The technique builds on previous research in which microbubbles were used to improve the way algae is cultivated.
Algae produce an oil which can be processed to create a useful biofuel. Biofuels, made from plant material, are considered an important alternative to fossil fuels and algae, in particular, has the potential to be a very efficient biofuel producer. Until now, however, there has been no cost-effective method of harvesting and removing the water from the algae for it to be processed effectively.
Now, a team led by Professor Will Zimmerman in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Sheffield, believe they have solved the problem. They have developed an inexpensive way of producing microbubbles that can float algae particles to the surface of the water, making harvesting easier, and saving biofuel-producing companies time and money. The research is set to be published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering on 26 January 2012.
Professor Zimmerman and his team won the Moulton Medal, from the Institute of Chemical Engineers, for their earlier work which used the microbubble technology to improve algae production methods, allowing producers to grow crops more rapidly and more densely.
"We thought we had solved the major barrier to biofuel companies processing algae to use as fuel when we used microbubbles to grow the algae more densely," explains Professor Zimmerman.
"It turned out, however, that algae biofuels still couldn't be produced economically, because of the difficulty in harvesting and dewatering the algae. We had to develop a solution to this problem and once again, microbubbles provided a solution."
Microbubbles have been used for flotation before: water purification companies use the process to float out impurities, but it hasn't been done in this context, partly because previous methods have been very expensive.
The system developed by Profess
|Contact: Beck Lockwood|
University of Sheffield