Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers Convert Algae to Butanol; Fuel Can be Used in Automobiles

04.03.2011
A team of chemical engineers at the University of Arkansas has developed a method for converting common algae into butanol, a renewable fuel that can be used in existing combustible engines. The green technology benefits from and adds greater value to a process being used now to clean and oxygenate U.S. waterways by removing excess nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizer in runoff.

“We can make cars go,” said Jamie Hestekin, assistant professor and leader of the project. “Our conversion process is efficient and inexpensive. Butanol has many advantages compared to ethanol, but the coolest thing about this process is that we’re actually making rivers and lakes healthier by growing and harvesting the raw material.”

Hestekin and his research team – undergraduates from the Honors College and several graduate students, including a doctoral student who has discovered a more efficient and technologically superior fermentation method – grow algae on “raceways,” which are long troughs – usually 2 feet wide and ranging from 5-feet to 80-feet long, depending on the scale of the operation. The troughs are made of screens or carpet, although Hestekin said algae will grow on almost any surface.

Algae survive on nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon dioxide and natural sunlight, so the researchers grow algae by running nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich creek water over the surface of the troughs. They enhance this growth by delivering high concentrations of carbon dioxide through hollow fiber membranes that look like long strands of spaghetti. Municipal and state governments, primarily on the East Coast, have implemented large-scale processes similar to this to address so-called “dead zones,” where excess nitrogen and phosphorous have killed fish and plants.

The researchers harvest the algae every five to eight days by vacuuming or scraping it off the screens. After waiting for it to dry, they crush and grind the algae into a fine powder as the means to extract carbohydrates from the plant cells. Carbohydrates are made of sugars and starches. For this project, Hestekin’s team works with starches. They treat the carbohydrates with acid and then heat them to break apart the starches and convert them into simple, natural sugars. They then begin a unique, two-step fermentation process in which organisms turn the sugars into organic acids – butyric, lactic and acetic.

The second stage of the fermentation process focuses on butyric acid and its conversion into butanol. The researchers use a unique process called electrodeionization, a technique developed by one of Hestekin’s doctoral students. This technique involves the use of a special membrane that rapidly and efficiently separates the acids during the application of electrical charges. By quickly isolating butyric acid, the process increases productivity, which makes the conversion process easier and less expensive.

As Hestekin mentioned, Butanol has several significant advantages over ethanol, the current primary additive in gasoline. Butanol releases more energy per unit mass and can be mixed in higher concentrations than ethanol. It is less corrosive than ethanol and can be shipped through existing pipelines. These attributes are in addition to the advantages gleaned from butanol’s source. Unlike corn, algae are not in demand by the food industry. Furthermore, it can be grown virtually anywhere and thus does not require large tracts of valuable farmland.

Hestekin’s team is currently working with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to create biofuel from algae grown at the Rockaway Wastewater Treatment Plant in Queens.

In addition, a team of 12 students led by Hestekin recently won a national contest for an online video about their design of a biofuel miniprocessing machine that turns algae and other biomass directly into fuel. Planet Forward, a project of the Center for Innovative Media at George Washington University, conducted the online contest. The program features ideas about energy, climate and sustainability on its website and through television specials that air on public television stations across the country. The students’ project will be featured on Planet Forward’s Earth Day special April 8 on PBS.

Research articles detailing findings from algae-to-fuel project have been submitted to Biotechnology and Bioengineering and Separation Science and Technology.

Jamie Hestekin, assistant professor, chemical engineering
College of Engineering
479-575-3492, jhesteki@uark.edu
Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-4246, dmcgowa@uark.edu

Matt McGowan | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.uark.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden

nachricht The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>