ASU partnership explores biofuel feasibility
ASU has announced a significant research partnership with energy company BP and Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) to develop a renewable source of biofuel.
The research effort focuses on using a specially optimized photosynthetic bacterium to produce biodiesel – a sustainable, high-energy fuel that can be used in conventional engines.
“This project illustrates the type of high impact research that is possible when state, industry and academic leaders converge on an urgent societal problem,” says George Poste, director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute. “We are delighted to be part of an international research effort with BP and SFAz to reduce our transportation economy’s dependency on oil and develop cleaner, sustainable sources of energy.”
The use of renewable, photosynthetic bacteria in the production of biofuel eliminates the need for costly and complex processing. In addition, the large-scale microbial cultivation, using solar energy and an environmentally controlled production facility, can be set up on arid land.
“A key imperative of our global sustainability initiatives at Arizona State University is to engage our faculty and students and provide innovative solutions for the problems that afflict our planet,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “We are taking advantage of perhaps our greatest natural resource, the abundant sunshine of the Southwest, as a prime catalyst for new discoveries that will benefit our region.”
The renewable technology holds significant promise, with an estimated high biomass-to-fuel yield. Furthermore, because the bacteria are dependent upon carbon dioxide for growth, a more environmentally friendly and potentially carbon-neutral energy source is feasible. The small footprint needed for bacterial biofuel production allows the technology to be placed adjacent to power generating stations, and it also allows the use of flue gas as a carbon source.
“The proposal from Arizona State University was funded due to the superb caliber of scientists leading the project and the great untapped potential of microorganism-driven biofuel production,” says William C. Harris, president and chief executive officer of SFAz.
The renewable biofuel project is the latest in a series of SFAz’s Strategic Research Group awards. The SRG program is designed to award resources to cultivate research partnerships within the state by leveraging state funds with matching industry investment to create a competitive advantage for Arizona.
“This collaborative effort gives Arizona the opportunity to lead the world in solar technology development in a span of five to 10 years and reap enormous benefits: environmental impacts, wealth generation resulting from commercialized technologies and economic implications for entire regions,” Harris says. “This research will lead the way in tapping a great new source of clean renewable energy.”
“The energy sector as a whole is going through a period of rapid and complex change, with an explosion of investment in the sustainable energy sector,” adds Tony Meggs, group vice president of research and technology at BP. “This is an exciting new collaboration for BP, demonstrating our commitment to the development of technologies that have real potential for bringing sustainable, low-carbon energy to the world.”
The initiative will draw on a diverse array of multidisciplinary ASU research and expertise from the Biodesign Institute, the School of Life Sciences and the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. ASU professors Bruce Rittmann and Wim Vermaas will lead the research and development efforts, while colleague Neal Woodbury will serve as project coordinator. Key members of the ASU team also include the Fulton School’s dean, Deirdre Meldrum, as well as Roy Curtiss, Robert Roberson, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, Ferran Garcia-Pichel, Paul Westerhoff and Mark Holl.