Authorities may finance algae biofuel research

CHANTHABURI: The Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency Department may fund research and development of biofuel from algae, says deputy director-general Twarath Sutabutr.

He said alternative fuel from algae might be feasible commercially in the wake of the success of crude palm oil but that it would require an appropriate algae.

“Two universities are now conducting algae research – the Chanthaburi campus of Burapha University, focusing on marine algae, and Kasetsart University, which is looking into freshwater algae,” said Dr Twarath.

The department will provide financial support as well as act as a matchmaker between the two Thai universities and James Cook University and the Queensland University of Technology, two leading Australia research institutes, to share knowledge of marine technology.

Dr Twarath said all signs pointed to a rising trend in the global oil price from next year, in all likelihood reaching the 2008 record.

“Thailand, a net importer of oil, should prepare for this situation by switching to alternative fuels as much as possible,” he said.

Burapha University has had research facilities and human resources in place since early this year but needs help financially.

Algae is considered to have a great potential for use in various industries besides biofuel, such as food supplements, cosmetics and marine animal feed.

Maliwan Kutako, a lecturer with Burapha’s marine technology faculty in Chanthaburi, said algae research was initiated last year with the engineering faculty, resulting in over 30 researchers from the two fields working on it.

“But the problem is that only Pinthong Engineering Co, a Bangkok-based engineering service provider, has supported us since the beginning, donating almost one million baht for R&D. That’s not enough,” she said.

The Burapha team is currently studying 28 marine algae strains while developing algae-breeding technology.

“We’ve found a strain that can produce 100 litres of biofuel from 250 tonnes of algae. To pursue this, we need more equipment and better technology,” said Dr Maliwan.

Algae strains in the laboratory were collected from the seacoast near the campus, as biofuel should ideally be produced from local materials.

The campus is Thailand’s only fully integrated algae R&D facility, combining a laboratory, a 100-rai algae breeding pond and researchers at one location.

“Bangchak Petroleum will test the quality of the algae biofuel next week, and the campus plans to build a production unit with a capacity of 100 litres a day,” said Dr Maliwan.

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