ARCHIVED - NRC drives strategy to commercialize mass production of biofuel from algae

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Minister Goodyear announces major research project in Nova Scotia

June 04, 2010

Halifax, Nova Scotia – Canadians could soon see renewable fuels produced on a large scale from algae grown in Nova Scotia.  Speaking in Halifax, the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology), made the announcement at the launch of the algal biofuel project at the National Research Council Institute for Marine Biosciences (NRC-IMB). 

"Our government is investing in science and technology to create jobs, improve the quality of life of Canadians and strengthen the economy," said Minister Goodyear. "These new fuels have the potential to deliver clean air, clean energy, clean water, and economic benefits for Nova Scotians and all Canadians." 

Biofuels produced from renewable resources such as algae are key to future energy sustainability and have the highest potential for carbon capture.  Some species of microalgae are expected to yield as much as twenty times more oil than traditional agricultural crops.  As a renewable resource, algae are a clear winner — they don't require arable land, nor do they compete with food production. 

The project received approximately $5 million through the National Bioproducts Program and NRC-IMB. Preliminary work and engineering plans have been drawn up to build a 50,000 litre cultivation pilot plant at the Ketch Harbour facility.  A main component to help the algae grow will be carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  Carbon2Algae, an industrial partner in the effort, eventually plans to operate algae photobioreactors that will capture carbon dioxide from facilities like the Alberta oil sands or coal-fired power plants, and use these emissions to allow local strains of algae to thrive. 

Researchers at the Marine Research Station in Ketch Harbour, Nova Scotia, have been growing algae for over 50 years. In assessing how best to grow algae for biofuel, NRC has joined forces with the United States Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. 

Dr. Stephen O'Leary, an NRC researcher working on the project, forecasts that commercial production of algal biofuels is likely in another five to 10 years.  The project will ultimately join forces with NRC aerospace expertise to work toward commercializing algal biofuel, among other projects. 

"We're asking plants to do what they do best," explained Dr. O'Leary. "With little more than water and carbon dioxide, algae can harvest sunlight and turn it into energy that could eventually be used to create jet fuel." 

A key component distinguishing the National Research Council algal biofuel project from other international efforts is the focus on identifying local strains of algae that are suitable for biofuel production from specific sites in North America.  The local species are already acclimatized to the environment, making them easier to grow, and avoiding the risks of importing foreign species that might accidentally be released into the environment. 

About the National Research Council of Canada

Recognized globally for research and innovation, Canada's National Research Council is a leader in the development of an innovative, knowledge-based economy for Canada through science and technology.

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