SCIENTISTS AT PNNL will look for
the best biofuel options out of 30
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Algae Project Aims for Reliable Energy
BIOFUEL INITIATIVE COULD CUT PRODUCTION COSTS
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has put forth a more concerted effort to boost the viability of biofuel with its Algae DISCOVR Project, a $6 million
collaborative plan to discover which algae species are the most promising for renewable energy.
The goal of the Algae DISCOVR Project – short for Development of Integrated
Screening, Cultivar Optimization and Validation Research – is to reduce the cost and
time necessary to bring algae into biofuel
production. Looking at 30 candidates, sci-
entists hope to find four promising algae
strains by the end of the three-year pilot.
“Algae biofuel is a promising clean energy,
but the current production methods are
costly and limit its use,” says the project’s
lead researcher, Michael Huesemann of
PNNL. “The price of biofuel is largely tied to
growth rates. Our method could help devel-
opers find the most productive algae strains
more quickly and efficiently.”
PNNL is leading the program out of its
Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, WA,
and it includes researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Renewable
Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Arizona State University’s
Arizona Center for Algae Technology.
This group will seek to produce results where others have failed to adapt algae
into a reliable biofuel. While they have found results in the lab, they have not been
able to yield the same promising results when tested in outdoor ponds.
The Project’s Approach
In order to bridge the gap in results between the
lab and outdoors, PNNL is attempting to mimic environmental conditions. Its Laboratory Environmental
Algae Pond Simulator (LEAPS) mini-photobioreactors
replicate the shifting water temperatures and lighting
conditions that occur in a given outdoor pond. Situated
in glass columns with different strains of algae, the
LEAPS mini-photobioreactors undergo exposure to
unique temperature and lighting changes.
The researchers will then assess the growth rates of
each strain of algae, while also measuring oil, protein
and carbohydrate content because of their potential
to create biofuels.
The strains that produce 20% more biomass than
previously studied algae strains will then be tested
under more extreme conditions to test their resilience,
survival and evolution.
The strongest strains will then grow in outdoor ponds in Arizona, where researchers will compare growth with the research conducted in the lab while also harvesting biomass for future research. They will study the algae strains that produce best
outdoors under different lighting and temperature conditions and then enter the data
into PNNL’s Biomass Assessment Tool to identify the best locations for algae growth.
The hope is that after releasing data to the public, algae companies and researchers will begin to grow the most promising strains. The program also anticipates that
this work could include converting harvested algae into biofuels, examining crop
rotation and other operational changes, and assessing the overall feasibility of algae
as a biofuel.
developers find the
algae strains more