BETO deputy director publishes commentary on algae development

By U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office | March 31, 2015

Bioenergy Technologies Office Deputy Director Valerie Sarisky-Reed’s commentary, “Algal Progress Report,” was published in the February edition of the bimonthly research journal Industrial Biotechnology. Her commentary details the promise of algae as a renewable energy source and describes how many BETO-funded research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) projects have resulted in significant technological advances to help overcome challenge of using algae for biofuel production.

“Algal lipids are useful for the production of biodiesel, bioethanol, renewable diesel and biogasoline, biohydrogen, and bio-jet fuels, and they also serve as a feedstock for electricity production,” Reed said.

While enumerating the benefits of algae, Reed also addressed the work that must continue in order to bring algal biofuels to commercialization.

“One of the biggest challenges is developing economical and sustainable technologies to produce, harvest, extract, and convert the useful components into advanced biofuels,” she said.

Reed describes how BETO has spent more than seven years developing its algal biofuels RD&D portfolio. Many of these BETO-funded projects showed significant technological advances that can help overcome these challenges. These advances include the following:

BETO’s largest algae consortium, the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts, published its final report last spring, detailing successes in algal gene sequencing, approaches to increasing biomass productivity, and a breakthrough algae conversion process known as hydrothermal liquefaction, which uses heat and pressure to break down whole algae into biofuel intermediates.

The Scripps Institute of Oceanography conducted research to metabolically engineer algae to produce higher yields of lipids.

The Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership, or ATP3, successfully established four regional algal testbeds across the country to increase understanding of algae in different climates and to provide external researchers access to state-of-the-art cultivation facilities.

Reed also describes the necessary next steps towards the commercialization of algal biofuels, supported by DOE’s cost-share partnerships with industry. Collaborating with companies such as Sapphire Energy Inc., Algenol Biofuels Inc., Solazyme Inc., and BioProcess Algae has contributed to the successful demonstration of algal production and conversion processes.

Through peer-reviewed journals, BETO and its project partners communicate the progress of DOE-funded research on emerging technologies, such as algal biofuels and bioproducts, within BETO’s research portfolio. Reed’s commentary in Industrial Biotechnology highlights how the office’s portfolio supports its goals to advance the broader science and technology landscape.