WFU Biofuels

Wake Forest students, faculty, staff and associates making and testing vegetable-oil based fuels.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Easing into microalgae oil production.

I've been looking at some of the published articles on production of oil for biodiesel from microalgaes, and it seems that there is a LOT of work being done on this.
The National Renewable Energy Labs used to be working on this, but their program lost funding in 1998. However, in the ramp-up of their research, they managed to establish a collection of the most promising oil-producing algae at the University of Hawaii. (Sounds like an excuse for a field trip to me...)

Although the papers I've read don't read easily into a recipe for following their work (at least not for a lay person like myself), but I was able to find one species mentioned in the following paper:
non peer-reviewed article from Environmental Research Center in Italy.
They seem to be studying the species Tetraselmis suecica.

The NREL study cites that the open-pond model for growing algae is probably the most effective, due to its low-cost. While the NREL study is a little dated now perhaps, they did some great groundwork into this, refining a list of over 3000 algals species to come up with about 300 species that are promising.

We'll get our algae farm going before you know it!

More findings to come...


At 3:07 AM, Blogger Carl Lenox said...

I'm not so sure algae will go into biodiesel, if grown at powerplants.

Here's why:

Heliotropic: Is Algal Biodiesel a Red Herring?

Any comments?

At 6:29 AM, Blogger Ecacofonix said...

Thanks for the is heartening to see algae getting a lot of publicity, something I feel they deserve.

I co-ordinate Oilgae, a site that explores use of algae as a feedstock for biodiesel, and I can say with some amount of confidence based on my researches that algae appear to be one of the most qualified candidates for biodiesel production.

While the math certainly appears to favor algae, there are a number of issues to be overcome. These have to do with (1) choosing optimal algal strains, (2) issues faced in cultivation and harvesting (believe me there are some serious bottlenecks here), and (3) cost-effective methods to extract oil and transform it into biodiesel.

So yes, there is still a long way to go before it can be proven with certainty that algal biodiesel can be cost-effective on a large scale, but it is gratifying to see brilliant minds (not to forget VC money) getting into this field. And with institutes like MIT (Boston) getting into the act, I'm optimistic most of the above-mentioned issues will be overcome.

Time will tell if algae are our future source of energy, but for now, they certainly appear to have many of the qualifications required for the same.

Narsi from Oilgae - Oil from Algae


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