Researchers at ASU and engineers at SRP are conducting joint research studies to find new ways to utilize algae in the desert, specifically in the operation of power plants.

Dr. Tom Dempster is working on ways for algae to be used for carbon capture and sequestration. The research, still in its infancy, could be used to capture carbon dioxide at the coal fired power plant while growing algae for commercial purposes.

“The collaboration with SRP has provided an incredible opportunity for ASU students and researchers to work with top-notch SRP personnel to advance carbon capture technology and explore valuable co-products from the resulting biomass production,” said Dempster who is an ASU associate research professor and lab manager for the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI).

Algae grows through photosynthesis and consumes carbon dioxide to survive. Fossil fuel power plants emit carbon dioxide, which will be regulated by the EPA under recently finalized rules. The question is whether or not it is possible to use the algae to capture emissions from a power plant’s flue gas, which is emitted during the course of generating energy.

Dempster, with the help of ASU Research Technician Mary Cuevas, is conducting the research at the university’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa and SRP’s Coronado Generating Station near St. Johns, Ariz. They are also researching whether they can produce a marketable, biomass product. The next step is to duplicate flue gas conditions at the Coronado Generating Station and see if the algae can thrive in those conditions.

The study is funded through a SRP grant to the Advanced Technology Innovation Center (ATIC) at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at the Polytechnic Campus. The goal of the partnership is to support innovative research related to conservation, sustainability and renewable energy.

“SRP initiated the program four years ago with the ASU Polytechnic Campus and it has provided a great opportunity to leverage the expertise of ASU researchers on issues important to SRP,” said Chico Hunter, Manager of SRP’s Environmental Policy and Innovation group.  He also noted the added benefit of the program in giving ASU professors and students exposure to the challenges facing the utility industry, which promotes better training for future utility engineers.

The program under ATIC’s Conservation and Renewable Energy Collaboratory (CREC) awarded $475,000 in funds from SRP for ten projects to be performed over the 2015-2016 year. The research pool of principal investigators comes from the Polytechnic campus.  SRP has funded research at the Tempe campus under a similar program for more than 30 years.  SRP engineers also serve as mentors for the grant projects.