Pressure Cooking Algae Could Make Biofuel

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University of Michigan researchers are studying a way to use pressure cooking to convert microalgae into carbon-neutral biofuels. Microalgae are a potential plant source of biofuel because they are easier to breakdown chemically.  Conventional methods require using  oilier algaes and drying them before conversion. But the Michigan researchers are investigating a process using a microalgae soup which is heated to 300 degrees and then cooked for 30-60 minutes to produce crude biofuel. 

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Professor Phillip Savage explained, “That’s one of the things that makes this project novel. It’s an integrated process. We’re combining hydrothermal, catalytic and biological approaches”.

Algae is not the only material they could use if the research proves successful. The could use any ‘wet biomass’. The are also examining the possibility of using E. Coli bacteria as a source. Also under consideration is looking at reducing sulfur and nitrogen from their fuel products. Attempts are being made to recyle any waste products from their conversion process back into the production stream.

Being able to produce biofuels domestically would be a boon to the national economy, in addition to creating jobs and reducing air pollution. One wonders if it would ever be possible to make a useable biofuel at home with a personal kit. If that were possible some farmers might have the potential to grow microalgae and produce biofuel rather than cash crops.

In the late 1970’s algae was researched in the US as an alternative source of fuel. Several thousand types were tested and the conclusion was that algae could be a viable source of biofuel. (Half of the weight of alage is lipid oil).

The research team is seven people from various departments including environmental and biomedical engineering.

Image Credit: Richard Bartz

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Jake Richardson

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