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:4/11/2017)... BROOKLYN, N.Y. , April 11, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ ... identical fingerprints, but researchers at the New York ... University College of Engineering have found that partial ... fingerprint-based security systems used in mobile phones and ... previously thought. The vulnerability lies in ...
(Date:4/5/2017)... KEY FINDINGS The global market for stem ... 25.76% during the forecast period of 2017-2025. The rise ... growth of the stem cell market. Download ... The global stem cell market is segmented on the ... cell market of the product is segmented into adult ...
(Date:3/30/2017)... 30, 2017 Trends, opportunities and forecast in ... by technology (fingerprint, AFIS, iris recognition, facial recognition, hand ... by end use industry (government and law enforcement, commercial ... banking, and others), and by region ( North ... Asia Pacific , and the Rest of ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/12/2017)... ... October 12, 2017 , ... ... first-ever genomics analysis platform specifically designed for life science researchers to analyze ... pioneering researcher Rosalind Franklin, who made a major contribution to the discovery ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... Wayne. NJ (PRWEB) , ... October 11, 2017 , ... Personal eye wash is a ... rinse one eye at a time. So which eye do you rinse first if a ... you have Plum Duo Eye Wash with its unique dual eye piece. , ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... 2017  VMS BioMarketing, a leading provider of patient support ... Nurse Educator (CNE) network, which will launch this week. The ... health care professionals to enhance the patient care experience by ... other health care professionals to help women who have been ... ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... Austin, TX (PRWEB) , ... October 11, 2017 ... ... in August compared the implantation and pregnancy rates in frozen and fresh ... the contribution of progesterone and maternal age to IVF success. , After comparing ...
Breaking Biology Technology: