PNNL awarded for algal biofuel innovation

Developing renewable fuel from wet algae is one of the latest innovations Richland, Washington-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has successfully driven to the market with the help of commercial partners. As a result, the Federal Laboratory Consortium has honored the Department of Energy’s national laboratory with a 2015 Excellence in Technology Transfer award.

The consortium is a nationwide network that encourages federal laboratories to transfer laboratory-developed technologies to commercial markets. They selected PNNL’s technology from 57 nominations nationwide to be among 16 winners. PNNL has earned a total of 81 such awards since the program began in 1984. The 2015 awards will be presented April 29 at the consortium’s annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Recognizing the need for more cost-effective biomass fuel options, DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Officeinvested in PNNL to develop the idea of using hydrothermal liquefaction, a form of dehydration, to streamline and optimize the algae-to-biocrude conversion process.

The continuous process uses heat and pressure to chemically and physically change the algae into biocrude in a matter of minutes. Through simplified operations and greatly improved yields, the new process is claimed to reduce the cost of the algal fuel enterprise by nearly 90 percent.

Researchers at PNNL worked with industrial partner Genifuel Corporation to advance their lab scale research to the pilot scale in September 2014. With the new designs, Genifuel built a pilot plant for Reliance Industries Ltd. in Colorado, where the company plans to test the technology before producing renewable biofuel on a larger scale.

Unlike traditional extractions methods, which separate lipids out of algae to make biodiesel, PNNL’s process converts whole algae into biocrude, fuel gas and usable byproducts. The process can be applied to other forms of wet materials as well – such as sludge from wastewater, dairy farms or food processing – increasing the potential impact of this technology. More companies have approached Genifuel about using PNNL’s process.

The team recognized for transferring this process includes: PNNL’s Doug Elliott, Dan Anderson, Todd Hart, Andy Schmidt and Eric C. Lund; and James Oyler, president of Genifuel Corporation.


Photo: This pilot plant in Colorado uses a PNNL-developed process to turn algae into biocrude oil, which in turn can become renewable aviation fuels, gasoline and diesel using conventional refining. PNNL received an award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for working with a commercial partner to transfer this technology to market.
Image courtesy of Genifuel.

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