By Lynn L. Bergeson
On August 17, 2018, researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its progress in accelerating the process of biofuel-making. Through the use of biotechnology, their research demonstrates that an enzyme, glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase (GPAT) from the red algae Cyanidioschyzon merolae, can contribute to the biofuel production process. Algae is often used to produce biofuels because it contains high amounts of triacyglycerols (TAG) under certain conditions, which can be converted into biodiesel. Using Cyanidioschyzon merolae as a control strain, researchers at Tokyo Tech discovered that the reactions catalyzed by GPAT presence in this single-celled red algae “is a rate-limiting step for TAG synthesis […] and would be a potential target for improvement of TAG productivity in microalgae,” accelerating biofuel production.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On June 18, 2018, DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO)-funded Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC) announced its first graduates from the algal certificate program at Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. DOE states that these first ATEC graduates “received their Associate Applied Science Degree in Controlled Environment Agriculture with a certificate in Algae Cultivation” on May 12, 2018. The program was conceptualized and designed by ATEC members, including professors, algal commercial leaders, community college instructors, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). The announcement states that the ATEC curriculum was designed “with inputs from America’s leading algal companies to include education and training in specific job skills, thus allowing students’ skills to transfer immediately into professional careers.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson
Representative Scott Peters (D-CA) recently introduced the Algae Agriculture Act of 2018 (H.R. 5373) to the House of Representatives. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and Darin LaHood (R-IL), would provide similar advantages to algae cultivators and harvesters as those that exist for traditional crop farmers under U.S. agricultural policy. These advantages include: updating the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture to include algae, which will provide funding for additional research into ways to utilize algae; making rural electric cooperatives eligible for Carbon Capture and Use (CUU) projects using algae; and providing crop disaster assistance for algae cultivation. “Algae can become a natural pathway to improve soil health on farms, manage water resources, nutrient run-off, and utilize carbon in a way that earns revenue and reduces climate change impacts,” stated Mark Allen, Vice President of Integrated Carbon Solutions at Accelergy Corporation and Vice Chair of Algae Biomass Organization’s (ABO) board of directors. “This bill is an important step toward making algae farming and other algae technologies an important part of American agriculture.”
By Kathleen M. Roberts
The DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is hosting an Advanced Algal Systems Listening Session from 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. (PDT) on June 13, 2018, in Seattle, Washington. During the listening session, BETO will seek feedback from experts in algal biology, cultivation, and conversion on ways to address near-term research and development barriers and opportunities for cost-competitive algal biofuels and bioproducts. The discussion will focus on opportunities and challenges in integrating algal productivity and biomass yield improvements in scalable algae cultivation systems to achieve high yields.
The listening session will be preceded by the 8th International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts. More information, including a detailed agenda and registration, will be available on the DOE website.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On December 14, 2017, General Automation Lab Technologies (GALT) announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) a three year $3.5 million grant to improve the growth and efficiency of biofuel-producing algae. LLNL and GALT will collaborate on the project, which also aims to reduce wasted byproducts of photosynthesis by targeting microbiomes that can more efficiently recycle it back to carbon dioxide for the algae to grow better. GALT’s novel high-throughput microbiome research technology will be used to screen tens of thousands of microbiome combinations. Researchers aim to target bacteria that are able to increase biomass yield under the high light and temperature stress conditions that are found in desert environments such as Arizona, where plenty of sunlight and useable land exist and could potentially support future algal biofuel production facilities.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
A collaboration between researchers at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Washington State University (WSU) has led to the development of a method for converting hydrothermal liquefaction wastewater into a usable and valuable commodity. The method utilizes the byproduct wastewater stream from the continuous thermo-chemical process that PNNL researchers developed to produce biocrude from algae. The wastewater contains a variety of different chemicals in small concentrations, such as carbon and nutrients from the algae, and accounts for approximately 90 percent of the output. Researchers at WSU Tri-Cities’ Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory have developed a method to process the wastewater using anaerobic microbes. The microbes break down the components of the wastewater to produce bionatural gas and a solid byproduct that can be recycled back into the hydrothermal liquefaction process or used as a fertilizer. Following the success of the partnership, PNNL and WSU researchers are collaborating on the conversion of sewage sludge to biofuel, bionatural gas, and nutrients using a similar strategy.