bench-scale exploration of the chemistry and biology of algae to maximize oil content and rate of growth while controlling costs. It will complement another NREL research program that is growing algae for hydrogen production (shown) using intense lights and a carbon dioxide-rich environment.

Don Paul, Chevron's vice president and chief technology officer, heralds the collaboration as "essential to overcoming the technological and commercial challenges of manufacturing high-quality transportation fuels from unconventional feedstocks." Paul adds that Chevron believes nonfood feedstocks such as algae and cellulose hold the greatest promise to expand today's biofuels industry to large scale. Without offering specifics, Chevron says it will fund the initiative.


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