Energy from algae

Chevron Corporation and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are to investigate the production of transportation fuels using algae.

Chevron and NREL scientists will identify and develop algae strains that can be harvested and processed into finished transportation fuels such as jet fuel. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA Inc, will fund the initiative.

The research project announced is the second under a five-year strategic biofuels research alliance between Chevron and NREL announced in October 2006. The first involves bio-oil reforming, a process by which bio-oils derived from the decomposition of biological feedstocks are then converted into hydrogen and biofuels.

‘Biofuels will play an increasingly important role in diversifying energy supplies to meet the world’s growing energy needs. Chevron believes that non-food feedstock sources such as algae and cellulose hold the greatest promise to grow the biofuels industry to large scale,’ said Don Paul, vice president and chief technology officer, Chevron Corporation. ‘Collaboration between industry, universities, research institutions and government is essential to overcoming the technological and commercial challenges of manufacturing high-quality transportation fuels from unconventional feedstocks.’

According to Chevron, algae are a promising feedstock for next-generation biofuels because certain species contain high amounts of oil, which could be extracted, processed and refined into transportation fuels using currently available technology.

Other benefits of algae as a potential feedstock are their abundance and fast growth rates. Key technical challenges include identifying the strains with the highest oil content and growth rates and developing cost-effective growing and harvesting methods.