Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts, 16-18 June in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

The 4th International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts was held on 16-18 June in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. The conference covered all areas of emerging technologies in algal biology, biomass production, cultivation, harvesting, extraction, biorefinery, conversion, bioproducts, and econometrics. There were 93 oral presentations and 167 posters presented in the conference, one of which was mine.

The conference was opened by Dr Jonathan Male, the Director of the Bioenergy Technology Office, US Department of Energy. In his presentation, Dr Male introduced US DOE algal biofuel efforts, including National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap and Aquatic Species Program. He also introduced American university based research projects and national laboratory involvement. Coupled with the large number of coal-fired power plants in Kentucky, the University of Kentucky seeks to investigate and demonstrate the potential of using waste CO2 and heat from a coal-fired power plant to cultivate algae, which could then be processed into value added products. The research efforts have led to the development and on-going deployment of a pilot scale photobioreactor system at Duke Energy’s East Bend power station in Northern Kentucky. Dr Wilson gave a techno-economic analysis of biological CO2 mitigation, whilst Dr Groppo presented the protocol for the harvesting and dewatering of the accumulated algal biomass from the pilot site. The US company, Algeno, is commercialising its patented algae technology platform for production of ethanol and other biofuels. In his plenary lecture, Dr Chance presented the integration of biofuel production with power generation facilities as an enhancement to traditional power generation business models. Dr Reith presented the Canadian National Research Council’s Algal Carbon Conversion Flagship Program which features four R&D streams that support the pilot project, as well as future commercial deployment of the technology. One of the streams is selecting algal strains which are suitable for large scale cultivation using coal-fired power plant flue gas. The expectation is that as these projects finish the development of new methods and tools, they will be scaled up for testing at pilot scale. Due to the difficulty in selecting a site, the pilot test has not started yet. Dr Bhatti introduced the algal strain selection for industrial flue gas deployment that is currently a focus in Canada. Prof Yang highlighted the current status of microalgal biofuels R&D in South Korea. Chinese development in algal biomass production by utilising CO2 of flue gas was reported by Dr Guo and Indonesian research work on the effect of flue gas on algae growth was posted by Ms Wargadalam.

I came away from the three days conference feeling that although a variety of technologies have been developed and are still being advanced, utilisation of the technologies still has a long way to go. Also, the main interest of research and development in the algae industry is on microalgae production and application, while flue gas treatment is only a sideline by-product. Using algae to capture CO2 from coal combustion flue gas is still at the laboratory research stage. The pilot scale research has only just began.