DOE publishes report on algae cultivation for carbon capture

By U.S. Department of Energy | September 28, 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office recently published the Algae Cultivation for Carbon Capture and Utilization Workshop Summary Report. This summary report shares the results of stakeholder discussions held on May 23–24, 2017, regarding challenges and opportunities for cross-sector, public-private partnerships to utilize carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for producing algal biomass. 

BETO and the Office of Fossil Energy’s Office of Coal and Power Research and Development (R&D) have been talking a lot this past year about R&D synergies between the two offices, including how to utilize CO2 emissions to cultivate algae for biofuels production. This past May, BETO’s Advanced Algal Systems Program hosted a public workshop in Orlando, Florida, to discuss how algae cultivation systems could potentially utilize emissions from stationary point sources like coal-fired power plants, biorefineries, and cement manufacturers. Economic, environmental, and societal value propositions have driven interest in collaboration between industrial CO2 emission sources and algae cultivators. Collaboration in this space has yielded promising results; however, additional R&D is needed to realize the scale of opportunity. 

Over 80 attendees participated in the event, providing valuable input through presentations and facilitated discussions focused on innovative technologies and business strategies for growing algae on CO2 emissions. Discussion questions followed the path of CO2 within an envisioned algae cultivation system: from CO2 capture, to delivery to the algae farm, and ultimately to utilization by the algal organisms. Workshop participants also discussed opportunities to coordinate partnerships between algae cultivators and industrial CO2 emitters, as well as how to best refine various analyses to better communicate these opportunities. The workshop summary report covers four main topics: 

- Logistics and Siting
- Design and Engineering
- Identifying Synergies and Coordinating Strategies
- Refining Analyses.

Through their discussions, workshop participants proposed a framework that supports federally funded algal biofuels research in real-world relevant carbon capture and utilization conditions. Engineering and biological solutions are needed to increase the efficiencies of CO2 delivery and uptake by the algae, and it is important to show that algae can thrive on these emissions while reducing costs of production. 

BETO contributes to the Office of Energy and Renewable Energy’s mission by working with industry, academia, and national laboratory partners on a balanced portfolio of research in algal biofuels technologies.