Strong algae momentum

Two recent big news on the algae front are developments from Honeywell’s UOP business and from DuPont. Both companies were able to get funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) – $1.5 million for UOP and $8.8 million for DuPont.

In UOP’s case, The funding will be used for the design of a demonstration system that will capture carbon dioxide from exhaust stacks at Honeywell’s manufacturing facility in Hopewell, Virginia, and deliver the captured CO2 to a cultivation system for algae. Algal oil will be extracted from the algae for biofuel feedstock, and the algae residual can be converted to pyrolysis oil, which can be burned to generate renewable electricity.

The project is being managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

For DuPont, the $8.8m funding given by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will help the company’s macroalgae-to-isobutanol project, which will establish technology and intellectual property in the use of macroalgae for biobutanol production. Butamax™ Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture between DuPont and BP, will be responsible for commercialization of the resulting technology package.

Bio Architecture Lab, a subrecipient of the program, will help in the development of technology to utilize macroalgae as low cost, scalable and sustainable biomass for the production of the biofuel.

So in the field of algae, we now have ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, Honeywell and now DuPont. Hey, if tax money is flowing from the DOE, why not use it, right? I wonder what chemical company is next.

By the way, Europe is also taking actions when it comes to algae for biofuels led by the European Algae Biomass Association (EABA). The group’s consortium called AquaFuels started its campaign in January this year to promote algae biofuels development and commercialization.

EABA said the consortium is set to deliver in the forthcoming months a sound scientific assessment of algae based biofuels in terms of both their expected sustainability and increased carbon efficiency.

Algae has actually been under fire in the recent months as one study in particular from the University of Virginia, reports that algae production consumes more energy, has higher greenhouse gas emissions and uses more water than other biofuel sources, such as switchgrass, canola and corn.

Of course the Algal Biomass Organization (ABO) questions the researchers’ report stating that it was based upon obsolete data and grossly outdated business models.

As previously noted in past posts, the blog has also encountered a lot of skepticism about algae from the chemical industry especially it’s use as biofuel feedstock.

Meanwhile, in the midst of this debate, members of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is currently urging the Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to extend tax code parity to algae-based biofuels as soon as possible. BIO said algae producers are currently at a disadvantage in attracting investments as algae-based biofuels are not recognized in the tax code as advanced biofuels (even though the DOE has been giving grants for its development and commercialization under its Advanced Biofuels stimulus program…).

BIO said it specifically supported the language in the Algae-based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act (S. 1250/H.R. 4168), sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.).

[Algae photo from DuPont]

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