Technology strikes a chord with algal biofuels

Sep 03, 2009

An award-winning Los Alamos National Laboratory sound-wave technology is helping Solix Biofuels, Inc. optimize production of algae-based fuel in a cost-effective, scalable, and environmentally benign fashion—paving the way to lowering the carbon footprint of biofuel production.

Algae innards contain a high concentration of lipids, or oils. These lipids can be extracted by a relatively simple chemical process and concentrated into "biocrude" -- or "green gold" -- an alternative to that can be refined into biodiesel, , or even .

Acoustic-focusing—the novel use of sound waves at the heart of the Los Alamos Acoustic Flow Cytometer, a 2007 R&D100 Award-winning technology—is being harnessed and commercialized in partnership with Solix to harvest for fuel. The work is part of a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) between the Laboratory and Solix.

In order to turn algae into transportation fuel, the tiny plant-like organisms first must be separated from their watery home and the growth medium used to sustain them. Current methods rely on giant centrifuges to separate liquids from algae solids. Centrifuges take a lot of power to operate, raising production costs and increasing the process' overall carbon use. Moreover, standard fuel-conversion methods extract lipids from the algae using solvents that are potentially hazardous to humans and the environment, and costly to dispose of.

Thanks to use of Los Alamos's acoustic-focusing technology, the algae-water-growth-medium mixture is subjected to ultrasonic fields that concentrate the algal cells into a dense sludge. This combined separation and concentration method uses hundreds of times less power than centrifuges. The Lab's extraction and fractionation technique also avoids the need for costly, hazardous solvents.

Under the CRADA, Los Alamos bioscientist Greg Goddard and Solix's cofounder and chief technology officer, Bryan Willson—an engineering professor at Colorado State University and founder of the university's Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory—will develop by year end a working extraction prototype using the licensed acoustic-focusing technology at Solix headquarters in Fort Collins, Colorado. The technology then will be deployed to Solix's Coyote Gulch Demonstration Facility near Durango, Colorado, for real-world production of lower-cost biofuel.

Los Alamos and Solix's work in the biofuels arena makes both entities members of the 2009 National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB). The Alliance is a consortium of government, university, and private-sector organizations working to forge the technical foundation for a scalable, responsible, and renewable biofuels industry.

Creation of the Alliance was born of the urgent need to develop renewable and sustainable sources of transportation fuels in a manner that minimizes emissions of "greenhouse gasses" such as carbon dioxide, uses a relatively small amount of land, is frugal with energy, and conserves water. The Alliance will develop new technologies and processes to support widespread commercialization of algae-based fuels and useful byproducts.

Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory (news : web)

Explore further: Researchers find way to turn sawdust into gasoline

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Algae jet fuel makes splash at international air show

Aug 11, 2008

Researchers Qiang Hu and Milton Sommerfeld from ASU’s Department of Applied Biosciences recently flew to London to share their findings and research on the application of algae-based oils for creating biofuels ...

Synthetic Fuel Concept to Steal CO2 From Air

Feb 13, 2008

Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed a low-risk, transformational concept, called Green Freedom™, for large-scale production of carbon-neutral, sulfur-free fuels and organic chemicals from air and water.

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 ...

Plasma assisted engines fuel efficient, cleaner

Aug 30, 2006

Gasoline, diesel, and turbine engines could soon burn cleaner or be more fuel efficient through the application of Plasma Assisted Combustion, a technology originated and developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and now ...

Recommended for you

Are electric cars greener? Depends on where you live

8 hours ago

Long thought a thing of the future, electric cars are becoming mainstream. Sales in the United States of plug-in, electric vehicles nearly doubled last year. Credible forecasts see the number rising within ...

Building a better battery

10 hours ago

Imagine an electric car with the range of a Tesla Model S - 265 miles - but at one-fifth the $70,000 price of the luxury sedan. Or a battery able to provide many times more energy than today's technology ...

Researchers find way to turn sawdust into gasoline

14 hours ago

Researchers at KU Leuven's Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis have successfully converted sawdust into building blocks for gasoline. Using a new chemical process, they were able to convert the cellulose ...

Nanodot team aims to charge phones in less than a minute

19 hours ago

The world of smartphone users, which is a very large base indeed, is ripe for better battery solutions and an Israel-based company has an attractive solution in store, in the form of nanodot batteries that ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
1 / 5 (1) Sep 03, 2009
same old 50 yr algae problem - algae that has to be destroyed (with large energy input and massive waste problems) to get to the veggy oil inside.
Do a plant patent search for Ninsei - an algae the EXUDES bio-petroleum as it grows - most of it's photosynthetic energy going into the hydrocarbon production. It is resistant to high zinc media and UVc, both used for culture sterilization.

In spite of 30+ yrs of hype about vegetable oil producing algae supplying a cost effective replacement for foreign oil (as biodiesel), Ninsei is the ONLY algae that is capable of producing a cost effective liquid biofuel (as gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel).
Geek
not rated yet Sep 03, 2009
Sounds really awesome. My only concern is how this might affect marine life that relies on sonar/echolocation for navigation.
poi
not rated yet Sep 03, 2009
My only concern is how this might affect marine life that relies on sonar/echolocation for navigation.

Who says they're going to do it in the sea?

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.