Energy Department Awards UA-Led Team $8M to Research Algae Biofuel

Can algae farming really supplant oil and gas drilling over time? That's the big question the University of Arizona's Kimberly Ogden, chemical and environmental engineering professor, has been asking of simple algae, the green stuff with the right stuff to potentially fuel the future.

Ogden is not alone in the quest to mass-produce a bio-oil to reduce dependence on petroleum and its many environmentally unfriendly byproducts. The challenge is to find a substance capable of becoming fuel for transportation, feed for animals, fertilizer and high-value products such as bioplastics or pharmaceuticals. Ogden is focused on determining the efficacy of one source in particular: algae.

The UA is the lead institution for the Regional Algal Feedstock Testbed, or RAFT, partnership, which was recently awarded $8 million over four years by the Department of Energy to research how algae can be grown year-round outdoors in open ponds in different climates. In addition, other researchers and companies will collaborate with the research team to develop harvesting and conversion processes to produce biofuels and bioproducts.

"Our job is to figure out how we take algae and turn it into biofuels, bioproducts and feed in an economically sustainable way. We want to make a biofuels industry in America," said Ogden, the UA's primary investigator on the RAFT project.

Ogden and RAFT researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, New Mexico State University and Texas A&M AgriLife are optimizing algal growth systems to yield more biomass and lipids, developing methods of recycling and reusing water, and experimenting with methodologies for growing various algae strains.

The majority of the research will be done using UA's Algal Raceway Integrated Design, or ARID, system, which was designed and patented by Ogden's research partners Randy Ryan, of the Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station, part of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Pete Waller and Murat Kacira, of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering; and Perry Li, of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The research team also includes Judy Brown, a professor in the UA School of Plant Sciences.

Read the rest of this October 2, 2013 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Oct 9 2013
Contact: 
Pete Brown