Public Release: 

Arizona State University launches biofuel initiative with BP and Science Foundation Arizona

Photosynthetic microbial research initiative to develop renewable source of biodiesel

Arizona State University

TEMPE, Ariz.- Arizona State University has announced a significant research partnership with energy company BP and Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) to develop a renewable source of biofuel.

The research effort focuses on using a specially optimized photosynthetic bacterium to produce biodiesel, a sustainable high-energy fuel that can be used in conventional engines.

"This project illustrates the type of high impact research that is possible when state, industry and academic leaders converge on an urgent societal problem," said George Poste, director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. "We are delighted to be part of an international research effort with BP and SFAz to reduce our transportation economy's dependency on oil and develop cleaner, sustainable sources of energy."

The use of renewable, photosynthetic bacteria in the production of biofuel eliminates the need for costly and complex processing. In addition, the large-scale microbial cultivation, using only solar energy and an environmentally controlled production facility, can be set up on arid land.

"A key imperative of our global sustainability initiatives at Arizona State University is to engage our faculty and students and provide innovative solutions for the problems that afflict our planet," said ASU President Michael Crow. "We are taking advantage of perhaps our greatest natural resource, the abundant sunshine of the Southwest, as a prime catalyst for new discoveries that will benefit our region."

The renewable technology holds significant promise, with an estimated high biomass-to-fuel yield. Furthermore, because the bacteria are dependent upon carbon dioxide for growth, a more environmentally friendly and potentially carbon neutral energy source is feasible. The small footprint needed for bacterial biofuel production allows the technology to be placed adjacent to power generating stations and the utilization of flue gas as a carbon source.

"The proposal from Arizona State University was funded due to the superb caliber of scientists leading the project and the great untapped potential of microorganism-driven biofuel production," said William C. Harris, president and CEO of SFAz.

The renewable biofuel project is the latest in a series of SFAz's Strategic Research Group awards. The SRG program is designed to award resources to cultivate research partnerships within the state by leveraging state funds with matching industry investment in order to create a competitive advantage for Arizona.

"This collaborative effort gives Arizona the opportunity to lead the world in solar technology development in a span of five to 10 years and reap enormous benefits: environmental impacts, wealth generation resulting from commercialized technologies, and economic implications for entire regions," said Harris. "This research will lead the way in tapping a great new source of clean renewable energy."

Tony Meggs, Group Vice President of Research & Technology at BP, adds: "The energy sector as a whole is going through a period of rapid and complex change, with an explosion of investment in the sustainable energy sector. This is an exciting new collaboration for BP, demonstrating our commitment to the development of technologies that have real potential for bringing sustainable, low-carbon energy to the world."

The initiative will draw on a diverse array of multidisciplinary ASU research and expertise from the Biodesign Institute, School of Life Sciences and Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. ASU professors Bruce Rittmann and Wim Vermaas will lead the research and development efforts while colleague Neal Woodbury will serve as project coordinator. Key members of the ASU team also include: Fulton School Dean Deirdre Meldrum, Roy Curtiss, Robert Roberson, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, Ferran Garcia-Pichel, Paul Westerhoff and Mark Holl.

"We will be pursuing two coordinated, parallel tracks in which we will both optimize the metabolic processes involved in the production of the high-energy biofuel and engineer a photobioreactor to make the process efficient and cost-effective," said Rittmann.

###

About Science Foundation Arizona

Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization initiated in 2006 by the Greater Phoenix Leadership Inc., Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Flagstaff Forty. Its goal is to build and strengthen scientific, engineering and medical research programs and infrastructure in areas of greatest strategic value to Arizona's competitiveness in the global economy. SFAz invests in partnerships between nonprofit research institutions and industry; other science, engineering and math programs; and in the education pipeline to help Arizona create a knowledge-driven economy. For more information, visit www.sfaz.org.

About the Biodesign Institute at ASU

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University is focused on innovations that improve health care; provide renewable sources of energy and clean our environment; outpace the global threat of infectious disease; and enhance national security. Using a team approach that converges the biosciences with nanoscale engineering and advanced computing, the goal is to find solutions to complex global challenges and accelerate these discoveries to market. The institute also educates future scientists by providing hands-on laboratory research for more than 250 students per semester. For more information, visit www.biodesign.asu.edu

About BP

BP is of one of the world's largest energy companies, providing its customers with fuel for transportation, energy for heat and light, retail services and petrochemicals products for everyday items. BP is one of the world's largest purveyors of biofuels, blending more than 700 million gallons of biofuels in the US in 2006. In June 2006, BP announced it would establish the Energy Biosciences Institute and in November 2006, announced the formation of its biofuels business. BP's decision to devote significant resources to widening the availability of biofuels is part of its strategy of identifying low carbon or renewable energy sources for the future. BP spends significant amounts every year on university technology programs around the world, spanning every aspect of its current business, and is now seeking to foster further innovation in the industry through selected collaborations with innovative technology companies. For more information, visit www.bp.com.

Media Contact:

Science Foundation Arizona
Stephanie Jarnagan
Denise Resnik & Associates
602-424-8632

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.