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Biodiesel produced from wastewater microalgae

By Lucy Brake - 20 Feb 2011 10:4:0 GMT
Biodiesel produced from wastewater microalgae

Scientists have developed a way to extract a new kind of biodiesel from microalgae

Researchers based at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) are excited by the possibilities that they have been able to produce biofuel from microalgae that is already being used in wastewater treatment plants to consume phosphates and nitrates in wastewater and reduce the toxins and bacteria in the water.

They have worked out that once the microalgae have been through the treatment system and purified the wastewater then it can potentially be used to run construction vehicles, buses and farm equipment.

One of the benefits of biodiesel that has been made from algae as opposed to ethanol made from corn is that microalgae are much cheaper and more efficient to produce, there is less land area that is needed to grow the algae and they are already being used for wastewater treatment. Algae, in contrast to corn, only needs water (in a pond or a tank), carbon dioxide and sunlight to grow. Additionally, they are much faster to develop and easier to work with.

One of the biggest drawbacks with biodiesel fuel is that it can struggle when faced with cold weather and temperatures. Jeff Lodge, associate professor of biological sciences at RIT who has been leading the research says they may have found the solution with the microalgae biodiesel: ''It's possible to blend various types of biodiesel, algae derived with soybeans or some other type, to generate a biodiesel with a more favourable pour point that flows easily''. This would resolve one of the main problems for vehicles using biofuels.

The research team at RIT has been growing a strain of algae in wastewater from a treatment plant in New York and isolating the fats that are produced by algae to extract small amounts of biodiesel. The study has now progressed to look at much larger batches and trials as well as working with mechanical engineers to check the viability of the biodiesel produced.

Biofuel made from algae will help to bridge the gap between producing renewable sources of fuel which is both cost efficiencies and minimises the area of land needed.