Previous reseach on algae biofuels

In January 2010, US D.o.E. announced a $44 million investment in algal biofuels development and demonstration to be carried out by the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB). Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, MO), NAABB will develop a systems approach for sustainable commercialization of algal biofuel (such as renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) and bioproducts. NAABB will integrate resources from companies, universities, and national laboratories to overcome the critical barriers of cost, resource use and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and commercial viability. It will develop and demonstrate the science and technology necessary to significantly increase production of algal biomass and lipids, efficiently harvest and extract algae and algal products, and establish valuable certified co-products that scale with renewable fuel production. Co-products include animal feed, industrial feedstocks, and additional energy generation. Multiple test sites will cover diverse environmental regions to facilitate broad deployment.

In October 2009, the report Cultivating Clean Energy: The Promise of Algae Biofuels (2.8 Mb pdf) was produced by Terrapin Bright Green LLC and the Natural Resources Defence Council.


In July 2009, Exxon Mobil Corporation announced an alliance with leading biotech company, Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), to research and develop next generation biofuels from photosynthetic algae. Under the program, if research and development milestones are successfully met, Exxon Mobil expects to spend more than $600 million, which includes $300 million in internal costs and potentially more than $300 million to SGI.

In December 2007, Royal Dutch Shell plc and HR Biopetroleum (now Cellana) formed a joint venture Cellana for the construction of a pilot facility in Hawaii to grow marine algae and produce vegetable oil for conversion into biofuel.

In October 2007, it was announced that Chevron and NREL scientists would collaborate to identify and develop algae strains that can be economically harvested and processed into finished transportation fuels such as jet fuel. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc., was funding the initiative.


In July 2009, a paper on Life-Cycle Assessment of Biodiesel Production from Microalgae by Laurent Lardon et al, INRA, UR50 Laboratoire de Biotechnologie de l’Environnement, France was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

A Review of the Potential of Marine Algae as a Source of Biofuel in Ireland (2.5 Mb PDF) was commissioned by Sustainable Energy Ireland in order to provide an overview of marine algae as an energy resource, from either macroalgae or microalgae. Tentative roadmaps based on high, medium and low scenarios are included for development of these resources by 2020.

The Sustainable Fuels from Marine Biomass project, Biomara, was a UK and Irish joint project that aims to demonstrate the feasibility and viability of producing third generation biofuels from marine biomass. It will investigate the potential use of both macroalgae and microalgae as alternatives to terrestrial agri-fuel production.


Other microorganisms and aquatic plants being investigated as biofuels feedstocks

Modified Cyanobacteria

Proterro has developed a patented method using modified cyanobateria in bioreactors to produce sugars, which could be used as feedstock for advanced biofuels. Proterro says that the system potentially offers higher productivity (per acre of land used) and costs less than producing sugar from corn, cellulose or sugar cane.

Researchers at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University have modified cyanobacteria (photosynthetic bacteria) to excrete oil, which can be collected without killing the cells. The technique could be used to optimise microbial oil production for conversion into biofuels. The Biodesign Institute is also carrying out research to optimise Photobiorectors (e.g. phosphorous, CO2 light irradience) for cyanobacetria.

Researchers at J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md. and Waseda University in Tokyo have modified the circadian clock of cyanobacteria to remain in its daytime state and hence increase productivity. Researchers on the project include Professor Carl H. Johnson, Vanderbilt University.

Aquatic plants with potential as biomass feedstocks

Aquatic plants, such as Spirodela polyrhiza, commonly called Greater Duckweed, have low levels of cellulose and lignin and have the potential to be converted to biofuel at a cost competitive with fossil fuels. In 2014 the genome was being investigated by researchers at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, with a view to optimising the pond plant as a future feedstock. Thermochemical Conversion of Duckweed to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel - the 'duckweed biorefinery' concept - is also being studied by Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University, and the Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences et al.