Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Biofuel Breakthrough: Quick Cook Method Turns Algae Into Oil

02.11.2012
It looks like Mother Nature was wasting her time with a multimillion-year process to produce crude oil. Michigan Engineering researchers can "pressure-cook" algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude.

"We're trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms," said Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

The findings will be presented Nov. 1 at the 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.

Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis.

To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out.

Previously, Savage and his team heated the algae for times ranging from 10 to 90 minutes. They saw their best results, with about half of the algae converted to biocrude, after treating it for 10 to 40 minutes at 570 degrees.

Why are the one-minute results so much better? Savage and Faeth won't be sure until they have done more experiments, but they have some ideas.

"My guess is that the reactions that produce biocrude are actually must faster than previously thought," Savage said.

Faeth suggests that the fast heating might boost the biocrude by keeping unwanted reactions at bay.

"For example, the biocrude might decompose into substances that dissolve in water, and the fast heating rates might discourage that reaction," Faeth said.

The team points out that shorter reaction times mean that the reactors don't have to be as large.

"By reducing the reactor volume, the cost of building a biocrude production plant also decreases," Faeth said, though both she and Savage cautioned that they couldn't say for sure whether the new method is faster and cheaper until the process is further developed.

Current commercial makers of algae-based fuel first dry the algae and then extract the natural oil. But at over $20 per gallon, this fuel is a long way from the gas pump.

"Companies know that that approach is not economical, so they are looking at approaches for using wet algae, as are we," Savage said.

One of the advantages of the wet method is that it doesn't just extract the existing fat from the algae—it also breaks down proteins and carbohydrates. The minute method did this so successfully that the oil contained about 90 percent of the energy in the original algae.

"That result is near the upper bound of what is possible," Savage said.

Before biocrude can be fed into the existing refinery system for petroleum, it needs pre-refining to get rid of the extra oxygen and nitrogen atoms that abound in living things. The Savage lab also is developing better methods for this leg of biofuel production, breaking the record with a biocrude that was 97 percent carbon and hydrogen earlier this year. A paper on this work is currently under review.

Once producing biofuel from algae is economical, researchers estimate that an area the size of New Mexico could provide enough oil to match current U.S. petroleum consumption. And, unlike corn produced for ethanol—which already accounts for half that area—the algae won't need to occupy good farmland, thriving in brackish ponds instead.

The research, "The Effects of Heating Rate and Reaction Time on Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Microalgae," was funded by the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program of the National Science Foundation. The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

Abstract: https://aiche.confex.com/aiche/2012/webprogram/Paper280193.html

Savage Lab: http://savageresearchlab.wordpress.com

EDITORS: Watch and link to a video about Savage's work on biofuels at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dvGssEM4bLg#

Nicole Casal Moore | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht A big nano boost for solar cells
18.01.2017 | Kyoto University and Osaka Gas effort doubles current efficiencies

nachricht Multiregional brain on a chip
16.01.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland

19.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Not of Divided Mind

19.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Molecule flash mob

19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>