Transforming algae into usable biofuel is the dream, and the University of Michigan has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make it a reality.
(Biofuel from algae at the University of Michigan)
U-M’s work will include determining combinations that lead to optimal performance in areas such as fuel yield and stability. Researchers have previously found that a combination of algal species performs better than any single species, capitalizing on the individual strengths of each strain.
In order to optimize the fuel’s combustion and emissions performance, researchers will look at both the biochemical properties of the algae as well as their chemical reactions in the controlled compression ignition combustion environment of the diesel engine. The biofuels will be tested in a light-duty vehicle engine and, once an optimal algae combination is determined, it will be tested in a Volvo truck engine.
Oil can be extracted from algae via mechanical means such as presses, or use of ultrasonic waves. Each approach forces oil to detach from the algae’s cell walls and be collected in a solvent. When that oil reacts with alcohol, the usable biodiesel product is separated out.
U-M’s research team uses an emerging technology called hydrothermal liquefaction to extract oil from the algae. It’s a process that simulates the pressures and temperatures that generate oil underground.