Bioenergy & Biofuels from Algae Feedstocks

The expertise and interests of Cornell’s faculty come together in an ideal way to address some of the key challenges associated with the production of biofuel from algal biomass.  Cornell researchers from three colleges are teamed with various external partners and funding agencies to spearhead the development of regional and global algal production facilities.  The challenges associated with making large-scale algae production facilities are both technological and economical.   Research activities on campus cover nearly every aspect of process development and range from optimization of algae production facilities to efficient product recovery to product development to system level life cycle assessment. 

Optimization of algae biomass production requires diagnostic tools to interrogate various aspect of algae physiology; these tools range from rapid detection of intracellular lipid content of individual cells to RNA-based detection of specific biochemical stress responses.   To facilitate product recovery, chemical engineers are studying strategies for concentrating dilute biomass, novel cell disruption technologies and processing techniques to extract and recover lipids as well as other potential products.  Animal scientists are conducting feeding trials of algal-derived protein supplements in chickens and pigs.  New production systems for culturing algae are under development in which cells are harnessed in low volume-high cell density chambers to produce and release biochemical precursors to replace feedstocks traditionally generated from crude oil.   Such a system would bypass challenges associated with dilute cell suspensions and energy intensive extraction protocols.   Quantitative models are being developed to assess the environmental performance as well as the economic feasibility of various combinations of unit processes joined to make a variety fuels and co-products.

Faculty involved: Beth Ahner, Largus Angenent, Itai Cohen, Susan Daniels, David EricksonCharles Greene, Brian Kirby, Xingen Lei, Ruth Richardson, Jeff Tester, Roseanna Zia.