DOE Launches AlgaePrize for Student Innovators—Competition Will Culminate at NREL in Spring 2023

Jan. 13, 2022

A new competition from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) encourages students to imagine and develop innovative technology solutions using algae as a potent and flexible energy resource.

Algae cultures growing in a test tube.
AlgaePrize student teams can target their research on organisms including eukaryotic microalgae, eukaryotic macroalgae, and prokaryotic cyanobacteria. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

The 2022–2023 AlgaePrize, supported by the Algae Foundation and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), opened for registration today and will award $20,000 to the competition’s grand champion. AlgaePrize teams can include a mix of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students from any U.S.-based educational institution.

Products made from fast-growing algae have the power to simultaneously put fuels in our vehicles and airplanes, capture and store carbon dioxide, feed animals and humans, and create jobs for millions of Americans in both rural and urban areas. Based on existing land, water, and carbon dioxide availability, the United States could supply enough algae biomass to produce up to 15 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuels every year, according to a 2018 DOE analysis. On an energy-equivalent basis, that is about half of the anticipated aviation fuels needed.

Expanding the algae bioeconomy calls for the next generation of science innovators to bring their ideas. The AlgaePrize challenges students to develop concepts for commercial-scale algae cultivation and products. Teams will focus on three research areas of interest: production, downstream processing, and novel products or analytical tools.

“By focusing a competition around innovations in algae systems, engineering, and processing, the AlgaePrize competing teams will make great strides in moving the needle on critical challenges facing the algae industry and ultimately be in a position to contribute to the sustainable deployment of algae technologies in a carbon-efficient and hopefully carbon-negative future,” said Lieve Laurens, a senior researcher and lead of NREL’s algae platform. “The NREL team of researchers are excited about this initiative and will support the AlgaePrize over the duration of this competition.”

AlgaePrize finalist teams will be invited to present their projects to a panel of judges at the AlgaePrize Weekend, to be held at NREL in Golden, Colorado, in the spring of 2023. The event will provide a rich experience for on-site participants to engage in networking opportunities and attend other team and professional presentations. The winning teams are offered an opportunity to share their technology advancement as part of the Algae Biomass Summit in the fall of 2023.

Cindy Gerk, the NREL-based coordinator of the competition, is excited about bringing the competition to a final close at NREL. “We look forward to hosting the final judging of the competition here and announcing the winners during an awards weekend at NREL,” Gerk said. “Teams will present their research to a panel of expert judges, engage with industry mentors, meet other teams, and learn about their research.”

The AlgaePrize competition will take place over 18 months, starting early in 2022 and ending in the spring of 2023.

Learn how to participate in the AlgaePrize, or visit DOE’s AlgaePrize website for more information, including media resources.