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US: US$14m for algae transportation fuels

US President Obama has announced a US$14 million funding opportunity for developing transportation fuels from algae.

By Kari Williamson

According to the Department of Energy (DoE), transportation fuels from algae have the potential to replace up to 17% of the United States’ imported oil for transportation.

In addition, algae feedstocks offer additional benefits, such as an ability to be grown in ponds near industrial facilities where algae can feed off the carbon emissions from power plants or digest nitrogen and phosphorous from municipal waste water.

Through the funding announcement, DoE will seek proposals from small businesses, universities, and national laboratories to modify existing facilities for long-term algae research and test new production processes that could lead to commercial biofuels made from algae.

Specifically, the projects will establish and operate research 'test beds' for algal biofuels that can facilitate development, test new approaches to algae production, and discover new ways to minimise the water and nutrients needed to mass produce algae for commercial biofuels.

The awards represent the first phase in a total US$30m investment in algal biofuels in fiscal year 2012.

The competitively selected projects will receive up to US$14.3m in fiscal year 2012 funds, with an additional US$6.7m available in fiscal year 2014 funding, subject to Congressional appropriations, for projects that meet rigorous performance criteria.

Natural (methane) gas

The funding opportunity is in addition to US$30m of funding to catalyse breakthrough technologies for natural gas and biofuels as transportation fuels through the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).

Currently, natural gas vehicle technologies require tanks that can withstand high pressures, which are cumbersome and either too large or too expensive to be suitable for passenger vehicles.

ARPA-E’s projects under the programme Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE) will focus on overcoming these barriers by developing low-cost natural gas storage technologies and methods to lower pressure in vehicle tanks that will help enable the widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles.

Specifically, ARPA-E seeks to fund projects that will develop lightweight tanks for cars that can run on natural gas and fit into modern passenger vehicles.

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