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

Work Needed to Make Algal Biofuel Viable

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Last Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Cornell researchers find that more innovation is needed to make the technology economically and energetically viable at a commercial scale.

To date, researchers have struggled to determine if the nonrenewable energy it takes to make a gallon of algal biofuel will be equal to, less than or greater than the energy produced.

A Cornell study published online Dec. 13 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology has addressed that question. The work was led by Deborah Sills, a postdoctoral associate in the research groups of Charles Greene, director of the Ocean Resources and Ecosystems Program and professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and Jefferson Tester, associate director for energy at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and the Croll Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

The researchers used computer simulations to analyze uncertainties in the algal biofuel production lineup. They found that when oil is extracted from algae through thermal drying, or when the algal cultivation step has a low yield, the energy produced is less than the energy expended to produce the fuel. However, when methods that promote high algal yields are matched with wet extraction techniques -- both processes that require further technical innovation -- algal biofuels can provide a viable alternative to liquid fossil fuels, like gasoline and diesel.

Compared with land plants, algae can produce greater than 10 times more oil per acre, use nutrients more efficiently, and do not require high-quality agricultural land. Also, marine algae do not require large quantities of freshwater.

The study examines each step in the process, from growing marine-based algae to separating and refining biofuel products and by-products. A life cycle framework helped establish ranges of possible outcomes with probabilistic methods employed to characterize key variables, which the authors say is the correct approach for assessing such developing technologies.

"Our biggest contribution is pointing out how important it is to report the range of values needed for technologies that don't exist," Sills said. "There is no algae to biofuel industry yet," so no large-scale sets of data exist to judge how feasible algal biofuels can be, Sills added. "We show that improvements are needed at every single step of the process."

"We've tried to be more transparent and reflect on the inherent variability and unknown character of the processes involved," Tester said.

Values reported in previous studies, while not incorrect, represented specific case studies and often reported findings as a single value. This yielded incomplete information for making strong conclusions about the viability of algal biofuels, the researchers said.

Making biofuels from algae is a five-step process: cultivation; harvesting and dewatering; lipid (oil) extraction; lipid conversion to liquid biofuel; and creating such value added co-products as methane from bio-digesters, or animal feed from leftover carbohydrates and proteins.

While all the steps require improvements, a few of the processes fared particularly poorly, according to the study. For example, all the scenarios studied failed to reach a break-even point when algae were grown with methods that had low yields of biomass. The cultivation phase involves growing algae in large open ponds with a mixer to expose algae to the sun. Fertilizers and carbon dioxide, potentially provided from industrial sources, are needed. Algal productivity depends on species, sun exposure, temperature, competing organisms, culture densities and nutrients.

Similarly, during the lipid extraction phase, no scenario supported a dry extraction process as an energetically viable option. Thermal drying requires too much energy, with solar drying alternatives requiring space. Wet lipid extraction using water under high temperatures and pressure produced the best results, especially when coupled with growing methods that produced high biomass, though those technologies have only been tested on small scales.


Further Information
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 2,400+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,700+ 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

Tumor-suppressing Gene Lends Insight to Cancer Treatment
Researchers have found that delicate replication process derails if a gene named PTEN has mutated or is absent.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Synthetic Immune Organ Produces Antibodies
Cornell engineers have created a functional, synthetic immune organ that produces antibodies and can be controlled in the lab, completely separate from a living organism.
Friday, June 12, 2015
On Planes, Savory Tomato Becomes Favored Flavor
Study shows the effect that airplane noise has on passengers' taste preferences.
Friday, May 15, 2015
$5.5M NSF Grant Aims to Improve Rice Crops with Genome Editing
Researchers to precisely target, cut, remove and replace DNA in a living cell to improve rice.
Friday, May 08, 2015
'Shield' Gives Tricky Proteins a New Identity
Solubilization of Integral Membrane Proteins with high Levels of Expression.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
DNA Safeguard May Be Key In Cancer Treatment
Cornell researchers have developed a new technique to understand the actions of key proteins required for cancer cells to proliferate.
Monday, March 09, 2015
A ‘STAR’ is Born: Engineers Devise Genetic 'On' Switch
A new “on” switch to control gene expression has been developed by Cornell scientists.
Tuesday, February 03, 2015
Bacteria Be Gone!
New technology keeps bacteria from sticking to surfaces.
Monday, January 19, 2015
On the Environmental Trail of Food Pathogens
Learning where Listeria dwells can aid the search for other food pathogens.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Chemists Show That ALS is a Protein Aggregation Disease
Using a technique that illuminates subtle changes in individual proteins, chemistry researchers at Cornell have uncovered new insight into the underlying causes of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Genetics Used to Improve Plants for Bioenergy
An upcoming genetics investigation into the symbiotic association between soil fungi and feedstock plants for bioenergy production could lead to more efficient uptake of nutrients, which would help limit the need for expensive and polluting fertilizers.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Computer Model Reveals Cancer's Energy Source
Findings focused on the energy-making process in cancer cells known as the Warburg Effect.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
A New Player in Lipid Metabolism Discovered
Specially engineered mice gained no weight, and normal counterparts became obese on the same high-fat, obesity-inducing Western diet.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Ingested Nanoparticles May Damage Liver
Although nanoparticles in food, sunscreen and other everyday products have many benefits, researchers from Cornell are finding that at certain doses, the particles might cause human organ damage.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Foodborne Pathogen Detection Speeds Up Dramatically
Next-generation sequencing techniques allow rapidly identification of strains of salmonella, quickening responses to potential outbreaks.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Scientific News
Sorting Through Cellular Statistics
Aaron Dinner, professor in chemistry, and his graduate student Herman Gudjonson are trying to read the manual of life, DNA, as part of the Dinner group’s research into bioinformatics—the application of statistics to biological research.
Playing 'Tag' with Pollution lets Scientists See Who's It
Using a climate model that can tag sources of soot from different global regions and can track where it lands on the Tibetan Plateau, researchers have determined which areas around the plateau contribute the most soot — and where.
Women’s Immune System Genes Operate Differently from Men’s
A new technology reveals that immune system genes switch on and off differently in women and men, and the source of that variation is not primarily in the DNA.
Long Telomeres Associated with Increased Lung Cancer Risk
Genetic predisposition for long telomeres predicts increased lung adenocarcinoma risk.
First Artificial Ribosome Designed
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins and enzymes within the cell.
High-Resolution 3D Images Reveal the Muscle Mitochondrial Power Grid
NIH mouse study overturns scientific ideas on energy distribution in muscle.
Expanding the Brain
A team of researchers has identified more than 40 new “imprinted” genes, in which either the maternal or paternal copy of a gene is expressed while the other is silenced.
Identifying a Key Growth Factor in Cell Proliferation
Researchers discover that aspartate is a limiter of cell proliferation.
The Genetic Roots of Adolescent Scoliosis
Scientists at the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences in collaboration with Keio University in Japan have discovered a gene that is linked to susceptibility of Scoliosis.
A Gene-Sequence Swap Using CRISPR to Cure Haemophilia
For the first time chromosomal defects responsible for hemophilia have been corrected in patient-specific iPSCs using CRISPR-Cas9 nucleases
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
2,400+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,700+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FREE!