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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Algae- the NEW ethanol

A nationwide alliance, including several UA faculty, was recently awarded nearly $44 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to continue research on algae as a sustainable fuel source.

“”The project is essentially to produce a commercially viable biodiesel,”” said Michael Cusanovich, a UA biochemistry professor and member of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts.

Algae could be the next alternative fuel for cars.

“”The NAABB effort will determine the role algae will have in the big picture of alternative energy,”” said Kimberly Ogden, a UA chemical and environmental engineering professor and member of the alliance.

The U.S. Department of Energy expects quick results with its grant.

“”They would like something in the order of 2 billion gallons a year of biodiesel by the year 2020,”” Cusanovich said.

Two billion gallons is about 20 percent of the amount the United States uses for transportation fuel.

“”Ultimately, you’d like to get up to something like 80 percent,”” he added.

The algae with which Ogden and Cusanovich are working contains lipids similar to those found in oil. If they can find a way to mass-produce these plants, they can work on burning algae for fuel.

The UA plays a small but important role in the process. Its arid raceway is a temperature-controlled pond specifically designed for growing algae, and is the university’s connection with the research.

“”In the summer, it’s 105 (degrees), and in the winter it’s 55 (degrees). There’s no algae that lives over a 50-degree range; they don’t do that. So, what we’ve done is designed a pond that is temperature controlled,”” Cusanovich said of the raceway. “”That’s really important because that means we can grow year round and we can use the same species year round.””

The upsides to alternative fuel are obvious in a world in which gasoline is becoming a less available and more expensive fuel.

“”We may end up having something that’s cheaper than gas, but it’s also more environmentally reasonable,”” Cusanovich said.

There are positives that aren’t so obvious, as well.

“”The conversion in this country to ethanol from corn has caused a huge worldwide crisis in terms of prices of corn, particularly in third-world countries,”” Cusanovich said. “”Another advantage of the algae approach is it doesn’t pull anything out of food production.””

A grant of this magnitude also affects UA students in a very positive way.

“”It generates research funding for faculty which, in the end, means students,”” Cusanovich said.

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