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Government will fund world's largest biofuel project

The government yesterday made more than £6m funding available to companies looking to bring second generation algae-based biofuels to the commercial market.

The Carbon Trust and the Department for Transport will provide the funding for R&D and a test project with the hope the scheme can help the UK meet emissions targets and become a global centre of excellence for development of the fuels.

The recent furore over biofuels affecting food prices has shown that they must be sustainably produced, said transport minister Andrew Adonis.

Everyone agrees that to tackle climate change we must develop new and cleaner fuels. But we are clear that biofuels will only have a role to play in this if they are sustainably produced," he said.

Traditional biofuels have been criticised by environmental groups because they take up valuable arable land and lead to deforestation - leading the UK to consult on slowing biofuel adoption targets.

But second generation algae biofuels are considered more efficient, because they can be grown in ponds and use up to 10 times less land to produce the same amount of energy.

The government estimates algae-based biofuels could replace more than 70 billion litres of fossil derived fuels used worldwide annually in road transport and aviation by 2030.

The "Algae Biofuels Challenge" will have two phases.

Phase one will fund research into: selection of suitable algae strains, maximising oil content and biomass yield, maximising solar conversion efficiency, sustained algae cultivation, and design and engineering of mass-culture systems.

Phase two will fund the construction of an open pond test and demonstration plant for five years, most likely overseas as sub-tropical climates are more conducive to growth.

Dr Mark Williamson, innovations director at the Carbon Trust, said public investment was vital.

"We must find a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to oil for our cars and planes if we are to deliver the deep cuts in carbon emissions necessary to tackle climate change," he said.

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