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BETO announces $15.5 million for algal research

May 6, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has just announced over $79 million in funding for bioenergy research and development including biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. The FOA topics were picked to advance DOE’s Bioenergy Technology Office’s (BETO) objectives to reduce the price of drop-in biofuels, lower the cost of biopower, and enable high-value products from biomass or waste resources.

The algae topic area for this funding opportunity is AOI 1: Cultivation Intensification Processes for Algae. The goal is to develop technologies for outdoor algae systems that increase the harvest yield, reliability and quality of algae.” Of the $79 million budgeted for the entire research project, $15.5 million is dedicated to algal research, with individual awards in the range of $3-5 million.

The objective of BETO’s Advanced Algal Systems (AAS) program is to accelerate the development of technologies for cultivating photosynthetic algae to make algal biofuels and bioproducts. The AAS strategy supports early-stage, applied R&D projects to overcome barriers identified in the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap. By overcoming these barriers, the cost of algal biofuels will decrease, and products made from algae will have the potential to contribute to biofuel and bioproduct markets. The AAS Program strategy contributes to BETO’s goals for biofuel modeled MFSP of $3/GGE with a trajectory to $2.50/GGE.

Developers of algal biofuel technologies face significant challenges in translating results between laboratory research systems and larger-scale outdoors (or mass culture) systems. These difficulties limit reliable experimental durations, adequate and representative experimental volumes of material, and results that can be reproduced reliably. By overcoming the challenge in translating results between laboratory and mass cultures, the objective of AOI 1 is to increase the harvest yield, robustness, and quality of algae cultivation for biofuels and bioproducts.

AOI 1 specific areas of interest:

  1. Strain/trait of interest characterization and adaptation of novel and/or existing strains to novel cultivation conditions in an indoor/outdoor/indoor iterative experimental framework (novel strain isolation is not necessarily required to meet the objective).
  2. Novel cultivation systems and innovative strategies to operate cultivation systems that improve data collection and overall culture performance.
  3. Beneficial management and control of cultivation ecology.
  4. Development of tools and sensors for monitoring of cultivation ecology and health paired with cultivation management operations/interventions.
  5. Management of media (e.g., water, nutrients, and carbon) delivery and reuse/recycle to maintain and/or improve cultivation performance.
  6. Improvement of stability and reproducibility of high-performance cultivation outcomes.

Successful applications will accomplish the objective by showing closer correlation between promising laboratory results and “mass culture” campaigns resulting in “high-performance” cultivation outcomes to grow and harvest kilograms of algae and/or equivalent amounts of secreted algae products in a cultivation campaign (see definitions in specific requirements below).

Specifically, successful applications will:

  •  Identify algae strain traits of interest and show that the trait(s) of interest can be reproduced in outdoor, field-scale research;
  •  Undergo multiple indoor/outdoor/indoor cycles to develop, test, and optimize practices and technologies that enable delivery of the expected performance in the largest scale field trials;
  •  Generate data from cultivation campaigns that could be used in techno- economic models to result in lower algal biofuel minimum fuel selling prices and in lifecycle models to assess energy balance and energy return on investment; and
  •  Disseminate results to broader audiences.

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