DOE: Report documents achievements from 6 years of algal research

By U.S. Department of Energy | May 19, 2016

The Consortium for Algal Biofuel Commercialization (CAB-Comm), led by the University of California, San Diego, has just released its final report, detailing the many accomplishments and impactful contributions achieved in its six years of operation. CAB-Comm was established in 2010 through a competitive award from the Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office to conduct research to enable commercial viability of algae-based biofuels. CAB-Comm focused on three key aspects of algal biofuels production: development of genetic tools, crop protection, and nutrient utilization and recycling. 

One of the most significant of CAB-Comm’s achievements was developing a full suite of genetic tools for cyanobacteria, green algae, and diatoms. CAB-Comm has since made these tools publicly available through the Life Technologies catalog, where more than 150 algae products are now listed and available for world-wide distribution.

Another significant accomplishment was the world’s first outdoor field tests of a genetically modified algae strain, Scenedesmus dimorphous, run in collaboration with Sapphire Energy under approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Substances Control Act Environmental Release Application. Results concluded that these algae did not displace native species in test cultures of local waters and that the genetically modified traits expressed were stable throughout the three months of cultivation.

CAB-Comm thoroughly investigated many crop protection strategies, identifying the most common algal pathogenic microorganisms and predators, and examining how multiple algae strains in community can result in greater productivity and resilience than monocultures. The group also developed a nutrient, water, and carbon mass balance model to assess best-practices and technologies for nutrient recycling.

In addition to accomplishments in basic research, CAB-Comm engaged the commercial sector to develop and demonstrate the production of high-value, sustainable fossil fuel replacement products. In collaboration with Arctic Foam, CAB-Comm developed polyurethane foams for surfboard production in which 100 percent of the polyols were derived from algal oil. The algae-based polyurethane is sustainable, biodegradable, and meets performance requirements, and a commercial launch is anticipated in 2016. In addition, collaboration with commercial partners Heliae and Triton Health and Nutrition has resulted in the development of a strain of green algae that expresses high-value recombinant proteins, and the team is aiming this product toward the pet food supplement market. 

CAB-Comm education programs have, to-date, trained more than 200 research scientists and laboratory technicians for employment in the algal biofuels industry, and expanded a web-based course called “Our Energy Future” that has educated more than 50,000 students worldwide on the benefits of sustainable alternative fuels produced from algae.

The CAB-Comm projects were undertaken as collaboration among six academic institutions and two industrial partners: University of California, San Diego; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Rutgers University; University of California, Davis; Johns Hopkins University; Sapphire Energy; and Life Technologies. The total award support was $11.03 million in federal funds with an additional $3.1 million in cost share from commercial partners. Learn more about the Energy Department’s collaborative research partnerships working on renewable bioenergy technologies and market-based solutions on the BETO website

This work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) under Award Number DE-EE0003373.