Navigation Links
Montana State researchers receive grant to study algae as a source of biofuel
Date:11/13/2008

BOZEMAN -- Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Montana State University and Utah State University a three-year, $900,000 grant to study the oil produced by algae, which could be a renewable source of biodiesel.

The two universities will split the money more or less down the middle, said Brent Peyton, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at MSU and the principal investigator of the grant.

"It's been known for 20 years that algae could produce lipids, but it really took the most recent spike in fuel prices to make getting fuel from algae an option," Peyton said.

Almost all algae contain some oil, but the algae that Peyton and his fellow researchers are interested in are 30 to 50 percent oil by weight. This oil can be harvested and converted into biofuels in much the same way oil is harvested from crops like camelina and canola.

The MSU and Utah State project will screen different kinds of algae to learn which species produce the most oil and which can produce those oils most efficiently. The test algae will come from existing stocks at labs across the country and from field sampling, Peyton said.

Once the researchers find a candidate species, they will grow large numbers of the algae in a "raceway" bioreactor at Utah State. This 10,000-gallon, climate-controlled water tank has machinery that keeps the algae gently moving so that they can grow more efficiently.

One of Peyton's collaborators, retired MSU microbiologist Keith Cooksey, was a pioneer in algal oil biofuel research in the early 1980s. However, funding for the research dried up by the end of the decade, halting algal biofuel work until the recent spike in oil prices caused interest to pick up again last year.

"Although biofuel research with algae hasn't moved much in the last 20 years, molecular work with algae has made some significant advances," Cooksey said, nothing that those advances will help today's researchers move ahead more quickly than scientists did in the 1980s. For example, MSU microbiologist and project collaborator Matthew Fields will use modern molecular biology and genomics to learn how to make algae produce more oil.

Researching algae is a bit of a departure for Peyton, whose background is in using microorganisms to clean up environmental contamination. But he said it would be a constructive departure.

"I wanted to use natural organisms not just to break something down but to produce something," said Peyton, who earned his doctorate at MSU in 1992. "This work is an opportunity to use my bioprocessing skills to produce something of value to society."

Ideally, algae harvesting is a self-sustaining process, Peyton said, since the tiny organisms spend most of their time just soaking up sunlight and reproducing.

Algae can produce more usable oil per acre than crops like canola or soybeans, Peyton said. Soybeans produce about 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; an acre of canola produces about 130 gallons per year. Algae, however, could produce at least 4,000 gallons of oil per acre in the same time.

"Algae should produce about 200 times more biodiesel per acre than other biofuel crops," Peyton said. "And 200 may be a low number."

Algae also have benefits that make farming them easier on growers, Peyton said. Algae farms can be located on non-prime agricultural land and can use water not suitable for food crops.

"Algae, unlike some other biofuel crops, don't double as food, which means that harvesting them for biofuel production won't affect food prices like it would if we diverted part of the corn crop to biofuel," Peyton said.

One issue holding algal biofuel farming back so far has been scale, Peyton said. It's one thing to grow algae in a four-gallon or even a 10,000-gallon tank; it's another thing to expand that operation up to the industrial scale and turn it into a business.

Algae are living things, not just raw material, Peyton said, so finding the best species of algae to use and the best practices by which to make them produce oil for biodiesel will be an important part of the research.

Pulling together biomass science like this, which could one day result in a new farming and fuel industry, is not the kind of work that can be done by just microbiologists or just engineers, Peyton said. It requires working across departmental borders.

"MSU is unique for its strong collaborations between environmental microbiologists and chemical and biological engineers," he said. "There aren't a lot of universities in the country that pull all of that together as well as MSU does."


'/>"/>

Contact: Michael Becker
becker@montana.edu
406-994-5140
Montana State University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. New dinosaur species found in Montana
2. Montana State University researcher finds renewed interest in turning algae into fuel
3. Mongolian paleontologists with a dream come to Montana State University
4. Antarcticas coldest, darkest season draws Montana State University researchers
5. Low exposure to asbestos-like mineral from Montana vermiculite may up lung disease risk
6. Montana State researchers study spread of lake trout in Glacier National Park
7. Montana State University research reaches Supreme Court of India
8. Montana State University researchers map iron transport protein
9. Dinosaur diggers bring mobile lab, new techniques to Eastern Montana
10. Bird watchers, space technology come together in Montana State University study
11. Montana State researchers release guide to noninvasive carnivore research
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:12/6/2016)... WARSAW, Ind. , Dec. 6, 2016  Zimmer Biomet ... that it has priced an offering of €500.0 million principal ... €500.0 million principal amount of its 2.425% senior unsecured notes ... is expected to occur on December 13, 2016, subject to the ... on an annual basis. ...
(Date:12/5/2016)... Dec. 5, 2016  The Office of Justice ... "Can CT Scans Enhance or Replace Medico Legal ... of supporting or replacing forensic autopsies with postmortem ... In response to recommendations made by ... using CT scans as a potential component of ...
(Date:11/30/2016)... , Nov. 30, 2016 Not many of us realize that we spend ... recovery so we need to do it well. Inadequate sleep levels have been found ... pressure, stroke, diabetes, and even cancer. Maybe now is the best time ... could help them to manage their sleep quality? Continue ... ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:12/6/2016)... and Albany, NY (PRWEB) , ... December 06, ... ... control system integrator of custom industrial automation and IT solutions, today announced the ... Superior Controls has reliably delivered professionally executed automation and control systems integration services ...
(Date:12/6/2016)... , December 6, 2016 According to a ... Microneedle), Material (Polymer, Glass, Silicon), Application (Genomics, Proteomics, Capillary Electrophoresis, POC, ... MarketsandMarkets, the global market is projected to reach USD 8.78 Billion ... of 19.2% during the forecast period (2016 to 2021). ... ...
(Date:12/6/2016)... 2016  SRI International has been awarded a ... National Institutes of Health,s National Institute of Allergy ... (NIAID-DAIDS) to support the manufacturing and characterization of ... Under the seven-year contract, SRI will provide a ... candidate HIV-prevention products that emerge from investigator-initiated studies ...
(Date:12/6/2016)... ... December 06, 2016 , ... RoviSys, a leading ... in Aurora, Ohio, announced the opening of their new office building today. Located ... facility is home to 200 employees focused on providing sales, engineering, and support ...
Breaking Biology Technology: