EU boosts research into algal biofuels

A consortium of researchers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has won £5.4 million of EU funding to study biofuel production from algae.

The project, BioMara, aims to show the "viability, feasibility and sustainability of biofuel generation from algal biomass", including seaweed (macroalgae) and microalgae.

Researchers from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban will coordinate the study. Collaborators include the University of Strathclyde, Queens University Belfast and technology institutes in Dundalk and Sligo.

Lead scientist Michele Stanley at SAMS said "much research and development is needed to unleash the potential for algal biofuels". SAMS estimates microalgae might need 20 years to reach commercial production in the UK, but seaweed could become viable within five.

The project is the second major announcement on algal biofuels in recent months. In October the Carbon Trust launched its two-phase Algae Biofuels Challenge to help develop commercial-scale biofuel production from open-pond microalgae cultivation.1

Phase one will be worth £3-6 million over three years and will grant up to £500,000 for research into algal strain selection and the design and engineering of production systems.

Applications for phase one have closed and final agreements will be signed in August.

Phase two will run for five years from 2010. It will get £7-10 million from the Carbon Trust, with total costs estimated at £14-20 million. It will involve building and operating a test and demonstration plant, probably overseas, where heat and solar conditions are more favourable.

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