Sandia launches algae testing facility
February 3, 2016
he new algae raceway testing facility, opening February 4 at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, paves a direct path between laboratory research and solving the demand for clean energy, according to lab researchers.
“The success of moving technologies from a research lab to large outdoor facilities is tenuous. The scale-up from flask to a 150,000-liter outdoor raceway pond is just too big. This facility helps bridge the gap from the lab to the real world by giving us an environmentally controlled raceway that we can monitor to test and fine tune discoveries,” said Ben Wu, Sandia’s Biomass Science and Conversion Technology manager.
The new Sandia algae testing facility consists of three 1,000-liter raceway ponds with advanced monitoring providing new advantages to researchers:
- Easy scale-up to larger, outdoor raceways
- Customizable lighting and temperature controls, operational by year end, to simulate the conditions of locations across the country
- Fully contained for testing genetic strains and crop protection strategies
- Advanced hyperspectral monitoring 24 hours a day
Several ongoing projects will use the algae raceway right away. Researchers Todd Lane and Anne Ruffing will test genetically modified algae strains as part of a project funded by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. The algae raceway will allow the researchers to more quickly identify strains that promise improved performance.
Dr. Lane is also part of a project partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory funded by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) that is investigating a probiotic approach to algae crop protection.
Another BETO project seeks to convert algae proteins into useful chemical compounds such as butanol. Dr. Wu expects the facility will expand opportunities for Sandia researchers to develop algae as a robust source of biofuels and increase collaborations and partnerships with the private sector, particularly in California where efforts to transform transportation energy are prevalent.
“The bioeconomy is gaining momentum,” he said. “Biofuels from algae may be further off, but algae has sugar and proteins that can make fuel or higher valued products, such as butanol or nylon – products that currently come from fossil fuels.”
Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, California, Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.