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DOE awards UA-led team $8M for biofuel

October 3, 2013

The UA’s Algal Raceway Integrated Design, or ARID, system.

The UA’s Algal Raceway Integrated Design, or ARID, system.

The University of Arizona (UA) is the lead institution for the Regional Algal Feedstock Testbed, or RAFT, partnership, which was recently awarded $8 million over four years by the Department of Energy (DOE) to research how algae can be grown year-round outdoors in open ponds in different climates. In addition, other researchers and companies will collaborate with the research team to develop harvesting and conversion processes to produce biofuels and bioproducts.

“Our job is to figure out how we take algae and turn it into biofuels, bioproducts and feed in an economically sustainable way. We want to make a biofuels industry in America,” said University of Arizona’s Kimberly Ogden, chemical and environmental engineering professor, the UA’s primary investigator on the RAFT project.

Texas A&M AgriLife is working with UA to optimize algal growth systems to yield more biomass and lipids, develop methods of recycling and reusing water, and experiment with methodologies for growing various algae strains.

The majority of the research will be done using UA’s Algal Raceway Integrated Design, or ARID, system, which was designed and patented by Ogden’s research partners Randy Ryan, of the Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station, part of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Pete Waller and Murat Kacira, of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering; and Perry Li, of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The research team also includes Judy Brown, a professor in the UA School of Plant Sciences.

“Part of the goal of this grant is to better understand the relationships between flow rate, nutrients, pH, temperature and algal productivity so we can optimize system performance and have an automated system,” said Ogden

“To tackle the problem of large-scale production of algae for fuels and other products, we need to have a better understanding of everything from the biology to the interfacing with existing petroleum processing plants,” Ogden added.

The UA’s contribution to this project focuses on water usage and quality issues, plant biology, reactor design and the production of various algae strains for advanced testing.

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