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Facility's expansion puts Az at top of algae research
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Facility's expansion puts Az at top of algae research

State's sunshine aids in growth of biofuel source

  • More than 300,000 liters of water are used in large tubs, seen here, to grow and research algae.
    Connor Radnovich/Cronkite News ServiceMore than 300,000 liters of water are used in large tubs, seen here, to grow and research algae.
  • Visitors look at tubes of algae during the grand opening of an addition to Arizona Center for Algae Technology Innovation. Algae is typically green but this yellow algae represents stressed algae, which is producing more carbohydrates for research purposes. The facility is located at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus.
    Connor Radnovich/Cronkite News ServiceVisitors look at tubes of algae during the grand opening of an addition to Arizona Center for Algae Technology Innovation. Algae is typically green but this yellow algae represents stressed algae, which is producing more carbohydrates for research purposes. The facility is located at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus.
  • Rotating fans keep the water moving to promote algae growth.
    Connor Radnovich/Cronkite News ServiceRotating fans keep the water moving to promote algae growth.

MESA – A five–fold expansion of the algae lab at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus will help move Arizona to the forefront of algae–based research and production, Gov. Jan Brewer said Tuesday.

“It’s wonderful to see this center begin to blossom – allowing Arizona the potential to be a national and global leader in algae research and biotechnology, reducing America’s dependence on fossil fuel, increasing prospects for green jobs and profits, cleaning air and water and creating valuable products for human and animal use,” Brewer said.

The governor and other public officials, researchers and ASU personnel dedicated an expansion that adds 80,000 gallons of capacity to the test beds at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.

Proponents say Arizona is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the research and development of algae-based products because of its abundant sunlight, available water and flat farmland.

“That makes it particularly attractive to Arizona because we have something that not everyone can copy,” said Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean for ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation. “That’s actually the beauty of this.”

Most of the new space will be used to grow algae for other companies to use in their research, said Tom Dempster, the facility’s lab manager and a research professor.

Much of what the center does and will do in the future is provide materials and space for partners to work, Dempster said.

Those partners, such as Valley-based algae research company Heliae, often cannot produce enough algae to supply their own machines at capacity.

“The overall goal of this facility is to advance the biofuels industry,” Dempster said. “The ultimate goal here is to reduce our country’s dependency on foreign fuels.”

Montoya said researchers are hopeful that algae-based fuel will become more prevalent in the next 10 years.

“This is another natural and renewable source that can be moved to scale,” she said.

Dempster said the center’s new production potential should increase the quantity and speed of algae grown, collaboration between research organizations and availability of biomass for research.

“We’re providing a platform for share of ideas and information, that really, previously, hasn’t existed, and certainly not to this magnitude,” he said.

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