UK takes on the world in global race to commercialise algae biofuels

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Carbon Trust creates ‘UK dream team’ of top scientists to find world beating formula for algae biofuel


The Carbon Trust today announced plans to take on the world in the global race to develop a sustainable, cost-effective biofuel from algae. The “dream team” of eleven leading UK institutions was unveiled who will work together with the Carbon Trust to find a winning formula for cultivating 70 billion litres of algae biofuel a year by 2030. This will be the equivalent to 6% of road transport diesel and a saving of over 160 million tonnes of CO2 every year. The eleven institutions were selected from over 80 initial proposals following an extensive competition and detailed assessment process.

Starting from first principles of agriculture, thousands of strains of algae will be screened to find the winning few that can produce large quantities of a substance similar to vegetable oil. Additional research will develop methods for enabling large-scale production in algae ponds and next year the Carbon Trust plans to start construction of a pilot demonstration plant in an equatorial region where algae are most productive.

Algae has the potential to deliver 5 to 10 times more oil per hectare than conventional cropland biofuels and new Carbon Trust lifecycle analysis indicates that, over time, it could provide carbon savings of up to 80% compared to fossil fuel petrol and jet fuel. With costs of algae biodiesel currently estimated to be approximately $5-$10 a litre, Carbon Trust is focussing on more cost-effective production methods to ultimately bring the cost down to less than $1 a litre.

Launching Europe’s most significant public initiative into algae biofuels, Tom Delay chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said: “We have pulled together a dream team of over 70 UK algae scientists who have the expert knowledge to turn algae into a British biofuel success story. Applying principles this country has developed from its proud agricultural heritage and leading bioscience expertise we will be developing a truly sustainable biofuel that could provide up to 80% carbon savings compared to diesel savings in car and jet fuel. With a market value of over £15 billion the potential rewards are high.”
Transport Minister, Sadiq Khan, said: “This project demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that biofuels are truly sustainable – and to show the potential from microalgae to be refined for use in renewable transport fuel development, to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

Production of 70 billion litres will require man-made algae ponds equivalent to a landmass larger than Wales to be built in optimum locations across the world. Algae need a source of carbon dioxide and water to grow so Carbon Trust is now looking to investigate possible locations for large-scale plants which could be, for example, next to industrial facilities located near the sea.

The Carbon Trust is investing £8 million over 3 years into the projects using funding from the Department for Transport and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Those universities and institutions selected to conduct the research are:
– University of Coventry
– London Queen Mary
– University of Manchester
– University of Newcastle (Supported on one project by Critical Processes Ltd)
– Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
– Scottish Association for Marine Science
– University of Sheffield
– University of Southampton
– University of Swansea (Supported by Bangor University and PML)

The research projects address five key challenges identified by the Carbon Trust:
1. Isolation and screening of algae strains
2. Maximising solar conversion efficiency
3. Achieving both high oil content and high productivity
4. Sustained algae cultivation in open ponds
5. Design & engineering of cost effective production systems

Source: Carbon Trust

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