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Algae fuel project in line for $750,000 in federal funds

Oct 17, 2009 - Tanya Mannes - SignonSanDiego

A San Diego-based project to develop fuel from algae is expected to get $750,000 in federal funds thanks to an earmark from Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad.

“Algae fuel is the future of fuel and has its roots in San Diego,” Bilbray said. “If we really want to get away from foreign oil by building out our own resources, this is the way to go.”

The appropriation for the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, or SD-CAB, is part of a funding bill for energy and water projects. The bill is headed to President Barack Obama's desk after being approved by the Senate on Thursday. It passed the House of Representatives early this month.

Bilbray said in an interview that algae — which can be processed into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel — deserves the same federal funding that corn producers have received for ethanol.

Currently, it costs around $30 per gallon to produce jet fuel from algae. That cost is expected to drop to around $2 within a decade.

“Basically, it's to give algae production the incentive ethanol has been given for years in terms of tax benefits and research money,” Bilbray said. “This is really not asking for special treatment; it's just asking for equal access.”

The federal money will be used for small bioreactors at the University of California San Diego. The equipment will aid students and postdoctoral fellows in experiments with different strains of algae.

“This comes at a critical time and will allow us to further accelerate our ongoing research to develop new sources of environmentally friendly transportation fuels for the nation,” Stephen Mayfield, director of SD-CAB, said in a statement.

This is SD-CAB's first outside funding since the consortium was established in April. Its goal is to help attract grants and other resources to the region. The group is composed of UCSD, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, The Scripps Research Institute, the Salk Institute, San Diego State University and the local biotechnology industry.

The consortium is competing for federal stimulus funds, Mayfield said.