The Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation partners with the rapidly growing algae industry to propel Arizona into the forefront of innovation in biofuels and bio-product research and development.
Photosynthetic microorganisms -- algae and cyanobacteria -- have emerged as a potential large-scale source of biofuel. Algae and cyanobacteria are good candidates for mass production of biofuels because they are much more efficient at capturing sunlight energy than terrestrial plants, can achieve very high concentrations of oily components within their cells, and can operate without large consumptions of water and nutrients. Furthermore, ASU has generated modified cyanobacteria that are able to produce and excrete fuel feedstock that can be harvested directly.
ASU’s capability in photosynthetic microorganisms is well established and unique worldwide. Over the past 5 years, we have received nearly $20M in grants from public and private sources. ASU now has the most extensive and sophisticated non-commercial facilities in the country for all aspects of research and development with photosynthetic microorganisms. With the support of Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz), ASU is expanding the facilities to enable research and development at all scales from a single cell to pre-commercial pilot under the Arizona Center for Algae Research and Innovation (AzCATI). Recently, we were awarded two research grants for biofuels from the Biomass Program in EERE and ARPA-E for $11 million.
Microorganisms are not without their challenges, and the challenges define the research agenda at ASU. The fuel-chain economics are poorly defined, and business models do not yet justify investment. Harvesting of excreted products has not yet been perfected; algae can be attacked by predators, and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) have yet to face scrutiny of regulators and the public.
Diversification into areas adjacent to fuel, such as specialty chemicals, lubricants, animal feed, and hydrogen gas, is a key opportunity that ASU is well positioned to exploit. Other strengths include ASU’s ability to develop innovative bioreactors and harvesting capabilities.