A multi-million pound project to make energy out of pink and orange algae is being led by researchers at a Kent university.
An international team of scientists aim to build a biorefinery called the D-Factory to turn an algae called Dunaliella into useful products like food, plastics and fuel.
Researchers at the Medway campus of the University of Greenwich are leading the team, made up of experts from 13 institutions across eight countries.
The €10m (£8m) project is the latest in a series of research coups for the Chatham-based team related to developing algae-based products.
One of the main aims of the D-Factory project is to make the process of turning the algae into fuel more economic, as only 80% of its mass can be turned into fuel at present.
Project leader Professor Pat Harvey said: “The race is on to develop a broader spectrum of compounds from algae which can be turned into high-value products including food and medicines.
“If we can make algae biorefineries commercially viable, we will have developed a new industry founded on an environmentally-kind raw material which is also sustainable. The potential is huge.
Professor Patricia Harvey of the University of Greenwich's Medway campus
“By 2020 these algae may also provide us with sustainable fuel – the science is there but at the moment the costs don’t add up.”
The university has also become a key player in a group of 12 academic centres and companies trying to turn seaweed into liquid biofuel.
Backed by £1.6m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the research will explore the conversion of wet seaweed to gas, which can in then be converted to liquid fuel.
It has also been revealed that drug company IOTA Pharmaceuticals has chosen the research centre as its academic partner to research the potential of algae as a route to new medicines.
The collaboration has been awarded a £5,000 SPARK Award grant and is being sponsored by the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group.
Pro vice-chancellor professor Martin Snowden said: “The university is delighted at the algae research team’s achievements, which highlight the ongoing investment into world-class research and the Medway campus as a whole.”