DOE invests $22M in algae, other advanced fuels

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013

The Department of Energy will provide $22 million toward developing algae-based fuel and reducing the costs to harvest and process raw materials for biofuels production.

The bulk of the funding — $16 million — is being awarded to four projects in Hawaii, New Mexico and California that are exploring different technologies to use algae to produce oil with the same characteristics of petroleum-based fuel. Columbus, Ohio-based FDC Enterprises will use the remaining $6 million to work with growers in Midwestern states to develop more efficient processing technologies.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the funding today at DOE’s annual biomass conference in Washington, D.C. He called it part of the “broad set of attack angles” that the department is taking to build up next-generation fuels that do not use petroleum or corn as an input.

“The viability of the technology at the pilot stage is pretty much, I think, established,” Moniz said, “but now we have to work with the private sector to help move commercial-scale projects forward.”

Sapphire Energy Inc., which operates the nation’s largest algae farm outside of Columbus, N.M., will receive $5 million to develop a new process to generate algae oils that are compatible with existing fuel infrastructure and to develop new strains of algae. Earlier this week, Sapphire announced that it had completely repaid a $54.5 million loan from the Agriculture Department; DOE has also previously contributed a $50 million grant toward the project (E&ENews PM, July 30).

Hawaii Bioenergy will receive $5 million to develop a cost-effective photosynthetic pond to grow algae, while New Mexico State University will receive another $5 million to increase the oil yield of algae technologies. California Polytechnic State University will receive $1.5 million to increase the productivity of algae strains.

With its $6 million, FDC Enterprises will work with major ethanol producers POET LLC, Archer Daniels Midland Co., Clariant International and Pellet Technology USA to develop new equipment to harvest energy crops, refine biomass conveyor systems and improve pre-processing technologies.

Moniz today promoted the actions by DOE as part of the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy policy that includes support not only for alternative fuels but also for oil, gas and coal. He called on the country, though, to increase its investments in technologies to lower the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think we are still underinvesting in the technology that we need for this future low-carbon economy,” Moniz said. “What we’re doing is good, but I actually think we could be doing more.”