National Research Council Canada-NRC

National Research Council Canada-NRC

June 04, 2010 12:49 ET

NRC Drives Strategy to Commercialize Mass Production of Biofuel From Algae

Minister Goodyear announces major research project in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - June 4, 2010) -

NOTE TO EDITORS: A video and photos for this release are available via Marketwire's website.

Core News Facts:

• Traditional sources of fuel, like petroleum, cause environmental problems like oil spills, air pollution and global warming.

• Fuel produced from renewable plant resources is key to future energy sustainability – clean air, clean energy, and clean profits for Canadians.

• Biofuel made from algae appeals to the global aviation industry in particular because it will help reduce aviation's carbon footprint in anticipation of future carbon taxes.

• Algae is attractive to other industries because it can be grown using carbon dioxide emissions. NRC is working with Carbon2Algae Solutions to capture carbon emissions from facilities like coal-fired power plants and use them to help algae grow.

• Algae are ideal for biofuel because they are not a food source, they don't need agricultural land and they can produce up to twenty times more oil than traditional biofuel crops like corn.

• This new project brings Canada in line with other countries that are also investigating the potential of creating fuel from algae.

• NRC's approach is unique because it is using local species of algae, eliminating the risk to the environment, and it will not compete for agricultural or food resources.

• NRC is in a unique position for establishing a critical mass for renewable fuel made from algae, as it has a wide breadth of expertise in marine biosciences, in biotechnology, in plant biotechnology and in aerospace research, in addition to close linkages with industry

• The algal biofuel project will also investigate innovative ways to use the by-products of fuel production (like nutriceuticals or high-protein animal feed). 

• The National Bioproducts Program is a joint initiative of NRC, Natural Resources Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.  It will have an impact on Canada's priority areas – environment, sustainable energy and rural revitalization and will achieve this by developing and commercializing targeted technologies.


- Dr. Danial Wayner, NRC Vice President, Physical Sciences :

• "Because algae feed on carbon dioxide, it makes sense to design a system that can link an algae biofuel plant to a carbon dioxide-emitting factory. Algae capture the carbon dioxide and use it to grow."  

• "Algae being grown for biofuel can also be used to process wastewater from municipal, farm or sewage sources.  This water contains rich compounds that accelerate the growth of algae."  

• "Algae have huge market potential. Twenty-two billion gallons of biofuel were sold in 2009. Some commentators estimate that the biofuel industry represents a one-hundred billion dollar business opportunity."

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology)

• "NRC is collaborating with a number of industrial partners, including Ocean Nutrition Canada in Halifax, Menova Energy Inc. of Markham, Ontario, POS Pilot Plant from Saskatoon, and the international consortium Carbon2Algae Solutions. These firms are working closely with NRC to commercialize technologies in areas of algae cultivation, biomass handling, oil extraction and ultimately, fuel production."   

• "The National Research Council is also collaborating on this project with the U.S. Department of Energy. It represents concrete action on Canada's commitments in the Canada-U.S. Clean Energy Dialogue by expanding clean energy research and development – one of the three objectives outlined in the agreement."


Establishing a Canadian Capacity to Produce Biofuels from Algae

View a slideshow of our Ketch Harbour Marine Research Station

NRC is committing approximately $5M in funding through the National Bioproducts Program and the NRC Institute for Marine Biosciences, with additional resources of approximately $1.2M being provided by both monetary and in-kind contributions through industrial and organizational partners. One dozen jobs have been created specifically for the project. At least 30 researchers from NRC work on the project. The industrial leverage is expected to increase significantly as new partners join the program.  Once scaled up, significant job creation is also expected.

The science and challenges of the production of algal biofuels

Algae are a renewable resource that require little more than sunlight to grow. They do not compete with food production as they don't require arable land.  Research has shown that certain strains of microalgae produce oil yields 20 times greater than traditional agri-crops like corn or wheat. Algae also require huge amounts of carbon dioxide to grow, which means that researchers are looking at ways to use algae to consume industrially-sourced carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas).

In time, it is possible a biofuel production facility could operate in conjunction with a fossil fuel power generating station, but the immediate challenge for project researchers is to find the best biofuel producing species and to develop small pilot plants that can move studies beyond the laboratory. In parallel, scientists are also working to develop technology to effectively extract the oil.

Sixty-four species of algae have been collected and studied so far by the algal biofuels project. Twenty-four of these species have been brought into cultivation and a half dozen with exceptional oil yields are under intensive scrutiny.

Through a new international collaboration, the collection will expand to hundreds of species, with a focus on those strains that are suitable for biofuel production from specific sites in North America. The native species are already acclimatized to the local environment so they will be easier to grow, and avoid the risks of importing a foreign species that might accidentally be released into the environment.

Preliminary work and engineering plans have been drawn up to build a 50,000L cultivation pilot plant at the NRC Ketch Harbour Marine Research Station.

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