Will $18.8m US goverment grant spur algae-derived feed and biofuel innovation?

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Ariel Skelley
© GettyImages/Ariel Skelley

Related tags Algae US Department of Energy

The US government is set to invest $18.8m in algae research aimed at developing feed and biofuels, as part of its efforts to advance decarbonization initiatives.

Spearheaded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), the MACRO funding opportunity announcement​ (FOA) seeks to drive research and development (R&D) endeavors focused on converting algae, including seaweeds and other wet waste feedstocks, into animal feed, biofuels, and bioproducts.

A wide range of biomass resources, according to the officials, will be critical to reach the Biden-Harris administration’s decarbonization goal.

Brad Crabtree, assistant secretary of the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), highlighted collaborative efforts within the DOE to devise cost-effective conversion methods utilizing biomass sources like algae.

“Research and development through the funding will advance the commercial adoption and integration of these technologies with carbon capture from industrial and power facilities to help fight climate change, while also creating new jobs and opportunities in communities across the country.”

The financing will support projects in two focus areas, aligned with the strategic goals of FECM and the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO):

  • Conversion of algal biomass for low carbon agricultural bioproducts: This area will prioritize technologies leveraging CO2 emissions from industrial sources or utilities for algae cultivation, producing value-added bioproducts, especially for agriculture and animal feed applications.
  • Conversion of seaweeds to low carbon fuels and bioproducts: This segment will focus on laboratory-scale R&D to convert seaweeds and blends with other wet waste materials into renewable fuels and bioproducts.

BETO and FECM envision awarding multiple financial assistance awards for R&D activities in the form of cooperative agreements lasting about two to three years. The deadline for full applications is June 27, with further project details to be unveiled during a webinar​ on April 17.

Saudi research

In related news from February, scientists at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia introduced a groundbreaking method for industrial-scale microalgae​ production. This innovation could reduce Saudi Arabia's reliance on imported animal feed, a significant step towards food security. The project utilizes algae strains adapted to seawater salinity, making it economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

Dr Claudio Grünewald, algae program director at KAUST, emphasized the importance of using seawater in this project.

“The key here is the adaptation of our algae strains to seawater salinity. By not using freshwater, we alleviate pressure on a vital global resource and shift the onus from freshwater sources to coastal areas with access to the sea."

The project also captures and utilizes carbon dioxide emissions from nearby sources, further enhancing its environmental sustainability.

Danish decarbonization drive

Meanwhile, August last year saw Danish startup Algiecel, specializing in algae-based carbon capture and utilization, along with its partners, secure €2.4m (US$2.6m) for a pioneering decarbonization project ​funded by Denmark’s Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP).

Involving Novozymes, DTU Chemical Engineering, Knowledge Hub Zealand, and Power to Climate Change (P2CC), the initiative aims to showcase the conversion of CO2 emissions from industrial sites into valuable downstream bio-based products through innovative power- and microalgae-based methods.

It is slated to run for three years.

Founded in 2021 by Henrik Busch-Larsen, co-founder of Unibio, Algiecel seeks to leverage its container-based, high-yield photobioreactors to capture CO2 and transform it into high-value commodity products like omega-3 oils and protein for food and feed applications. The startup advocates a revenue-sharing model, deploying containers adjacent to industrial CO2 emission points, such as biogas plants.

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