Over the past couple years, the United States' government has begun to take several steps towards advancing algae biofuel development. These steps have come from a variety of different fronts and in various different forms.
One of the strongest supporters of algae biofuels in the US government is the Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE has taken many steps to help foster the growing algae industry. One way they are helping the industry is by funneling public investment into research. Just this past January, the DOE invested $44 million into the Danforth Plant Research Center to lead a consortium to conduct advanced biofuel research. Since the Danforth Center is already one of the leaders in researching algae biofuel, one can safely assume that a good portion of this money will involve their future development.
In addition to direct investment in research, the Department of Energy has also invested in private company partnerships looking to develop specific algae technologies. Just in the past year, one particular company has announced the DOE's involvement in two of their projects.
Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation, a New Zealand-based algae biofuel company, first announced in March that they received $1.5 million from the DOE to partner with UOP Honeywell to design a demonstration system that will capture carbon dioxide from exhaust stacks at Honeywell’s manufacturing facility in Hopewell, Virginia. Not three months later, Aquaflow announced that they will be partnering with the United States Gas Technology Institute to work on an advanced biomass conversion technology program that will receive part of their funding from the DOE as well.
The DOE has also conducted some research into what needs to be done for the algae biofuel industry to mature to a point where it can compete with the traditional petroleum industry. Their 200-plus page report titled “National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap” is based off a workshop held in December 2008 where over 200 scientists, engineers, research managers, industry representatives, lawyers, financiers and regulators gathered and discussed various topics pertaining to algae biofuel development. The draft of this roadmap was released last year, with the final document still pending.
The DOE's roadmap itself is a great document that combines literature from a multitude of sources as well as taking a look at the problems facing the industry in areas such as algae harvesting, oil extraction, algae-to-fuel conversion technologies, resources, and current government policies. This document offers a great starting point from which the industry can move forward. The good news is that in the year and a half since the initial workshop, advances in many of the sections listed in the roadmap can already be seen.
While the Department of Energy is doing a lot with algae, other areas of the United States government are just as interested in its development. For example, the Department of Defense has been investing a lot of money in algae biofuel development as well.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), which operates as the research arm for the DOD, has been researching how to create jet fuel from algae for the past couple of years. In fact, an announcement this past March hints that they are just months away from producing an algae-based jet fuel at the same cost as its petroleum counterpart.
The DOD has also contracted with a private company to look into algae-based fuels. Solazyme recently won contracts with the Navy to develop both an algal jet fuel and an algae-based F-76 naval distillate. The F-76 Naval Distillate is the Navy's primary shipboard fuel and is very similar to diesel fuel. The Navy is interested in the development of these fuels as a way to address both national security as well as environmental concerns currently being voiced in the U.S.
Overall, the United States government has taken a very proactive role in helping spur on the development of algae biofuels. These examples only represent a few of the ways the government is getting involved with the advancement of the algae biofuel field with many more sure to come in the future.
Jonathan Williams is a conservative blogger at www.BlatantReality.com and www.SCStatehouseBlog.com. He is also the founder and current president of the nonprofit organization Need by Need, Inc. He can be reached at Jon@BlatantReality.com.
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Note: Algae to fuel diagram was sourced from Inhabit.com