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Australia could become algae oil exporter

July 26, 2013
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Manager of the University's Biofuels Research Centre, Dr. Evan Stephens. Photo: Gisela Jakob

Manager of the University’s Biofuels Research Centre, Dr. Evan Stephens. Photo: Gisela Jakob

Australia could potentially produce five times more oil than they currently consume and become an oil exporter by devoting just one percent of their land to algae farms, according to news out of Australia’s University of Queensland (UQ).

Dr. Evan Stephens and his team at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, in collaboration with Germany’s Bielefeld University and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, have identified fast-growing and hardy native algae species that are providing optimism for the development of commercially viable fuels from algae.

“A major new frontier is in the biology and developing new strains – and we’ve already made significant advances through the identification of high-efficiency strains that have really stable growth, as well as being resistant to predators and temperature fluctuations,” said Dr. Stephens, the UQ Solar Biofuels Research Centre manager.

The research team has identified hundreds of native species of microscopic algae from freshwater and saltwater environments around Australia, and has tested these against thousands of environmental conditions in the laboratory, creating a shortlist of top performers. “Previously the main focus has been looking for oil-rich algae, but usually these are tastier to predators – like microscopic scoops of ice cream,” Dr. Stephens said. “The integration of new technologies means we can turn a broad range of algae into bio-crude oil that can be processed in existing oil refineries, so now the success of the industry comes down to rapid growth and low production costs.”

The researchers are processing the algae at a pilot plant opened in Brisbane in April, fueled by investment from Finland’s Neste Oil, global engineering company KBR, Siemens, the Queensland Government and Cement Australia.

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