August 21, 2009

Rose researchers successful in extracting biodiesel from algae

TERRE HAUTE Faculty and student chemistry and applied biology researchers at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology have successfully extracted biodiesel from algae — a significant stage in an unique project that will eventually use native algae from a campus pond to produce fuel for diesel engines to test power, torque and emissions.

The research project has been conducted this summer at Rose-Hulman Ventures through the Department of Applied Biology and Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Quantum Development Corporation helped initiate the project with a $40,000 donation.

Algae-based biodiesel has significant advantages, according to Michael Mueller, head of Rose-Hulman’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He has conducted extensive research on biodiesel during the past two summers.

Fifty gallons of biodiesel can be produced per acre of soybeans once per year. Conversely, algae can be grown year round, is not a competing food source and 50 gallons of biodiesel can be obtained from 50,000 gallons of algae-rich water.

“In terms of a two-foot deep pond, this would require an area half that required by soybeans and can be harvested almost daily,” Mueller cited.

Algae being used by Rose-Hulman researchers have a lipid content on the order of 40 percent by weight.

“We have been successful in obtaining very close to 100 percent of those lipids to make biodiesel. This is a significant achievement,” Mueller said.

Future projects will involve using native algae in the pond at Rose-Hulman’s South Campus, off Indiana 46, for fuel that will be used in diesel engines tests.

Joining Mueller in the project are Ric Anthony, associate professor of applied biology and biomedical engineering; and Peter Coppinger, assistant professor of applied biology and biomedical engineering. Students participating are Tony Pierce, senior chemistry major; Haocheng (James) Zhou, senior applied biology and biomedical engineering major; Liz Malola, junior chemical engineering major; and Suzanne Kissel, junior chemistry major.

Quantum Development Corporation has been pleased with the research project results and is considering erecting a new greenhouse on the South Campus to assist growing other forms of algae.

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