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US Department of Energy Pours $18 Million into Algae Biofuel

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Pumping fuel into car

Now that’s what we call Green Driving: The US Department of Energy isn’t giving up on liquid fuel just yet. On July 9th, the department announced that it would be doling out up to $18 million in funding to six different projects in an effort to reduce the price of algae-based biofuel to less than $5 per gasoline gallon equivalent by 2019, and less than $3 by 2030.

Before we describe the projects, we should probably describe how biofuel is made from algae.


You know, this stuff
Picture: ilirjan rrumbullaku

The main way biofuel is made is by squeezing algae in an oil press (similar to an olive press for extracting olive oil). Chemicals can be added and cleaned out again to increase the yield of oil from the press. Otherwise, highly pressurized and heated carbon dioxide is mixed with the algae to extract all oil possible. After the oil is extracted, it is refined using a process called transesterification and becomes biofuel.

The largest chunk of the money goes to the PACE (Producing Algae and Co-Products for Energy) group from Colorado to produce algae better suited for biofuel production. The other five programs include developing a system to absorb carbon dioxide from the flue gas of a power plant, producing hydrotreated algal oil extract, developing a system to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, developing an early-warning system to identify an infection of an algae production pond, and developing probiotic bacteria to combat production pond infections.