Developing Innovative Photobioreactor and Extraction Technology For Production Of Biodiesel Feedstock Using Microalgae

Period of Performance: 01/01/2009 - 12/31/2009


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Winston Salem, NC 27101
Principal Investigator


The crude oil will be depleted within 40 years, alternative fuels have to be developed to drive our transportation systems, and biodiesel appears to be the most promising fuel of the future. Biodiesel is renewable, non-toxic, and biodegradable, it can be used in existing diesel engines without modifying the engin, and can be blended in at any ratio with petroleum diesel. However, the development of biodiesel industry is severely limited by the supply of feedstock, namely soybean oil and canola oil. Due to limitation of available agriculture land and irrigation water supply, the production of these oil crops can not sustain the biodiesel production, other sources of plant oil have to be developed as feedstock for biodiesel. Microalgae are known to exhibit 10- to 20-fold higher growth rates than agricultural crop plants, and certain microalgal species can accumulate large amounts of lipids or oil (30-60% of dry weight). As a result, the concept of using microalgae as an alternative source of feedstock for biodiesel production was intensively studied in the past 40 years. However, the past research & development efforts have led to a conclusion that microalgae-based biodiesel was not economically viable because of high production cost. Such failure to develop a commercially viable microalgae-based biodiesel production system was largely due to the lack of cost-effective photobioreactors and efficient method for oil extraction from algae. In this SBIR project, we will demonstrate the feasibility of reducing the cost of using oil-rich green algae as feedstock for biodiesel production. We intend to optimize culture conditions for microalgal oil production in our proprietary photobioreactors. The feasibility of using innovative nano-materials for algal oil extraction will be demonstrated. The combined advantages from both improvements will enable use to reduce the overall cost in microalgal oil production. The results obtained from this Phase I project will provide a solid base for us to pursue a Phase II project, in which cost-effective production of microalgae-based oil will be demonstrated in pilot scale. The long-term goal of this project is to establish an environmentally sound, commercially feasible and economically profitable engineered process for commercial production of microalgae-based biodiesel. The successful completion of this project will lead to establishment of microalgae-based biodiesel production facilities, absorpton of atmospheric carbon dioxide by microalgae, and job creation/economical development in clean energy sector.