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Around the Quad

Algae for Energy


CALS scientists are plunging into the seas in their continuing quest to harness alternative sources of energy. A $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will allow Cornell—along with a consortium of schools and a Hawaiian research company, Cellana—to develop biofuels from algae.

Relative to other fuels, algae produce at least 10 times more biomass per hectare than terrestrial land plants, according to Charles Greene, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, who is a principal investigator on the project.

Furthermore, algae use nutrients more efficiently than land plants, so there is no runoff of nutrients in the water; they are grown in seawater, so there is no demand for freshwater; and they don’t require soil, so do not compete with food plants for good agricultural land. It may also be possible to extract proteins from the byproducts of algal biofuel production for use as nutritional supplements for animal feeds, the sales of which could help subsidize some of the biofuel production costs.

Xingen Lei, professor of molecular nutrition in the Department of Animal Science, is conducting feeding trials of such algal-based nutritional supplements in chickens and pigs. Beth Ahner, professor of biological and environmental engineering, and Ruth Richardson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, are also researching lipid biosynthesis and algal physiology to improve the algal biofuel process.