Sunday, March 27, 2011
Algae As The Next Biofuel
Scientists everywhere are brainstorming for the next idea for a better biofuel possibility. A $2 million grant funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is helping with a project that believes that microalgae would be a good source as a biofuel. Where it would usually take millenia to produce crude oil, this research is speeding that process up to just minutes by heating and compressing the algae. The wastes from this process would be fed on by E.coli, which is also being researched as being used for a fuel source. The only thing that would leave the company would be the oil.
Why use microalgae? These small organisms lack leaves, roots and stems. They also have a weak cell wall, which is easy to break down compared to the other biofuel-potential plant sources. The algae are also carbon-neutral because they consume CO2 regularly and then when used as a fuel that same CO2 that was consumed is released. There is no additional carbon dioxide than what was originally taken in.
So how does the algae become fuel? It is literally pressure-cooked. This is a very simple process where the algae is heated to 300 degrees at a high pressure to keep the algae in a liquid form rather than it being released as steam. This process typically last 30 to 60 minutes until the crude oil is produced. When the algae breaks down due to the high heat and pressure levels, it releases natural oils and proteins which add to the fuel.
Once the crude oil is obtained it is in a tar-like state. The research is currently at this stage in the process, trying to determine how to change the properties of the substance to make it more of a flowing substance that would be easier to put into a car's gas tank. They are also working to clean the substance by reducing its sulfur and nitrogen levels.
An earlier article mentions that there are over 100 companies working on the algae-to-biofuel project and expects it to be a very expensive project. Once all of the technology in in store it will be up to the resource availability of the planet to keep the production of the algae based biofuels proceeding. The major required sources are water, flat land, appropriate climate, and carbon dioxide. It is being considered to use wastewater for the algae production, which helps out both areas respectively. It is expected that algal biofuel could become available within 10 years.