Normally algae-to-fuel processing requires using oily types of algae, drying it, and finally extracting its oil. University of Michigan researchers have figured out a way to use less-oily types of algae and have eliminated the need to dry the algae all together.
Enter their pressure-cooking method, which allows the researchers to sidestep the major obstacles of producing algae-to-fuel. Improving algae-based biofuel production could help us wean off oil and provide an alternative way to power our cars.
This algae-based biofuel is carbon-neutral. The researchers said in a statement:
"The vision is that nothing would leave the refinery except oil. Everything would get reused. That's one of the things that makes this project novel. It's an integrated process. We're combining hydrothermal, catalytic and biological approaches," said Phillip Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the U-M Department of Chemical Engineering and principal investigator on the $2-million National Science Foundation grant that supports this project. The grant is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"This research could play a major role in the nation's transition toward energy independence and reduced carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector," Savage said.
Savage describes it as algae soup.
Here's the recipe for turning algae into crude bio-oil:
heat the algae to 300 degrees
maintain the pressure of the water so it remains liquid
cook the soup for 30 minutes to an hour
Sure, there are a few things to work out before this microalgae soup could ever be commercialized. The resulting crude bio-oil comes out as a tar. It would need to be thinner so it can flow easily. And it could use less sulfur and nitrogen in the product.
The researchers are also eyeing other new fuel sources like E. coli bacteria, hoping it can be used to recycle waste produced from the biofuel operation.