Tuesday, March 30, 2010

UK Builds Dream Team to Reach Goal of 70 Billion Liters of Algae Biofuel by 2030

Newcastle University has been named as a key player in a $12 million (£8 million) project to develop sustainable, cost-effective biofuel from algae.

The Carbon Trust has pulled together an elite research team from nine leading UK research institutions, including Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton Universities, in a bid to find a winning formula for cultivating 70 billion litres of algae biofuel a year by 2030.

This will be equivalent to six per cent of road transport diesel and a saving of over 160 million tons of CO2 every year.

Newcastle has secured over $1.1 million (£750,000) via two projects.  Leading the research are Dr Adam Harvey, from the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials, and Dr Gary Caldwell, based in the School of Marine Science and Technology. One project will look at algal growth and the other at oil extraction.

Dr Harvey, who is leading the oil extraction project, explains: “The trouble with algae is that you have a small amount of it in a vast excess of water so at the moment we use an awful lot of energy boiling off the water to get to the plant oil.

“In fact, the energy used for extraction can outweigh what you get back upon combustion of the biofuel. Our aim is to find ways of extracting the oil and converting it to fuel, without having to remove the water.”

Dr Caldwell adds: “One of the biggest hurdles to growing algae at a large scale is preventing the plants from dying or being out competed by unwanted organisms.

"Algae release chemicals into the water to communicate with each other and to fight against disease and predators. We will use these chemicals as a means to control the nature of growth ponds and prevent the algae from dying.”

Funded by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the first step will be to screen thousands of strains of algae to identify those that can produce large quantities of a substance similar to vegetable oil.

Additional research will develop methods for enabling large-scale production in algae ponds and the Carbon Trust is also planning to start construction of a pilot demonstration plant in an equatorial region where algae are most productive.

Carbon Trust chief executive Tom Delay adds: “We have pulled together a dream team of over 70 UK algae scientists who have the expert knowledge to turn algae into a British biofuel success story.”

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