The Simulated Algal Growth Environment (SAGE) reactor, located at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s campus in Golden, Colo., so precisely controls light, temperature and delivery of carbon dioxide that it can mimic conditions anywhere. The research aims to help algae someday compete with renewable diesel, cellulosic ethanol and other petroleum alternatives as transportation fuel.
A team of scientists have almost doubled the fuel from the same amount of biomass using the bioreactor, according to NREL.
Three so-called champion strains of algae grow in the bioreactor, which allows about five times the culture volume of other commercially available controlled-environment reactors, the NREL says.
The NREL is working with Arizona State University to study how these champion strains of algae convert sunlight into biomass, keep nutrients viable, and respond to light energy. NREL researchers are also working with Sandia National Laboratories to take proteins from algae and subject them to a fermentation process to boost the production of short-chain alcohols such as butanol.
The Energy Department invested $16.5 million in four projects — Hawaii Bioenergy, Sapphire Energy, New Mexico State University and California Polytechnic State University —to help boost the productivity of sustainable algae, while cutting capital and operating costs of commercial-scale production.
The four projects build on the DOE’s efforts to bring next generation biofuels online, with the goal of producing cost-competitive drop-in biofuels by 2017 and algae biofuels by 2022.
The agency has also invested about $6 million in a new project led by FDC Enterprises to reduce harvesting, handling and preprocessing costs across the entire biomass feedstock supply chain.
Photo: Dennis Schroeder, NREL