Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Algae: Biofuel Of The Future?

Date:
August 19, 2008
Source:
University of Virginia
Summary:
Researchers have a plan to greatly increase algae oil yields by feeding the algae extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) and organic material like sewage, meaning the algae could simultaneously produce biofuel and clean up environmental problems.

Environmental engineering professors Andres Clarens (center) and Lisa Colosi (right) have teamed up with commerce professor Mark White to investigate how algae may offer the biofuel of the future.
Credit: Melissa Maki

In the world of alternative fuels, there may be nothing greener than pond scum.

Related Articles


Algae are tiny biological factories that use photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day.

As part of the photosynthesis process algae produce oil and can generate 15 times more oil per acre than other plants used for biofuels, such as corn and switchgrass. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.

On top of those advantages, algae — at least in theory — should grow even better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) and organic material like sewage. If so, algae could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems.

"We have to prove these two things to show that we really are getting a free lunch," said Lisa Colosi, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who is part of an interdisciplinary University of Virginia research team, recently funded by a new U.Va. Collaborative Sustainable Energy Seed Grant worth about $30,000.

With the grant, the team will try to determine exactly how promising algae biofuel production can be by tweaking the inputs of carbon dioxide and organic matter to increase algae oil yields.

Scientific interest in producing fuel from algae has been around since the 1950s, Colosi said. The U.S. Department of Energy did pioneering research on it from 1978 to 1996. Most previous and current research on algae biofuel, she said, has used the algae in a manner similar to its natural state — essentially letting it grow in water with just the naturally occurring inputs of atmospheric carbon dioxide and sunlight. This approach results in a rather low yield of oil — about 1 percent by weight of the algae.

The U.Va. team hypothesizes that feeding the algae more carbon dioxide and organic material could boost the oil yield to as much as 40 percent by weight, Colosi said.

Proving that the algae can thrive with increased inputs of either carbon dioxide or untreated sewage solids will confirm its industrial ecology possibilities — to help with wastewater treatment, where dealing with solids is one of the most expensive challenges, or to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, such as coal power-plant flue gas, which contains about 10 to 30 times as much carbon dioxide as normal air.

"The main principle of industrial ecology is to try and use our waste products to produce something of value," Colosi said.

Research partner Mark White, a professor at the McIntire School of Commerce, will help the team quantify the big-picture environmental and economic benefits of algae biofuel compared to soy-based biodiesel, under three different sets of assumptions.

White will examine the economic benefits of algae fuel if the nation instituted a carbon cap-and-trade system, which would increase the monetary value of algae's ability to dispose of carbon dioxide. He will also consider how algae fuel economics would be impacted if there were increased nitrogen regulations (since algae can also remove nitrogen from air or water), or if oil prices rise to a prohibitive level.

The third team member is Andres Clarens, a professor of civil and environmental engineering with expertise in separating the oil produced by the algae.

The team will experiment on a very small scale — a few liters of algae at a time. They will seek to optimize the oil output by using a pragmatic engineering approach, testing basic issues like whether it makes a difference to grind up the organic material before feeding it to the algae.

Wastewater solids and algae, either dead or alive, are on the menu. "We're looking at dumping the whole dinner on top of them and seeing what happens," Colosi said.

Some of these pragmatic issues may have been tackled already by the various private companies, including oil industry giants Chevron and Shell, which are already researching algae fuel, but a published scientific report on these fundamentals will be a major benefit to other researchers looking into algae biofuel.

Published evidence of improved algae oil output might spur significant follow-up efforts by public and private sectors, since the fundamentals of this technology are so appealing, Colosi said. Research successes would also open the door to larger grants from agencies like the U.S. Department of Energy, and could be immediately applicable to the handful of pilot-scale algae biofuel facilities recently funded by Shell and start-up firms.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Virginia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Virginia. "Algae: Biofuel Of The Future?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080818184434.htm>.
University of Virginia. (2008, August 19). Algae: Biofuel Of The Future?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080818184434.htm
University of Virginia. "Algae: Biofuel Of The Future?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080818184434.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins