Viable Algae-based Biofuel Found

Fatty acid molecules containing oil can be extracted from microorganisms growing in water bodies to power diesel engines. Organisms such as microalgae are an attractive form of biomass that can be a sustainable fuel source. Under current methods, algae consume a lot of energy in the process to turn into biocrude than the amount of energy obtained from the products. Researchers at the University of Utah have developed a rapid method to deliver cost-effective algal biocrude in large quantities using a specially designed jet mixer. This jet mixer extracts the lipids with much less energy than the older extraction methods. With this discovery, a viable and cost-effective alternative fuel can be produced by lipid extraction in seconds, according to details published in Chemical Engineering Science X.

Currently, in order to extract oil-rich lipids from algae, scientists remove water from the algae first, leaving either a slurry or dry powder of the biomass, which is the most energy-intensive part of the process. That residue is then mixed with a solvent where the lipids are separated from the biomass. The residue is a precursor, used to produce algae-based biofuels. That fuel is then mixed with diesel fuel to power long-haul trucks, tractors and other large diesel-powered machinery. But as it requires so much energy to extract water from the plants at the beginning of the process, turning algae into biofuel has not been a practical, efficient or economical process.

The researchers at the University of Utah managed to reduce energy required in the algae-based biofuel production through the jet mixer they developed. “This technology could also be applied beyond algae and include a variety of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, or any microbial-derived oil”, says Swomitra Kumar Mohanty, co-author of the paper.