Energy Department to industry: Here’s $8M, now (puleez!) innovate down the cost of algae

July 12, 2017 |

In Washington, the U.S. Department of Energy, through the Bioenergy Technologies Office, announced the selection of three projects to receive up to $8 million, aimed at reducing the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts.

These projects will deliver high-impact tools and techniques for increasing the productivity of algae organisms and cultures. They will also deliver biology-focused breakthroughs while enabling accelerated future innovations through data sharing within the research and development community. This funding supports the development of a bioeconomy that can help create jobs, spur innovation, improve quality of life, and achieve national energy security.

Algal biomass can be converted to advanced biofuels that offer promising alternatives to petroleum-based diesel and jet fuels.  Additionally, algae can be used to make a range of other valuable bioproducts, such as industrial chemicals, bio-based polymers, and proteins. However, barriers related to algae cultivation, harvesting, and conversion to fuels and products need to be overcome to achieve the Department’s target of $3 per gge for advanced algal biofuels by 2030.

The winning three

The selected projects include the following:

Lumen Bioscience (Seattle, Washington): Working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lumen Bioscience will rapidly engineer strains that grow robustly in seawater, resist contamination and predation, and accumulate substantial amounts of energy-rich components. Lumen Bioscience is focusing on agricultural production of algae on otherwise non-productive land in rural eastern Washington State, with the ultimate goal of creating new agricultural jobs in that region.

Global Algae Innovations (El Cajon, California): Pond ecology has a major impact on algal health and productivity, yet very little is known about the impacts of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi. In partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, University of California at San Diego – Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the J. Craig Venter Institute, Global Algae Innovations will deliver a tool for low cost, rapid analysis of pond microbiota, gather data on the impacts of pond ecology, and develop new cultivation methods that utilize this information to achieve greater algal productivity.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos, New Mexico): Working with Sapphire Energy at its Las Cruces, New Mexico, field site, Los Alamos National Laboratory will evaluate rationally designed pond cultures containing multiple species of algae, as well as beneficial bacteria, to achieve consistent biomass composition and high productivity. This project will help the algal research and development community better understand these metrics at commercial scales.

The Los Alamos and Global Algae Innovations Backstories

Back in July 2015,  Los Alamos (via the Producing Algae and Co-Products for Energy (PACE) consortium led by the Colorado School of Mines) and Global Algae Innovations wwre in the money when the US Energy Department announced six projects to receive up to $18 million in funding to reduce the modeled price of algae-based biofuels to less than $5 per gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) by 2019.

The PACE consortium received up to $9 million to enhance overall algal biofuels sustainability by maximizing carbon dioxide, nutrient, and water recovery and recycling, as well as bio-power co-generation. Meanwhile, Global Algae Innovations received up to $1 million to increase algal biomass yield by deploying an innovative system to absorb carbon dioxide from the flue gas of a nearby power plant.

Multi-Slide Guides

The PACE consortium was profiled in this Multi-Slide Guide, here.

Global Algae Innovations was featured in this Muti-Slide Guide, here.

More on Los Alamos

Los Alamos National Lab is engaged in applied, precompetitive R&D in Algae Biotechnology and Bioenegineering. The activities are divided into: molecular tools, technologies, and resources for strain improvement; improved strains ; and bioenegineering technologies for increasing algae biomass productivity and the energy-efficiency of algae processing steps

In March, we reported that Los Alamos was partnered with Sandia National Laboratories in testing strains of algae for resistance to a host of predators and diseases, and learning to detect when an algae pond is about to crash. An estimated 30 percent of current production on algae farms is lost each year due to pond crashes.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.

Sandia labs leads work on detecting when algae ponds are about to crash


Los Alamos’ algae researc projects were profiled in this Multi-Slide Guide, here:

More on Global Algae Innovations

biofuels and other products through development of an integrated, photosynthetic, open raceway pond system to produce algal oil. Their approach is to combine best-in-class cultivation and pre-processing technologies with some of the world’s leading strain development laboratories.

Here’s an illuminating look at Global Algae Innovations in a presentation given by CEO Dave Hazlebeck at ABLC 2017 in Washington DC., here.

Last August, we reported in the Digest that Global Algae Innovations had begun offering for sale a membrane system that, at scale, could use just 1% of the energy needed to run a centrifuge. GAI is Dave Hazlebeck’s company — not long ago, he ran General Atomics’ algae projects and, if you’ll recall, some of the biggest DOE algae grants were going General Atomics’ way.

“It has 100% harvest efficiency,” Hazlebeck told The Digest,”and brings the algae solids concentration up to 15-20%.” What about fouling? we asked. That’s been a problem for most membrane-based ideas that have come along. “And no fouling,” Hazlebeck confirmed.

A breakthrough in algae harvesting

The Lumen Biosciences backstory

If Los Alamos and Global Algae Innovations have regularly featured in DOE-funded algae research, Seattle-based Lumen is newer to the storyline. Almost brand-new, the company has developed proprietary technology to genetically engineer Arthrospira sp. (Spirulina), and has built strains of Spirulina that synthesize high value products.

Of late, the company has been working on the design, construction and operation of a large scale bioreactor system (up to 10,000 L per production unit) optimized for growth of Spirulina, together with associated seed train and extraction processes. The company was founded by Brian Finrow (serving as CEO , the former General Counsel and SVP at Adaptive I Biotechnologies, a developer of immunosequencing services and reagent kits to academic researchers and biopharma companies. — Finrow is best known in the industrial sector as the former general counsel at AltAir.

You can learn all about the Lumen story in our Multi-Slide Guide to the company, published here.

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