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DOE shows interest in algae fuels

Algae-based projects received much of the latest round in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants set aside for alternative fuel projects.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is leading the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts' efforts to make algae-based biofuels a reality.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Wednesday announced the recipients of more than $80 million in government funding for biofuels research and development.

The bulk of the funding, coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, went to algae research and development, while the rest went toward improving the country's ethanol infrastructure.

About $44 million went to the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB), an organization led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. The research institute, which hosts the plant science labs of several universities, is coordinating the efforts of private, academic, and public organizations trying to commercialize algae-based biofuels. The money will go toward efforts to move algae biomass production from the research and development stage to commercialization, and create infrastructure to support an algae biofuel economy in the U.S. The NAABB is also developing ideas for efficiently turning algae production byproducts into "co-products" like animal feed, and industrial feedstocks, according to the Department of Energy.

Another $38 million went to the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium. That group is tasked with developing a "cost effective" and "pilot-ready process" for using the United States' existing fossil fuel refineries and distribution facilities to refine and distribute biofuels.

In addition to those two big projects, which will be given an additional $19 million in funds from the private sector, Chu also announced funding for smaller state projects.

A total of about $1.6 million in funding is being distributed to participating states to install or retrofit more than 60 gas stations with E85 and other ethanol blend fuel pumps. The project has also been given $3.9 million in private and state funding. The states participating in the project include Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. As part of the states' proposal guidelines, the pumps will be installed near central arteries and in areas with a high concentration of flexible fuel car owners as residents.

While $80 million might sound like a lot to invest in algae and fuel pumps, it's actually quite modest for the DOE. In comparison, the DOE distributed $620 million in funding for smart-grid projectsin November 2009.