Norway’s energy company StatoilHydro has invested $3 million (€2 million) in the Chesapeake Algae Project (ChAP) in Virginia, US
The College of William and Mary and its Virginia Institute of Marine Science have formed the collaborative research initiative to investigate a promising new technology to produce biofuel from the algae growing naturally in rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
The enterprise is an integrated research approach to algae-based energy production and environmental remediation. Other key partners are the Williamsburg energy advisory firm Blackrock Energy, the University of Maryland, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Arkansas and HydroMentia, a Florida company that works with water-treatment technologies.
The project involves the entire process of producing biofuels, from algal growth to harvesting, extracting the oil and other projects from the algae, processing the oil and producing the final biofuel product.
The project was initiated by exploring, among others, technology originally developed by the Smithsonian Institution as an efficient, large-scale aquarium filter. A test site has been operating at VIMS, using brackish York River water, and a second test station is planned for Lake Matoaka on the William & Mary campus.
Algae are good candidates for use as biofuel because of their rapid growth rates, ability to take-up nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and some of these aquatic plants have as much as 50% oil content, depending on environmental factors.
ChAP differs from other algal biofuel initiatives in two ways.
The project is going to work with many species of algae, as opposed to concentrating on farming a monoculture, or attempting to contain genetically modified algae in open-water environments.
Most current algae studies focus on one high-yield species or strain of algae, but using a polyculture approach makes the algae less susceptible to disease and generally more robust. One of the goals of ChAP will be to develop processes to maximise the effective energy yield from a harvest that varies in oil content.
The other difference is that the process is designed to work without competing with either fresh-water supplies or agricultural resources