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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


State seeks to commercialize algae farms

Looking ahead to a day when Arizona would lead the way in algae farming, a Tucson lawmaker has proposed two bills that commercialize alga-culture and enable the UA and Arizona State University to further their research in the field.

The new legislation, introduced by Rep. Matt Heinz of Arizona District 29 and sponsored by Rep. Russ Jones of District 24, intends to turn alga-culture into a commercial industry. Alga-culture involves raising algae, microscopic plants that turn light into biomass, and converting them into biofuels or hydrogen. House Bills 2225 and 2226 would enable the UA to become more actively involved in the field of alga-cultural research, according to Jones.

HB 2225 would expand agricultural land use to incorporate algae farming for the purpose of researching, developing and commercially producing biofuels on trust land. Trust land is intended for the benefit of public schools and institutions, according to the bill. Consequently, HB 2226 seeks to widen the definition of agricultural real property to include lands dedicated to alga-culture, meaning that real property used for raising algae would be taxable land.

Due to its arid climate, ceaseless sunlight and wide-open land, Arizona is prime real estate for algae farming, Jones said.

“It would seem at first glance a good fit for Arizona,” he said. “If we can convert our sunlight into energy, I think our state is going to be better off.”

The UA has been researching the genetic development of algae and the possibility of growing algae on an agricultural scale as part of an initiative by the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts. Over three years, the U.S. Department of Energy will grant $50 million to the alliance, $4 million of which will go to the UA, according to Peter Waller, an associate professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering.

If this legislation passes, algae cultivation will be more attractive to farmers and algae production will be cheaper, Waller said. In turn, the research taking place at the UA will be more appealing to those who want to invest in the algae farming business.

“There’s a huge potential economic benefit to producing algae,” Waller said.

The UA produces algae in a facility called the Arid Raceway Integrated Design (ARID), which uses a gravity-driven hydraulic system to cultivate and harvest the plants, according to Said Attalah, a graduate student in agriculture and biosystems engineering. Once the algae have been harvested, the oils extracted from the plants can be used to create energy, biodiesel and jet fuel. Alga grows at 10 times the rate of alfalfa while using the same amount of water, according to Waller. It could substitute alfafa and be used for cattle feed as well, according to research by University of Minnesota, he added.

Making algae farming a part of the commercial agricultural industry would not only create renewable energy, but produce jobs in Arizona, according to Jones and Waller.

“Of course I want people to be more interested in algae,” Attalah said. “Because after I get my degree, I will find a job.”

While HB 2225 and 2226 have received support from many lawmakers and researchers, Rep. Frank Pratt of Arizona District 23, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, cast the single opposing vote for HB 2225, calling the bill “premature.”

He voted “nay” to make a statement that while alga-culture may gain more momentum in the future, Arizona has yet to begin algae farming operations that would call for a broadening of agricultural land use.

“We’re making a bill for an industry that does not exist,” he said.

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