UK Government to provide research and development funding for algae-based transport biofuels
Algae open pond facility in Hawaii (photo: Cyanotech)
Fri 24 Oct 2008 – The UK Government is to underwrite a publicly-funded initiative to research, develop and then commercialize the use of algae as a second generation biofuel for road and air transport by 2020. The two-phase project, called the Algae Biofuels Challenge, is to be led by the Carbon Trust, an independent company set up by the Government to accelerate a move to a low carbon economy by working with organizations to reduce carbon emissions and develop low carbon technologies.
The Carbon Trust will commit between £3 million ($4.75) and £6 million ($9.5m) in the first phase of the project, depending on the number and quality of the applications received.
The organization says algae-based biofuel has the potential to save hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon every year globally whilst creating an industry worth tens of billions of pounds. It quotes forecasts suggesting algae-based biofuels could replace over 70 billion litres of fossil-derived fuels used worldwide annually in road transport and aviation by 2030 – equivalent to 12% of the annual global jet fuel consumption. This, it estimates, would equate to an annual carbon saving of over 160 million tonnes of CO2 globally and a market value of over £15 billion ($23.6bn).
Dr Mark Williamson, Innovations Director at the Carbon Trust, believes public investment in algae is vital. “We must find a cost-effective and sustainable alternative for our cars and planes if we are to deliver the deep cuts in carbon emissions necessary to tackle climate change. Algae could provide a significant part of the answer and represents a multi-billion-pound opportunity,” he said.
“Through the Algae Biofuels Challenge, we will be combining the UK’s undoubted expertise in the area with our unique knowledge and experience of commercializing early stage low carbon technologies, to give us the best possible chance of successfully producing cost-competitive algal biofuel at scale.”
Transport Minister Andrew Adonis confirmed the Government was proceeding with caution on biofuels because of their potential unwelcome indirect impacts and would only have a role to play if they could be sustainably produced. However, he said, this project “will further our understanding of the potential for microalgae to be refined for use in renewable transport fuel development, to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
The Carbon Trust argues algae could deliver 6 to 10 times more energy per hectare than conventional cropland biofuels and could be grown on non-arable land using seawater or wastewater. “Therefore, using algae as a biofuel feedstock avoids many of the negative environmental, ecological and social impacts associated with first generation biofuels,” it says.
The project will be conducted over two phases. Phase 1 will provide grant funding for research across five specific areas:
·isolation and screening of algae strains suitable for open pond mass culture;
·maximizing solar conversion efficiency in mass culture;
·achieving both high oil content and high productivity in mass culture;
·sustained algae cultivation in open ponds (resistance to competing organisms, predators and diseases); and
·design and engineering of cost-effective mass culture systems.
Prior to commencing Phase 2, sustainability criteria associated with environmental, ecological and societal impacts (for example land use change, water use, effects on biodiversity and carbon savings) will be used to select the location for the test and demonstration facility and the designing of it.
Phase 2 is expected to see the construction of an open pond test and demonstration plant. This plant will provide the vital facilities necessary to continue the research conducted in Phase 1 and demonstrate production at commercial scale in a manner that can be replicated. To avoid any unnecessary delays, says the Carbon Trust, the plant is likely to be constructed overseas as it believes the majority of commercial production of algae biofuels is likely to take place in tropical and sub-tropical climates that have plentiful sunlight and temperatures that do not drop too low or vary too much.
The call for proposals for Phase 1 opened yesterday and close on December 15. An initial networking meeting of companies interested in participating in the project is to be held in London on October 30. Those interested in attending or wish to find out more information can do so through the Algae Biofuels Challenge page on the Carbon Trust website.