Researchers Develop a Technique that Could Advance Biofuels

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 - 00:52

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a way of growing algae and make them more viable for several industries, including biofuels.

According to Science Daily, researchers are interested in producing algae efficiently because of its potential environmental benefits. Oil from algae can be used as a petroleum alternative and algae also can be used as food, feed, fiber, fertilizer, pigments and pharmaceuticals.

Researchers Sandra Rincon, graduate student, and her advisor, Haluk Beyenal, professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering developed a unique biofilm reactor that recycles gasses and uses less water and lower light than typical reactors.

The algae produced were full of the fats that make them suitable for biodiesel production and "fatter" than other biofilm reactors have produced. Because of a removable membrane, it was also easier to harvest than typical systems.

The system is unique because it allows the algae to simultaneously do photosynthesis like a plant while also "eating" carbon and respiring like an animal, said Beyenal. The researchers fed the algae glycerol, a cheap waste product of biodiesel production, and urea, another inexpensive chemical that serves as a nitrogen source for the algae. The system's design means that carbon dioxide and oxygen are recycled in the system.

The researchers have filed a patent application on the technology and are working to optimize the process. Funded through a Fulbright fellowship, the research is in keeping with WSU's Grand Challenges, a suite of research initiatives aimed at large societal issues. It is particularly relevant to the challenge of meeting energy needs while protecting the environment.

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