And, Roberts stresses, "it has to be cost-competitive, or none of this makes sense. It's easy to be cost-competitive when oil is at $300 a barrel, but it's harder when the price of oil drops. Our goal is to optimize this technology so that it is cost-competitive, renewable, can be produced domestically and is environmentally friendly."
Roberts adds that an additional benefit to using algae as a fuel source is that the algal cultures would be transportable. For example, people in a remote area could set up a system to grow the algae and produce the fuel on-site, rather than shipping the finished product thousands of miles.
The first of many parallel steps for the research effort is to mass-culture the best oil-producing strains of Dunaliella, and then to map the Dunaliella genome and identify the genes responsible for regulating the quantities and qualities of the produced fatty acids. Once that has been done, the researchers plan to replace those genes with genes from other organisms to produce the desired fatty acids and overcome the internal regulatory mechanisms that could potentially limit fatty acid production. Next, the necessary technology and protocols to grow the algae and extract the fatty acids will need to be fine-tuned. Simultaneously, the researchers will ascertain which chemical catalysts and operating parameters should be used to optimize the conversion of the fatty acids into the desired fuels. Finally, the various fuels will be tested to ensure that they can be used in place of conventional diesel, gasoline and jet fuels.
The $2 million grant is part of the federal stimulus package and comes from NSF's Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program. The funding is spread over four years, with the algae research scheduled for completion in July 2013, and will draw on the expertise of an interd
|Contact: Matt Shipman|
North Carolina State University