NREL Bioreactor Uncovers How to Get Maximum Fuel from Algae

NREL biomass

by | Feb 20, 2014

NREL biomassA  bioeractor designed to simulate climate precise climates is helping a team of scientists find ideal locations for farms to produce algae for fuel.

The Simulated Algal Growth Environment (SAGE) reactor, located at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s campus in Golden, Colo., so precisely controls light, temperature and delivery of carbon dioxide that it can mimic conditions anywhere. The research aims to help algae someday compete with renewable diesel, cellulosic ethanol and other petroleum alternatives as transportation fuel.

A team of scientists have almost doubled the fuel from the same amount of biomass using the bioreactor, according to NREL.

Three so-called champion strains of algae grow in the bioreactor, which allows about five times the culture volume of other commercially available controlled-environment reactors, the NREL says.

The NREL is working with Arizona State University to study how these champion strains of algae convert sunlight into biomass, keep nutrients viable, and respond to light energy. NREL researchers are also working with Sandia National Laboratories to take proteins from algae and subject them to a fermentation process to boost the production of short-chain alcohols such as butanol.

Last year, the US Energy Department made $22 million in new investments o help develop cost-competitive algae fuels and streamline the biomass feedstock supply chain for advanced biofuels.

The Energy Department invested $16.5 million in four projects — Hawaii Bioenergy, Sapphire Energy, New Mexico State University and California Polytechnic State University —to help boost the productivity of sustainable algae, while cutting capital and operating costs of commercial-scale production.

The four projects build on the DOE’s efforts to bring next generation biofuels online, with the goal of producing cost-competitive drop-in biofuels by 2017 and algae biofuels by 2022.

The agency has also invested about $6 million in a new project led by FDC Enterprises to reduce harvesting, handling and preprocessing costs across the entire biomass feedstock supply chain.

Photo: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

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