Coventry University is among the 11 UK institutions selected to take part in the UK’s bid to get ahead in what could be a £15 billion market by developing a sustainable and cost-effective biofuel from algae.
The Carbon Trust has announced what it calls a “dream team” to find the formula for cultivating 70 billion litres of algae biofuel a year by 2030 - equivalent to six per cent of road transport diesel and a saving of over 160 million tonnes of CO2 every year.
The eleven institutions were selected from over 80 initial proposals following an extensive competition and detailed assessment process.
Starting from first principles of agriculture, thousands of strains of algae will be screened to find the few that can produce large quantities of a substance similar to vegetable oil.
Additional research will develop methods for enabling large-scale production in algae ponds and next year the Carbon Trust plans to start construction of a pilot demonstration plant in an equatorial region where algae are most productive.
Coventry University will carry out R&D into cost-effective techniques for the extraction of oils and valuable co-products from algae using ultrasound and ionic liquids.
The Sonochemistry Centre at Coventry University has a long history of R&D and the use of ultrasound to control algal blooms.
Algae has the potential to deliver five to ten times more oil per hectare than conventional cropland biofuels and new Carbon Trust lifecycle analysis indicates that, over time, it could provide carbon savings of up to 80 per cent compared to fossil fuel petrol and jet fuel.
With costs of algae biodiesel currently estimated to be approximately $5-$10 a litre, Carbon Trust is focussing on more cost-effective production methods to ultimately bring the cost down to less than $1 a litre.
Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said: “We have pulled together a dream team of over 70 UK algae scientists who have the expert knowledge to turn algae into a British biofuel success story.
“Applying principles this country has developed from its proud agricultural heritage and leading bioscience expertise we will be developing a truly sustainable biofuel that could provide up to 80 per cent carbon savings compared to diesel savings in car and jet fuel.
“With a market value of over £15 billion the potential rewards are high.”
Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said: “This project demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that second generation biofuels are truly sustainable - and to show the potential from microalgae to be refined for use in renewable transport fuel development, to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”