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BP, Arizona State look to bacteria, not algae, for a biofuel

The two will collaborate on finding a way to use photosynthetic form of bacteria as a feedstock for diesel or synthetic petroleum.

Algae's not the only organism that can be used as a feedstock for biofuel.

BP will collaborate with Arizona State University to try to figure out a way of using cyanobacteria, a photosynthetic form of bacteria, as a feedstock for diesel or synthetic petroleum. Ideally, the bacteria could be cultivated in large, contained plots of land baked by the sun--Arizona has a lot of that. The bacteria also consume carbon dioxide to grow. Thus, carbon dioxide could be pumped in from a power plant into the contained bacteria farm. The company could thus make money from selling carbon credits and selling fuel feedstock.

Financial details of the deal, announced Friday, were not disclosed.

GreenFuel Technologies has a similar project in Arizona under way but with algae. A lot of companies, in fact, are trying to concoct feedstocks out of algae. The race now is to figure out who can come up with a microorganism and a process that results in the cheapest, highest-energy feedstock. One of the challenges of algae: separating the single-celled buggers from the water they grow in.

Microbes are hot these days. Some companies, such as Cambrios Technologies, are trying to figure out ways to use microorganisms in industrial processes while others are trying to get microorganisms to convert wood chips into ethanol. Others are working on bacteria-based fuel cells.

Earlier this year, BP signed deals with University of California at Berkeley and the University of Illinois.