Navigation Links
Pressure-cooking algae into a better biofuel

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Heating and squishing microalgae in a pressure-cooker can fast-forward the crude-oil-making process from millennia to minutes.

University of Michigan professors are working to understand and improve this procedure in an effort to speed up development of affordable biofuels that could replace fossil fuels and power today's engines.

They are also examining the possibility of other new fuel sources such as E. coli bacteria that would feed on waste products from previous bio-oil batches.

"The vision is that nothing would leave the refinery except oil. Everything would get reused. That's one of the things that makes this project novel. It's an integrated process. We're combining hydrothermal, catalytic and biological approaches," said Phillip Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the U-M Department of Chemical Engineering and principal investigator on the $2-million National Science Foundation grant that supports this project. The grant is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"This research could play a major role in the nation's transition toward energy independence and reduced carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector," Savage said.

Microalgae are microscopic species of algae: simple, floating plants that don't have leaves, roots or stems. They break down more easily than other potential biofuel source plants because they don't have tough cell walls, Savage said.

Unlike fossil fuels, algae-based biofuels are carbon-neutral. The algae feed on carbon dioxide in the air, and this gets released when the biofuel is burned. Fossil fuel combustion puffs additional carbon into the air without ever taking any back.

The pressure-cooker method the U-M researchers are studying bucks the trend in algae-to-fuel processing. The conventional technique involves cultivating special, oily types of algae, drying the algae and then extracting its oil.

The hydrothermal process this project employs allows researchers to start with less-oily types of algae. The process also eliminates the need to dry it, overcoming two major barriers to large-scale conversion of microalgae to liquid fuels.

"We make an algae soup," Savage said. "We heat it to about 300 degrees and keep the water at high enough pressure to keep it liquid as opposed to steam. We cook it for 30 minutes to an hour and we get a crude bio-oil."

The high temperature and pressure allows the algae to react with the water and break down. Not only does the native oil get released, but proteins and carbohydrates also decompose and add to the fuel yield.

"We're trying to do what nature does when it creates oil, but we don't want to wait millions of years," Savage said. "The hard part is taking the tar that comes out of the pressure cooker and turning it into something you could put in your car, changing the properties so it can flow more easily, and doing it in a way that's affordable."

Savage and his colleagues are taking a broad and deep look at this process. They are investigating ways to use catalysts to bump up the energy density of the resulting bio-oil, thin it into a flowing material and also clean it up by reducing its sulfur and nitrogen content.

Furthermore, they're examining the process from a life-cycle perspective, seeking to recycle waste products to grow new source material for future fuel batches. This doesn't have to be algae, Savage said. It could be any "wet biomass." They are working on growing in their experiments' waste products E. coli that they could potentially use along with algae.


Contact: Nicole Casal Moore
University of Michigan

Related biology news :

1. Bacterial food supplements for small algae
2. AgriLife scientists do groundwork for genetic mapping of algae biofuel species
3. Study shows potential for using algae to produce human therapeutic proteins
4. Stacking traits in algae is focus of grant to Iowa State University researcher
5. Fueling the future with fish tank residue: Sandia scientist discusses use of algae as a biofuel
6. New study finds link between marine algae and whale diversity over time
7. Discovery of algaes toxic hunting habits could help curb fish kills
8. UVa engineers find significant environmental impacts with algae-based biofuel
9. From toxic dust and algae to ill winds from Africa
10. Clemson researchers say algae key to mass extinctionss
11. Fill er up -- with algae
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Pressure-cooking algae into a better biofuel
(Date:10/29/2015)... LA JOLLA, Calif. , Oct. 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ ... released a new report titled, "DNA Synthesis and Biosecurity: ... how well the Department of Health and Human Services ... was issued in 2010. --> ... advances, but it also has the potential to pose ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... Oct. 29, 2015  Connected health pioneer, Joseph ... explosion of technology-enabled health and wellness, and the business ... The Internet of Healthy Things . ... smartphones even existed, Dr. Kvedar, vice president, Connected Health, ... care delivery, moving care from the hospital or doctor,s ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... , Oct. 27, 2015 In the ... issues of concern for various industry verticals such as ... due to the growing demand for secure & simplified ... various ,sectors, such as hacking of bank accounts, misuse ... electronic equipment such as PC,s, laptops, and smartphones are ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/27/2015)... PUNE, India , November 27, 2015 ... --> Growing popularity of companion ... emerging in cancer biomarkers market with pharmaceutical ... develop in-demand companion diagnostic tests. ... --> Complete report on global ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... India , November 26, 2015 ... The Global Biobanking Market 2016 - 2020 report ... by maintaining integrity and quality in long-term samples, ... enabling long-term cost-effectiveness. Automation minimizes manual errors such ... the technical efficiency. Further, it plays a vital ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... BRUSSELS , November 25, 2015 ... in cat and human plaque and pave the way for ... health problems in cats     ... the most commonly diagnosed health problems in cats, yet relatively ... until now. Two collaborative studies have been conducted by researchers ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... 25, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. (NASDAQ:  AEZS; ... and prospects remain fundamentally strong and highlights the ... recently received DSMB recommendation to continue the ZoptEC ... of the final interim efficacy and safety data ... in men with heavily pretreated castration- and Taxane-resistant ...
Breaking Biology Technology: