These experiments are part of the new, $6 million Development of Integrated Screening, Cultivar Optimization and Validation Research (DISCOVR) project, whose goal is to determine which algae strains are the toughest and most commercially viable.
The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy sponsors the project, and Sandia’s partners are Los Alamos (LANL) and Pacific Northwest (PNNL) national laboratories, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Arizona State University (ASU).Algae is a desirable biofuel source because it doesn’t compete with other plants that serve as sources of food. However, an estimated 30 percent of current production on algae farms is lost each year due to pond crashes.
The national labs, and Sandia in particular with its expertise on algae predators, are uniquely suited for this research. Sandia is using its 1,000-liter indoor algae raceway facility, also called a “crash lab,” to perform experiments that industrial groups will not do because they can’t afford to contaminate their ponds. “We use organisms and agents that many of my industrial partners do not allow on their sites,” said biologist Todd Lane, Sandia’s project lead. “They cannot culture these creatures in their own facilities. It’s too much of a risk.”