May 13, 2008

Ateneo prof offers other biofuel source: Algae

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:37:00 05/09/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Amid the skyrocketing price of oil, the government can tap another potential source of biofuel—algae.

Algae can be a source of biodiesel, and there is a sufficient volume of algae in the country’s waters to meet the demand for oil, Dr. Teresita Perez of the Ateneo de Manila University said Thursday.

Perez, chair of Ateneo’s Department of Environmental Science, said that algae or seaweeds, known locally as “lumot,” produce kerogen, a type of petroleum or oil.

“The oil that is being mined off shore is mainly produced by the diatoms in the ocean. Diatoms are a kind of algae. They’re also called phytoplankton and majority of them exist in unicellular forms,” she said in a statement.

When millions and millions of these phytoplanktons decompose, their stored food in the form of oil actually goes down to the sea floor and is embedded in the sediments, the professor said.

“It’s this algae that is contributing to the ‘oil depot’ in the marine environment,” she said.

Perez, who is doing a study on the use of algae as feedstock for biofuel, said that algal oil as an alternative biodiesel was not new among energy scientists. She said Israel has been doing work on this.

The professor said that algae in unicellular form could yield “between 40 percent and 50 percent oil when manipulated.”

Manipulation of the medium involves altering the ratio of the major nutrients to enhance oil production in the cells, she said.

She said that at least 1,000 to 10,000 gallons of algae could produce a liter of biodiesel. She said that her team had isolated species of algae that could produce this.

Conducive to RP

Perez also said the country’s rich biodiversity was conducive to algal research. She said that algae could grow practically in any water body, and can thrive even in drainage canals.

Perez said that she and her team were looking at ways to propagate algae without using chemicals as fertilizer. She said that chicken manure or hog waste, and fresh water lakes could be a source of alternative growth medium.

No conflict with food security

“Algal mass production will not conflict with food security. At the same time, an integrated setup can be done in such a way that the carbon dioxide as a product of aerobic decomposition can be utilized to enhance the growth of the algal species,” Perez said.

“At the same time, since the alga is also a rich source of proteins and carbohydrates, upon extraction of oil, the algae can still be utilized as food for livestock or fish,” she added.

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