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Microalgal Biofuels Projects

A photo of a man in a white lab coat holding a glass flask that contains a small amount of clear green liquid.

An NREL researcher analyzes algae samples for oil content using the Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorter.

NREL's microalgal biofuels projects focus on determining the feasibility and economic capability of employing algae as a cost-effective feedstock for fuel production. NREL researchers pioneered developing microalgal biofuels by leading the U.S. Department of Energy Aquatic Species Program from 1979 to 1996.

Among NREL's RD&D projects in converting microalgae to biofuels are:

  • Development of Algal Strains
    NREL and Chevron Corp. are collaborating to develop techniques to improve the production of liquid transportation fuels using microalgae. The researchers are identifying and developing microalgal strains that can be harvested economically and processed into finished transportation fuels. Partner: Chevron Corp.

  • Establishment of a Bioenergy-Focused Microalgae Strain Collection Using Rapid, High-Throughput Methodologies
    A seed grant from the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels is being used to discover new novel microalgae strains that can be used for biofuels and bioproducts applications. Partner: Colorado School of Mines.

  • Development of Algal-Based Jet Fuel

    NREL is working with the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to perform a proteomics analysis of an oil accumulating green algae. This basic research will answer fundamental algal biology questions regarding oil production that could lead to the development of cost-effective, algal-based jet fuel. Partner: U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. For more on algal-based jet fuel, see the proceedings and presentations from the February 2008 NREL/AFOSR Workshop on Algal Oil for Jet Fuel Production.

  • Development of a High-Performance Computational Framework for Combinatorial Systems Biology
    NREL is constructing chemically detailed metabolic models and parallel software to sample, fit, and optimize network behaviors of algae. The modeling is focused on biofuel production in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Partners: Colorado School of Mines, Carnegie Institute (Stanford), and with support from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research and Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

  • Isolation, Characterization, and Preliminary Assessment of Scale-Up Potential of Photosynthetic Microalgae for the Production of Biofuels in the United States and Canada
    This project involves the isolation of algal strains from water samples taken from a variety of northern marine and freshwater habitats using NREL's high-throughput fluorescence activated cell sorting capabilities. Partners: Sandia National Laboratories and National Research Council of Canada.

  • Development of a Comprehensive, High-Throughput Technique for Assessing Lipid Production in Algae
    NREL researchers are combining a high-throughput, robotics-based platform with two advanced chemical characterization techniques to characterize lipid production by algal species. The goal is to provide spectroscopic data for analysis.

  • Development of a Genetic Model for Biodiesel from Cyanobacteria
    NREL is working to establish a genetic model in a cyanobacterium for solar biodiesel production. The goal of this project is to redirect carbon fixed in photosynthesis toward lipid accumulation. This approach involves blocking glycogen synthesis and other non-essential carbon utilization pathways to focus metabolism primarily for triacylglycerol synthesis.

Learn about microalgal biofuels capabilities.