Microbubbles provide new boost for biofuel production

Jan 26, 2012

The technique builds on previous research in which microbubbles were used to improve the way algae is cultivated.

Algae produce an oil which can be processed to create a useful . Biofuels, made from , are considered an important alternative to fossil fuels and , in particular, has the potential to be a very efficient biofuel producer. Until now, however, there has been no cost-effective method of harvesting and removing the water from the algae for it to be processed effectively.

Now, a team led by Professor Will Zimmerman in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Sheffield, believe they have solved the problem. They have developed an inexpensive way of producing microbubbles that can float algae to the surface of the water, making harvesting easier, and saving biofuel-producing companies time and money. The research is set to be published in on 26 January 2012.

Professor Zimmerman and his team won the Moulton Medal, from the Institute of , for their earlier work which used the microbubble technology to improve algae production methods, allowing producers to grow more rapidly and more densely.

"We thought we had solved the major barrier to biofuel companies processing algae to use as fuel when we used microbubbles to grow the algae more densely," explains Professor Zimmerman.

"It turned out, however, that algae biofuels still couldn't be produced economically, because of the difficulty in harvesting and dewatering the algae. We had to develop a solution to this problem and once again, microbubbles provided a solution."

Microbubbles have been used for flotation before: water purification companies use the process to float out , but it hasn't been done in this context, partly because previous methods have been very expensive.

The system developed by Professor Zimmerman's team uses up to 1000 times less energy to produce the microbubbles and, in addition, the cost of installing the Sheffield microbubble system is predicted to be much less than existing flotation systems.

The next step in the project is to develop a pilot plant to test the system at an industrial scale. Professor Zimmerman is already working with Tata Steel at their site in Scunthorpe using CO2 from their flue-gas stacks and plans to continue this partnership to test the new system.

Dr. Bruce Adderley, Manager of Climate Change Breakthrough Technology at Tata, said, "Professor Zimmerman's microbubble-based technologies are exactly the kind of step-change innovations that we are seeking as a means to address our emissions in the longer term, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to extend our relationship with Will and his team in the next phase of this pioneering research."

Explore further: Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

More information: The paper, entitled "Microflotation Performance for Algal Separation", by James Hanotu, HC Hemaka Bandulasena, William B Zimmerman is published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering on 26 January 2012.

Related Stories

Scientists' breakthrough in production of biofuels

Jan 07, 2010

A team of scientists from the University of Sheffield have scooped an international award in recognition of their work on an innovative device which will make the production of alternative biofuels more energy efficient.

Algae-Based Biofuel From Fish

Sep 01, 2009

Right now, when biofuel is produced using algae, cultures are grown and then processed into fuel. But the process is expensive and difficult. Now a company in Texas, LiveFuels, Inc., hopes that it will be ...

Pilot plant cleans waste water and creates fuel

Sep 16, 2011

A new industrial plant that uses algae to clean waste water has opened in Gloucestershire, run by scientists from the University’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry, and environmental innovation ...

Clean algae biofuel project leads world in productivity

Nov 04, 2009

Australian scientists are achieving the world's best production rates of oil from algae grown in open saline ponds, taking them a step closer to creating commercial quantities of clean biofuel for the future.

Recommended for you

Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

Nov 21, 2014

Worldwide, drought conditions, extreme temperatures, and high soil saline content all have negative effects on tomato crops. These natural processes reduce soil nutrient content and lifespan, result in reduced plant growth ...

Plant immunity comes at a price

Nov 21, 2014

Plants are under permanent attack by a multitude of pathogens. To win the battle against fungi, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, they have developed a complex and effective immune system. And just as ...

Evolution: The genetic connivances of digits and genitals

Nov 20, 2014

During the development of mammals, the growth and organization of digits are orchestrated by Hox genes, which are activated very early in precise regions of the embryo. These "architect genes" are themselves regulated by ...

Surrogate sushi: Japan biotech for bluefin tuna

Nov 20, 2014

Of all the overfished fish in the seas, luscious, fatty bluefin tuna are among the most threatened. Marine scientist Goro Yamazaki, who is known in this seaside community as "Young Mr. Fish," is working to ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.