28 October 2011

Gasoline from Algae

Phil Savage and a team of engineers at the University of Michigan are at the forefront of a new study. Growing gasoline; Oil manufactured by algae.

Oil from algae. That's the future energy source we may be looking at. And hey, it's as green as it can get. Even the algae are literally green!

Using treated sewage as a source for their nutrients, these algae can grow real fast. The reason? They are very efficient in converting sunlight into biomass.

PhD student Bobby Levine says, "Typically, in America, we make biodiesel out of soybeans and we get something on the order of 50 gallons of biodiesel per acre per year from soy. With algae, the estimates range very widely, but you can get anywhere from between 1,000 to 5,000 gallons of bio-oil per acre per year."

The oilfield of the future will be a farm. And Savage's process is two times more efficient than present technology in algae oil production.

He elaborates, "We use more of what's there. You know, with the biodiesel process, people are excited if they have an algae that's 50 percent oil, but then right away they're only using 50 percent of the mass, of the biomass. With our approach, we’d like to be able to liquefy, you know, 100 percent..."

Video: Biofuel by the University of Missouri Systems:

In order to achieve this is similar to how crude oil is converted to usable fuel. The algae after being "treated" in a hot sand bath, is brought to a so called refinery. In this case, another laboratory. Here, researchers are creating molecules or catalysts that will rearrange the structure of the algae in a way that they will resemble fuel that can be used in a combustible engine. And to add to it, they try to squeeze every last drop of fuel they can get.

Study reporter Lisa Raffensperger says, "They’ll be genetically modifying microbes like E. coli to digest the waste. Ideally, the waste will also be converted into useful fuel. It’s just one more way to “close the loop,” as these researchers say. To minimize energy input and reduce carbon emissions..."

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