Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

K-State engineers strive to make algae oil production more feasible

05.11.2009
Two Kansas State University engineers are assessing systematic production methods that could make the costs of algae oil production more reasonable, helping move the U.S. from fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy replacements.

The idea by K-State's Wenqiao "Wayne" Yuan and Zhijian "Z.J." Pei is to grow algae in the ocean on very large, supporting platforms. The National Science Foundation awarded them a $98,560 Small Grant for Exploratory Research in 2009 for their work.

Compared to soybeans that produce 50 gallons of oil an acre a year, some algae can average 6,000 gallons -- but it's not cheap to produce. Current algae growing methods use ponds and bioreactor columns, and algae float around suspended in water. Harvesting such a moving target systematically requires using very costly inputs like centrifuges and electricity. Even with these best technologies for algae growth and production, the end product biodiesel is expensive at about $56 a gallon.

Yuan, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at K-State, thinks it will be five to 10 years scientists before understand the fundamentals of large-scale algae production sufficiently that cost can be reduced to the target of about $5 a gallon.

"It will take that much time to really understand the fundamentals of large-scale algae production and to establish pilot projects," he said.

Both Yuan and Pei, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at K-State, think food production land should not be used to produce algae for fuel. The two are studying the feasibility of large-scale algae production in the ocean and how to engineer the production systems.

Pei and Yuan are working to identify oil-rich algae species that are inclined to settle down and grow en masse on a solid surface, a characteristic that will make algae production manageable and harvesting much simpler.

"We think there is tremendous potential for algae oil production if we grow it on big platforms and incorporate the ocean into the system," Yuan said. Half the cost of growing algae is in providing a steady supply of food and water, the growth medium. Ocean water offers those in abundance, he said.

The researchers are currently addressing several broad questions: By what mechanisms do algae attach to various surfaces, what materials do algae prefer, and what surface textures, if any, encourage the algae to bloom and grow?

Pei said the research team has achieved some exciting results. In studies of two species of algae characteristically high in oil content and fast growing, both species attached very well to a stainless steel, thin film surface that was slightly dimpled. Furthermore, once the algae attach, they grow very well, producing a green clump several millimeters thick.

"Just like geckoes cannot walk on a perfectly smooth surface, our results indicate that the algae attach better on a slightly textured surface," Yuan said.

Stainless steel was chosen because it is easy to machine or texture, durable and reasonably cheap. A colleague at Northwestern University produced the dimpled samples used in the study.

"We are doing very fundamental research now," Yuan said. "We need to understand the algae attachment mechanism before we can select species more likely to attach to a solid support."

Pei and Yuan think large-scale algae production done on very large support surfaces in ocean water is quite feasible. They are imagining a long, continuously rolling surface like a conveyer belt.

"Right now, we really are thinking in terms of a large-scale biological and mechanical production system," Yuan said.

As Yuan describes the system, the algae would grow on the thin-film surface submerged under the ocean. At some point, the growth surface rolls up into the sunlight and the algae dries. A harvesting knife at the end of the conveyer system scrapes off dried algae, at which point the surface submerges to become home to the next growth of oil-rich algal material.

In August, Yuan and Pei and associates presented results of the surface studies at the 59th general assembly of CIRP, the International Academy for Production Engineering, in Boston. The academy is the only global organization representing the latest research and development activities in the area of production engineering.

Their presentation was "Effect of Surface Texture on Algae Growth." Co-authors with Pei and Yuan are Yan Cui, K-State graduate student in biological and agricultural engineering; and Northwestern University colleagues Jian Cao and Michael Beltran, professors, and Tiffany Davis, a graduate student. The Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, a CIRP publication, has accepted their paper, "Feasibility Study of a Mechanical-Biological Energy Manufacturing System," for publication.

Wenqiao "Wayne" Yuan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.k-state.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Linear potentiometer LRW2/3 - Maximum precision with many measuring points
17.05.2017 | WayCon Positionsmesstechnik GmbH

nachricht First flat lens for immersion microscope provides alternative to centuries-old technique
17.05.2017 | 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: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>