Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Turning Algae Into Energy

09.10.2009
As part of a project to create alternative sources of energy, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are cultivating green algae that holds promise as a new supply of biofuel.

“People have been growing algae for centuries for food supplements for use by man and animals,” said Cecelia Williams, project lead. “It now has the potential to supply our energy needs too.”

Beginning in the 1950s, the Department of Energy recognized algae as a potential feedstock for energy and biofuels and funded the Aquatic Species Program between 1978 and 1996 with $25 million to investigate the production of biofuel from microalgae. DOE terminated the program in the mid-1990s due to low petroleum prices and other priorities. It has only been in the last few years that DOE has once again become interested in algae as a potential source of fuel.

Recently Williams and other Sandia researchers have grown green algae in a 12-by-30-foot greenhouse using a simulated dairy effluent, the nutrient-rich liquid remaining after bacterial digestion of dairy manure. The solids from the digestion of dairy manure can potentially be used to develop fertilizer and feed and the liquid serves as a nutrient source for algae. The algae are typically cultured for several days, followed by harvesting and dewatering, after which the algal oil is extracted. The algae produce lipids, the most useful being neutral oil made up largely of triacyglycerides (TAG) that can be converted to biofuels.

Williams said that growing algae for biofuels eliminates many problems associated with traditional biofuels.

“The current generation of biofuels [starch- and sugar-based ethanol and oil crop-based biodiesel] rely on the use of commodity crops and therefore compete for use of food crops, primarily corn,” she said. “Also, they are very farm-intensive and use a lot of good farming land, fuel and fertilizer inputs and fresh water.”

Algae ponds, on the other hand, can be put on marginal land and grown with non-fresh brackish water produced from energy mineral extraction (petroleum, natural gas, coal-bed methane), or nutrient-loaded wastewater from municipal and agricultural sources. The Southwest has the potential for being a leader in manufacturing this new type of biofuel because “it has lots of barren land that can’t be used for anything else, lots of sunlight and a lot of marginal water,” Sandia researcher Brian Dwyer said.

Sandia scientist Ron Pate noted that Sandia is bringing into play its scientific and engineering expertise to grow and process specific types of algae for biofuels and other useful coproducts. Sandia’s work in this area ties into broader biofuels efforts supported by DOE’s Office of Biomass Program (OBP) that focus on addressing challenges to commercially viable algal biofuels production. This includes participation in the development of the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap Report, which is still in preparation and partnering with others on proposals to establish consortia for algal biofuels and for advanced fungible biofuels with potential funding from OBP. The Algal Biofuels Consortium specifically proposes a broad-based collaboration with Sandia and other national labs, industry and university partners that would pursue research and development of algal biofuels as an affordable, scaleable and sustainable solution that can contribute significantly to meeting the nation’s transportation fuel needs.

Williams anticipates that the Sandia research will have the potential to provide new jobs and economic development to New Mexico, the seventh largest dairy-producing state in the nation. The state’s dairy industry employs more than 5,000 people and has an annual impact of nearly $2.7 billion.

The 340,000 dairy cows in New Mexico produce large quantities of manure and nutrient-rich effluent water that represent a significant waste management problem and regulatory expense to the state’s dairy industry. These and other agri-industrial waste streams represent a valuable and underused feedstock for recycling of energy, biofuels, reusable water and other coproducts. The DOE Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap currently in draft suggests the use of non-fresh water sources, including agricultural effluent, for algal biomass production. Besides providing a source of non-fresh water and the recycling of needed nutrients, the use of these waste streams in an integrated biorefinery will help to alleviate disposal regulatory requirements on dairies and other confined animal feeding operations in New Mexico and the broader United States.

Sandia’s greenhouse algae project was conceived by Pate and Kyle Hoodenpyle (Ag2Energy) and has been funded by the New Mexico Small Business Association (SBA) and the New Mexico Technology Research Collaborative. The SBA funds Sandia to work with the private-sector partners Ag2Energy and the Pecos Valley Dairy Producers, one of the largest collections of dairy producers in New Mexico. TRC funding lasted one year and the SBA funding is in its final year of a three-year funding cycle.

Future money to research dewatering algae and monitoring the health of algae ponds will come from Sandia’s internal Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program and possibly new direct-funded projects from DOE. This research will also allow the greenhouse algae ponds to support other aspects of Sandia’s algae biofuel research portfolio by using the data and information generated from these experiments to evaluate or verify both systems and process models. These models are essential for understanding the economics and risk associated with both the R&D and the scale-up that will be required to make algae an economically viable fuel source for the nation. The ultimate goal is to make algae-derived biofuels competitive with petroleum-based fuels.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, an autonomous Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, an autonomous Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Darrick Hurst | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.sandia.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular microscopy illuminates molecular motor motion
26.07.2017 | Penn State

nachricht New virus discovered in migratory bird in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
26.07.2017 | Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Large-Mouthed Fish Was Top Predator After Mass Extinction

26.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Getting closer to porous, light-responsive materials

26.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

Large, distant comets more common than previously thought

26.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>