Biofuels created from algae feedstock have tremendous potential to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil. Algal biofuels could conceivably be produced in enough volume to meet U.S. transportation fuel requirements in their entirety. Furthermore, algal biofuels represent the ultimate in ecological sustainability since algae consumes CO2 and can grow in brackish, or impaired, water. Thus, the large-scale cultivation of algae feedstock could repurpose currently useless supplies of impaired water, mitigate global-warming effects by capturing excess CO2, and help solve the impending global energy crisis.
However, many obstacles must be overcome before the large-scale creation and distribution of algal biofuels becomes a reality. In particular, algae cultivation, harvesting, and conversion to fuel are formidable engineering challenges that will require sophisticated scientific investigations of algae fundamentals. To help map out these obstacles, Sandia was asked by the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap with partners at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This roadmap identifies and prioritizes the challenges to achieving scalable algal biofuels and to positioning the U.S. as an international leader in algal biofuels.
Sandia is also a founding member of the Algal Biofuels Consortium (ABC). The U.S. DOE national labs, universities, and industry partners in ABC hope to create a public–private partnership that can coordinate a systematic attack of the fundamental science and engineering challenges that bar the path to large-scale algal biofuels production.
Sandia researchers are doing their part to realize algae’s potential as a biomass feedstock by cultivating new algae strains. Sandians are also developing enhanced extraction and conversion technologies to decrease the cost of producing fuels from algae. In addition, our researchers are partnering with algae and microbial photosynthesis experts at Arizona State University and Science Applications International Corporation on a DARPA-funded project to produce JP-8 jet fuel from biomass sources. Other collaborations in the algal biofuels arena include a strategic partnership with researchers at New Mexico State University, as well as commercial partnerships with the Center for Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management, Sapphire Energy, and the Carbon Capture Corporation.