Texas AgriLife Research, part of the Texas A&M University System, and General Atomics, a San Diego-based technology company, have received a $4 million grant from the state's Emerging Technology Fund for biofuel microalgae research.

The ETF grant authorized by Gov. Rick Perry will be supported by more than $4 million of parallel U.S. Department of Defense sponsored research aimed at developing microalgae-derived biodiesel fuels to support U.S. domestic and military needs.

“Texas is committed to creating a diverse energy portfolio that provides stability and reduces dependence on foreign energy,” said Gov. Perry. “Developing alternative energy sources through Texas-based research is of tremendous value to a fast-growing state like Texas and to our nation as a whole.”

A biofuel microalgae research facility is scheduled for construction at the Texas AgriLife Research center in Pecos. It is expected the facility will become a national center for algae research and development for biofuels.

“Through this partnership, we will be able to accelerate the entire research and development process and commercialize a number of technologies in biofuel microalgae production,” said Guy Diedrich, vice chancellor for federal relations, research and commercialization for the A&M System.

Texas AgriLife Research and General Atomics have already identified strains of algae that have high-producing oil potential. These strains require large amounts of sunlight, salty water and carbon dioxide to thrive and produce oil — all of which is readily available in the Permian Basin of Texas. Researchers anticipate the algae systems may be tied to coal-fired power plants in the future, using carbon dioxide emissions and waste heat for algae growth.

“We are convinced that algae-based biofuels have the potential to provide very substantial benefits to the nation, and we are extremely pleased to have this opportunity to work together with the outstanding scientists and engineers of the A&M system to move the technology forward,” said Bill Davison, vice president, General Atomics Advanced Process Systems Division. The partnership between Texas AgriLife Research and General Atomics involves a phased research and development program, which includes evaluating new, promising algae strains, developing and testing algae production systems and designing and testing algae/oil separation systems.

The first phase will demonstrate algae production systems up to approximately a quarter of an acre. The second phase will include a pre-commercial scale system and the final phase would be a commercial-size operation of 50 to 100 acres.

Production systems up to 2,000 acres could be implemented in the Permian Basin of Texas and the Southwest. Economists within the A&M System predict for each 2,000-acre unit, the local economic impact would equal approximately $190 million annually.

“This project supported by the Emerging Technology Fund could very well pave the way for new, innovative biofuel production systems here in Texas and provide additional economic impact in the Permian Basin and the Southwest,” said Dr. Mark Hussey, director of Texas AgriLife Research and interim vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M University. “This partnership certainly will help accelerate work in meeting the ever-growing demand for biofuels by consumers and the military.”

The Emerging Technology Fund is a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2006 to help businesses get innovations to the marketplace. Recipients of ETF funding are selected by a 17-member advisory committee of high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and research experts who review potential projects and recommend projects for funding to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

The Texas AgriLife Research (agriliferesearch.tamu.edu) is a science and technology agency under the Texas A&M University System charged with conducting basic and applied research in agriculture, the life sciences and natural resources. Its mission is to generate scientific knowledge that benefits both consumers and the agriculture industry in Texas and beyond.