New Cambridge University project hopes to turn pond slime to biofuel

To the untrained eye it may look like unappealing pond scum, but experts from Cambridge University believe algae might hold the key to the global energy crisis.

That’s the thinking behind the university’s proposed £490,000 Algal Innovation Centre, which it intends to build at the Botanic Garden.

Last week the university approved plans to build the new facility, which will house experiments looking to exploit the potential of vats of algae as a new hi-tech biofuel.

Professor Beverley Glover, director of the Botanic Garden, said: “This is work led by a colleague in the Department of Plant Science, looking at single-celled green algae, which can be used to produce a useful compound. It’s quite early-stage work, but it’s working out which is the best type to use, and how best to apply it as a fuel.”

The new centre will bring together experts from across the university, including the architecture, biochemistry, chemical chemistry and engineering departments.

According to the university’s general council, which approved the plans, it will address the “requirement for scale-up and pilot facilities to enable translation of fundamental research and showcase technologies”.

It comes following a national consultation, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change identifying a need for an algal Centre of Excellence in the UK.

The estimated cost of the project is £492,834, and will be funded by the Department of Plant Sciences and the School of the Biological Sciences.

The funds available to the Department include an award of £188,600 from the European Union’s EnAlgae project, which aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels by developing new algal biofuel technologies.

The 164 sq m centre will be built on an existing site at the Botanic Garden. Prof Glover said: “We already have a corner with algae growing, and that’s been really useful for starting experiments, but it’s not big enough, and they can only grow one species at a time, so this will be much better. We are very excited. For us it’s nice chance to be engaged in a group project, and show how plants, and their relatives, can help with global problems.”

A formal planning application for the site is due to be submitted to the council within a month.

 

Photo: Professor Beverley Glover, director of the Botanic Garden

View original article at: New Cambridge University project hopes to turn pond slime to biofuel

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