Las Cruces – Researchers from New Mexico State University will join others from around the country as part of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts, a consortium of universities and research institutions awarded $44 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to commercialize algae into a biofuel. The funding is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed last year by Congress.
The consortium is led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a nonprofit science center located in St. Louis that focuses on human health and agricultural production. According to the Danforth Center, biofuels generate more jobs than any other sector of sustainable energy. As the industry grows, there is potential for hundreds of thousands of new jobs nationally.
"One facet of NMSU's role will be a focus on sustainability, one of the overriding themes of this project," said C. Meghan Starbuck, an assistant professor in the NMSU College of Business who is helping lead NMSU's effort. "There are many challenges to this project, including environmental and economic impacts. We have some of the best people to address these issues."
NMSU researchers will focus on seven areas: optimization of photo bioreactors and optimization of ponds; demonstration test beds; lipid conversion to fuels; fuels characterization; livestock and mariculture feed as co-products; economic analysis; and resource management.
NMSU has studied algae - particularly what would be needed to turn algae into an economically viable fuel - for the past few years. Like most plants, algae use sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air to produce oil. Unlike ethanol, produced mainly from corn, an algae-based fuel would not affect a major U.S. food source.
The NAABB will seek to break down critical barriers to the commercialization of algae-based fuel and other advanced biofuels such as green aviation fuels, diesel and gasoline that can be transported and sold using today's existing fueling infrastructure.
The NAABB plans to integrate resources from its partner companies, universities and national laboratories to overcome the critical barriers of cost, resource use and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions and commercial viability. The consortium will develop and demonstrate the science and technology necessary to significantly increase production of algal biomass and lipids, efficiently harvest and extract algae and algal products and establish valuable certified co-products that scale with renewable fuel production.
Co-products include animal feed, industrial feedstocks and additional energy generation. Multiple test sites will cover diverse environmental regions to facilitate broad deployment.
"This was a competitive proposal, with some significant teams we were up against. This shows that NMSU has the expertise and the equipment necessary to stand out in this field of research," Starbuck said.
Other NAABB members are Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of Arizona, Texas AgriLife Research-Texas A&M University System, Brooklyn College, Colorado State University, University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-San Diego, University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, Washington State University, AXI, Catalin, Diversified Energy, Eldorado Biofuels, Genifuel, HR Biopetroleum, Inventure, Kai BioEnergy, Palmer Labs, Solix Biofuels, Targeted Growth, Terrabon and UOP.