March 18, 2008

OSU develops biodiesel from algae

USA: The Oregon State University (OSU) is working on a new process that could draw up to 60 percent oil from an algae farm, as part of a project to develop biodiesel from the world's most plentiful organism.

Assistant Professor Ganti Murthy, the lead researcher behind the project, has two small photobioreactors built to grow microscopic algae of both fresh water and salt water varieties in a closed system at the OSU Sustainable Technologies Laboratory.

The algae take about three weeks to multiply and turn the water green. The photobioreactors hold about six gallons of water and produce about 0.17 pounds of algae with each batch.

"Depending on the algae growth conditions, we can usually extract 20 to 30 percent oil from it, and up to 60 percent is possible," he said.

The primary focus of the OSU lab is to discover efficient ways to extract the oils, also called lipids, and process them into bio-diesel fuel and ethanol, with fertilizer and animal feed as co-products.

The biggest challenge, according to Murthy, is separating water from the micro algae he is testing - Chlorella and Dunaliella - which must continually be mixed with carbon dioxide and light as they grow. A combination of straining and centrifuging is the current method of extraction.

Algae is touted as a promising next generation biodiesel feedstock for its potential capacity to reduce carbon emissions. The OSU researchers said algae breeds 30 percent faster when fed with carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

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