Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Biofuel Breakthrough: Quick Cook Method Turns Algae into Oil

Published: Thursday, November 01, 2012
Last Updated: Thursday, November 01, 2012
Bookmark and Share
Michigan Engineering researchers can "pressure-cook" algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude.

"We're trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms," said Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

The findings will be presented Nov. 1 at the 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.

Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis.

To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out.

Previously, Savage and his team heated the algae for times ranging from 10 to 90 minutes. They saw their best results, with about half of the algae converted to biocrude, after treating it for 10 to 40 minutes at 570 degrees.

Why are the one-minute results so much better? Savage and Faeth won't be sure until they have done more experiments, but they have some ideas.

"My guess is that the reactions that produce biocrude are actually must faster than previously thought," Savage said.

Faeth suggests that the fast heating might boost the biocrude by keeping unwanted reactions at bay.

"For example, the biocrude might decompose into substances that dissolve in water, and the fast heating rates might discourage that reaction," Faeth said.

The team points out that shorter reaction times mean that the reactors don't have to be as large.
"By reducing the reactor volume, the cost of building a biocrude production plant also decreases," Faeth said, though both she and Savage cautioned that they couldn't say for sure whether the new method is faster and cheaper until the process is further developed.

Current commercial makers of algae-based fuel first dry the algae and then extract the natural oil. But at over $20 per gallon, this fuel is a long way from the gas pump.

"Companies know that that approach is not economical, so they are looking at approaches for using wet algae, as are we," Savage said.

One of the advantages of the wet method is that it doesn't just extract the existing fat from the algae—it also breaks down proteins and carbohydrates. The minute method did this so successfully that the oil contained about 90 percent of the energy in the original algae.

"That result is near the upper bound of what is possible," Savage said.

Before biocrude can be fed into the existing refinery system for petroleum, it needs pre-refining to get rid of the extra oxygen and nitrogen atoms that abound in living things. The Savage lab also is developing better methods for this leg of biofuel production, breaking the record with a biocrude that was 97 percent carbon and hydrogen earlier this year. A paper on this work is currently under review.

Once producing biofuel from algae is economical, researchers estimate that an area the size of New Mexico could provide enough oil to match current U.S. petroleum consumption. And, unlike corn produced for ethanol—which already accounts for half that area—the algae won't need to occupy good farmland, thriving in brackish ponds instead.

The research, "The Effects of Heating Rate and Reaction Time on Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Microalgae," was funded by the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program of the National Science Foundation. The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,300+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

'Kidney on a Chip' Facilitates Safer Drug Dosing
University of Michigan researchers have used a "kidney on a chip" device to mimic the flow of medication through human kidneys and measure its effect on kidney cells.
Friday, May 06, 2016
Releasing Cancer Cells for Better Analysis
A new device developed at the University of Michigan could provide a non-invasive way to monitor the progress of an advanced cancer treatment.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Ancient Viruses Lurk in Our DNA
One whole endogenous retrovirus genome -- and bits of 17 others -- were spotted in a study of 2,500 human genomes.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Making Stem Cells 'Embryonic' Again
Research in mice shows for the first time that erasing epigenetic markers on chromatin can return stem cells to original state.
Monday, March 21, 2016
Lead Exposure Changes Gut Microbiota
Exposure to lead during early development can alter the the gut microbiota, increasing the chances for obesity in adulthood, researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health have found.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Breaking the Brain’s Garbage Disposal
The children’s ataxia gene problem turned out to be not such a big deal genetically — it was such a slight mutation that it barely changed the way the cells made the protein.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Silencing X Chromosomes
Work could lead to ways to counteract X-linked diseases in girls and women.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Precision Medicine for Penile Cancer
Defining the genomic landscape reveals similarities with other squamous cell cancers.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
New Method to Purify Water
The method sounds like a salad dressing recipe: take water, sprinkle in nanomaterials, add oil and shake.
Monday, December 14, 2015
X Chromosome Discovery Could Aid Research on Many Sex-Linked Disorders
U-M researchers find new way for RNA to regulate genetic activity.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
A New Factor in Depression?
Study in humans & rats shows more physical changes in depressed brains.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Adrenals Run Amok
Each of your kidneys wears a little yellow cap that helps keep your blood pressure in check, and much more. But in some people, it starts running amok, pumping out a hormone that sends blood pressure sky-high.
Friday, August 14, 2015
What Drives Advanced Prostate Cancer?
Large international study finds 90% have anomaly that could influence treatment.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
New Device May Shed Light on Why Cancer Cells Metastasize
Scientists from the University of Michigan think they are now a step closer to understanding why some cancer cells metastasize.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Tailor-Made Cancer Treatments? New Cell Culture Technique Paves The Way
Technique grew cells from 73% of patients in the study, more than three times as effective as previous methods.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Scientific News
Liquid Biopsies: Miracle Diagnostic or Next New Fad?
Thanks to the development of highly specific gene-amplification and sequencing technologies liquid biopsies access more biomarkers relevant to more cancers than ever before.
Connectome Map More Than Doubles Human Cortex’s Known Regions
Researchers at NIH have developed software that automatically detects the “fingerprint” of each of these areas in an individual’s brain scans.
Discovered Through ‘Big Data’ Analysis
Researchers at the SBP have identified over 100 new genetic regions that affect the immune response to cancer.
Human Stem Cells to Rapidly Generate Bone, Heart Muscle
A new study shows that combining positive and negative signals can quickly and efficiently steer stem cells down complex developmental pathways to become specialized tissues that could be used in the clinic.
New Mechanism of Tuberculosis Infection
Researchers at UTSW Medical Center have identified a new way that tuberculosis bacteria get into the body, revealing a potential therapeutic angle to explore.
New Therapeutic Targets For Small Cell Lung Cancer Identified
Researchers at UTSW Medical Center have identified a protein termed ASCL1 that is essential to the development of small cell lung cancer and that, when deleted in the lungs of mice, prevents the cancer from forming.
Eliminating Doubt in Criminal Investigations
New ASU certificate to help curb error, misunderstanding in the quest for justice.
Determination of 13 Organic Toxicants in Human Blood
Researchers have utilised liquid-liquid extraction coupling HPLC-MS/MS to identify and quantify organic toxicants in human blood.
A Novel Cell Culture Model For Forensic Biology Experiments
Researchers have developed a new cell culture model which provides an efficient research tool in forensic biology.
Rhino DNA Bank Aids Anti-Poaching Fight
At the University of Pretoria's Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at Onderstepoort, Dr Cindy Harper and her team have developed a ground-breaking technique to collect and catalogue DNA from rhinos and rhino horns.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,300+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,800+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!