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AgriLife Research receives algae biofuel funding

Texas AgriLife Research, part of the Texas A&M System, has been named a component of a $44 million multi-institution, multi-state consortium to conduct algae research and development leading to economically viable commercial-scale production of biofuels.

In addition to optimizing biofuels production, AgriLife research and development efforts will be focused on the potential for utilizing byproducts as primary components of livestock and mariculture feeds, said Dr. Bill McCutchen, AgriLife Research associate director at College Station.

“AgriLife Research is slated to receive between $5 and $6 million over the course of the studies,” McCutchen said. "The funding is part of the Department of Energy's effort to encourage domestic bio-industry under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for advanced biofuels research and fueling infrastructure."

There are more than 30 AgriLife and System faculty and scientists involved (College Station, Kingsville, McGregor, Canyon, Vernon, Amarillo and Corpus Christi). Other consortium members include Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico State University, University of Arizona, Danforth Plant Science Center and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, as well as other universities and corporations.

This additional funding expands an already significant algae program (about $7 million) at Pecos, Lubbock, Corpus Christi, Galveston, San Angelo and College Station. For this effort, AgriLife Research has partnered with General Atomics of San Diego, with funds provided by the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the U.S. Department of Defense, according to McCutchen.

“The Pecos team’s pilot plant facility is conducting research and development with other team members on suitable biofuel algae species, algae oil analysis, oil harvesting techniques, cost analysis of production systems and production techniques to improve biomass accumulation,” McCutchen said.

“Now these research and development endeavors will be enhanced considerably. Much more focus and energy will be placed on implementing the algal byproducts as substantial and preferred feedstocks for livestock and mariculture industries in Texas and beyond.”

“Results from these far-reaching studies should create huge potential for biodiesel, biojet, biogasoline and bioproducts, such as polymer feedstocks and co-products including animal and mariculture feeds,” said Bob Avant, director of AgriLife Research corporate relations and bioenergy programs.

Avant added, “Algae production doesn’t compete with food and feed production because it can use land unsuited for crops and will utilize poor-quality or brackish water while positively impacting the environment by employing carbon dioxide as an energy source, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the future, algae farms could have a meaningful positive economic impact on rural and urban areas through algae farm construction, jobs creation and operations, not to mention valuable fuel and feedstock products.

Four AgriLife Research algae researchers who are an integral part of the Texas effort were recently recognized with the 2009 Vice Chancellors Award in Excellence in the industry/agency/university/association partnership award category. This group is administered by Dr. Jaroy Moore, Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center director at Lubbock, but the research is conducted at AgriLife Research’s Pecos facility. These researchers were recognized during the 2010 AgriLife Conference at Texas A&M University.

The Pecos Algae Team consists of Louis Brown, AgriLife Research associate; Jola Brown, AgriLife Research associate; Dr. Mike Foster, AgriLife Research senior scientist; and Jimmy Martinez, AgriLife Research technician.

“This new, significant source of funds and partners will enable Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M System to broaden their mission and impact with world-class algal experts across the field, which will provide enhanced and more in-depth research and development efforts to evaluate and demonstrate algae production in West Texas for biofuels and bioproducts,” McCutchen stated. “We are pleased to now be among the elite research and development institutions in this growing emerging technology platform.”

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