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Kristian Gustavson (right) and Nathan Schoepp (left) hope to fill an entire barrel with B100 fuel produced from algae in the greenhouse.

Kristian Gustavson (right) and Nathan Schoepp (left) hope to fill an entire barrel with B100 fuel produced from algae in the greenhouse.

SD-CAB’s One Barrel for Baja Project

July 11, 2011, by Amanda Herman

One Barrel for Baja (1BFB) is a project made possible by the San Diego Center for Algal Biotechnology (SD-CAB) in support of research aimed towards understanding and developing eco-friendly energy solutions. The goal of 1BFB is to obtain enough biomass to fill one 42-gallon barrel with algal biofuel (also known as B100 biodiesel). The barrel will be used in the Baja 1000, a series of off-road desert races that will take place on November 17, 2011 in the Baja California Peninsula.

A student-based undertaking, 1BFB started and quickly gained momentum based on scientific collaborations between laboratories at UCSD, the Salk Institute, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), and San Diego State University, with funding from the US Department of Energy and local private industries.

Kristian Gustavson, a former Master’s student from Dr. Jim Leichter’s Laboratory at SIO, is the visionary behind the 1BFB initiative, and along with Nathan Schoepp, a Chemistry graduate student in Dr. Michael Burkart’s Laboratory at UCSD, and five undergraduate volunteers from the Biofuels Action and Awareness Network (BAAN) helped construct the greenhouse and the wet laboratory that function as factories for growing algae and are rapidly expanding to accommodate the demands of the 1BFB endeavor.

The greenhouse contains large bags of algae in various stages of growth.

The greenhouse contains large bags of algae in various stages of growth.

Schoepp summarizes the process of taking algae from the greenhouse to the barrel: Bags that hold 50 to 100 liters of freshwater algae are inoculated with one of three algal production strains that have been specially engineered for better growth. A continuous supply of both air and CO2 is pumped through the bags for four days. After this incubation period, the algae are harvested and their biomass, the biological material containing important fuel precursor molecules, is isolated by centrifugation. The biomass is then sent to Dr. Skip Pomeroy’s Laboratory at UCSD, where the lipids and fats are extracted and further converted into usable diesel fuel.

In an effort to scale up the production by the end of the summer, Gustavson and Schoepp plan to grow 300 to 500 liter algal cultures in large plastic pools of saline water. They hope to eventually build an in-ground circulating pond where bulk volumes of algae can be cultured.

Optimizing the growth of one algal strain and promoting its use as a renewable form of energy to local companies is the next step for Gustavson, who will race one of three diesel Enduro motorcycles from Holland using the fuel that he and his team have produced from start to finish.

The success of the One Barrel for Baja project has also been made possible with the help of Drs. Steve Mayfield, Greg Mitchell, Michael Burkhart, Skip Pomeroy, and Dominick Mendola.

For more information on this project

Amanda Herman is Ph.D. candidate at UCSD and a volunteer writer and outreach coordinator with SD-CAB.

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