August 24, 2009

UD researchers test algae’s potential as alternative fuel

AYTON — Algae could become more than just an unsightly presence on the surfaces of ponds and streams. The tiny plant organisms have the potential to help reduce air and water pollution and serve as an alternative source of fuel.

The University of Dayton Research Institute is testing various strains of algae to find out which ones will work best for atmospheric cleanup and biofuel uses. The researchers also are trying to find the best growing conditions and the most effective ways of “milking” the algae for oil they produce, preferably without killing the organisms in the process.

The work is being done under a two-year, $980,000 contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The AFRL’s goal is to reduce the Air Force’s emission of carbon pollutants.

Algae also produce oil that can be processed into biofuel suitable for use in automobiles and aircraft. The fuel-source potential of algae could benefit the civilian sector as well, said Sukh Sidhu, a researcher leading the work by UDRI’s energy and environmental engineering division.

“This could be part of the next-generation alternative fuels,” Sidhu said. “Once you produce a fuel, anybody can use it, not just a military base.”
Algae feed on carbon dioxide to produce their oil, so they can be used to reduce carbon emissions that would otherwise wind up in the atmosphere as heat-trapping gas that can contribute to global warming. Sidhu said he has talked with a Dayton Power and Light Co. executive about involvement in the research.

Dayton Power and Light has made no decisions about whether to fund the algae-derived alternative energy work, company spokeswoman Lesley Sprigg said in an e-mail response to a reporter’s query.

A 2008 Ohio law requires utilities to gradually increase the amount of electricity produced from alternative sources.

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