Algae Biofuels Of The Future
Algae fix the sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy and that too very fast. Scientists want to utilize this quality for alternative fuels. And when it comes to greener alternatives to fossil fuel what could be greener than pond scum? Why algae are more suitable over other bio-fuels? Algae can grow anywhere, practically anywhere. They can grow in sea-water or salty water or adulterated water or even in sewage. They can bear extreme temperature. They can grow on waste-land. Another good thing about algae is they multiply very fast. They can double their weight many times in a single day. Algae produce oil as a byproduct of photosynthesis. They can produce fifteen times more oil per acre than other plants such as corn and switchgrass.
If we want to single out the biggest two advantages of algae as bio-fuels, the first one can be these plants grow well where carbon dioxide is in excess and another is these plants can grow in sewages.
“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.
If we let the algae grow naturally then the oil yield will be low, around one percent by the weight of the algae. The U.Va. team theorizes that if more carbon dioxide and organic material would be available to the algae, oil yield can be increased to as much as 40 percent by weight.
Keeping in mind the quality of algae that it grows well on industrial solids and where carbon dioxide is available in excess, it can be helpful in dealing with industrial solids. Cleaning industrial solids is very expensive otherwise. Algae can also be used to minimize the emissions of carbon dioxide of coal plants.
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 different sets of assumptions.
The third team member, Andres Clarens, a professor of civil and environmental engineering has expertise in separating the oil produced by the algae. They will try to extract oil from algae on a very small scale. Later on they will tackle the basic issues like whether it makes a difference to grind up the organic material before feeding it to the algae.