Halifax, Nova Scotia – A new project has been launched in Nova Scotia that could produce renewable fuels from algae on a large scale.

The algal biofuel project has been launched at the National Research Council Institute for Marine Biosciences (NRC-IMB). Some species of micro-algae are expected to yield as much as twenty times more oil than traditional agricultural crops. Algae also do not require arable land and do not compete with food production.

The project received approximately $5 million through the National Bioproducts Program and NRC-IMB. Preliminary work and engineering plans have been drawn up to build a 50,000-litre cultivation pilot plant at the Ketch Harbour facility, where researchers have been growing algae for over 50 years. In assessing how to best grow algae for biofuel, NRC has joined forces with the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

Carbon dioxide, required for the algae to grow, will be collected from fossil fuel combustion. Carbon2Algae, an industrial partner in the effort, eventually plans to operate algae photobioreactors that will capture carbon dioxide from facilities such as coal-fired power plants or Alberta oil sands.

Dr. Stephen O’Leary, an NRC researcher working on the project, forecasts that commercial production of algal biofuels is likely in another five to ten years. “We’re asking plants to do what they do best,” he said. “With little more than water and carbon dioxide, algae can harvest sunlight and turn it into energy that could eventually be used to create jet fuel.”

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