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Va. Project Explores Algae-Based Biofuel

October 05, 2009

GLOUCESTER POINT, VA --- The College of William and Mary and its Virginia Institute of Marine Science are working together to investigate a promising new technology to produce biofuel from the algae growing naturally in rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. 

Nicknamed ChAP, the Chesapeake Algae Project includes a number of corporate partners, notably StatoilHydro, a Norwegian energy company. 

StatoilHydro has backed the project with an initial $3 million investment. Other key partners are the Williamsburg energy advisory firm Blackrock Energy, the University of Maryland, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Arkansas, and HydroMentia, a Florida-based firm specializing in water-treatment technologies.

 StatoilHydro representatives met with William & Mary officials and other partners in Williamsburg recently to sign a formal agreement. Other partners, both private and public, are expected to join the initiative as work progresses. 

"By taking the first step in close cooperation with some of the most skilled researchers the U.S. has to offer in this field, we feel confident that we have the best starting point possible for reaching a successful result and a good basis for attracting new private and public partners in the future," said Lars Nordli, head of StatoilHydro's biofuel division. 

The William & Mary/VIMS group is investigating a process that not only is environmentally sustainable, but if used on a large scale, can help to reverse a number of environmental problems such as excess nutrient enrichment that produces "dead zones" in Chesapeake Bay and other waters. 

However, Dennis Manos, William & Mary's vice provost for research and graduate and professional studies, said the main environmental benefits of ChAP will come from the project's central goal -- finding a way to produce algal biofuel on an industrial scale.

"We would like to help companies put a significant dent in the world's thousand-barrel-per-second appetite for oil," Manos said.

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