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DOE, Industry Fund UCSD Algal Biofuels Research Effort

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Energy and a group of industry partners that includes Life Technologies have pledged a total of $12 million to fund research to be led by the University of California San Diego that will use a systems biology approach to develop molecular and other technologies for algae-based biofuels.

Researchers at UCSD will use the funding, which includes up to $9 million over the next three years from DOE and $3 million from a group of biotech and energy companies, to lead the Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization.

The goal of the research program is to develop new genetic and molecular technologies that can improve algal fuel production, as well as new approaches for recycling nutrients and technologies for producing crops.

“These are the three most important areas right now for the development of algae for biofuel production,” Stephen Mayfield, a biology professor at UCSD who is leading the project and who heads the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, said in a statement. “This basic research will enable us to make significant improvements in the production of bioenergy from algae,” Mayfield said.

“This is new ground so I don't think we know exactly how this is going to unfold, but my assumption is this will follow along the lines of plant pathology and will require a systems biology approach using every aspect of modern molecular and genetic techniques,” Mayfield told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail, adding that he is currently working with DOE to develop more specifics of the project.

Some of the $3 million in annual DOE funding in the project will be funneled to UCSD partners at the University of California, Davis, the University of Nebraska, and Rutgers University.

Joining Life Technologies in providing the $3 million in commercial partner funding are Chevron, Sapphire Energy, Sempra Energy, Praxaire, and WR Grace.

"Partnerships such as these focus the creative powers of the public, private, and academic sectors on key challenges facing the development of renewable energy for transportation," DOE’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi said in a statement from the department.

Life Technologies was not immediately able to comment on any role it may play in the consortium beyond its financial support.

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