Algae as a fuel /biofuel

Algae as a fuel /biofuel

Posted by saikat manna
Algae are a very large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelp (large brown alga), that may grow up to 50 meters in length. Most are photosynthetic and "simple" because they lack many of the distinct cell organelles and cell types found in land plants. The largest and most complex marine forms are called seaweeds. The lipid, or oily part of the algae biomass can then be extracted and converted into biodiesel through a process similar to that used for any other vegetable oil, or converted in a refinery into "drop-in" replacements for petroleum-based fuels. The algae's carbohydrate content can be fermented into bioethanol and biobutanol.


The U.S. Department of Energy's Aquatic Species Program, 1978–1996, focused on biodiesel from microalgae. The final report suggested that biodiesel could be the only viable method by which to produce enough fuel to replace current world diesel usage.If algae-derived biodiesel were to replace the annual global production of 1.1bn tons of conventional diesel then a land mass of 57.3 million hectares would be required, which would be highly favorable compared to other biofuels.
As they do not have to produce structural compounds such as cellulose for leaves, stems, or roots, and because they can be grown floating in a rich nutritional medium, microalgae can have faster growth rates than terrestrial crops. Also, they can convert a much higher fraction of their biomass to oil than conventional crops, e.g. 60% versus 2-3% for soybeans.The per unit area yield of oil from algae is estimated to be from between 4,700 to 18,000 m3/km2/year (1,000 to 6,500 US gallons/acre/year).This is 7 to 30 times greater than the next best crop, Chinese tallow (650 m3/km2/year, or 700 US gal/acre/year.
Studies show that some species of algae can produce up to 60% of their dry weight in the form of oil. Because the cells grow in aqueous suspension, where they have more efficient access to water, CO2 and dissolved nutrients, microalgae are capable of producing large amounts of biomass and usable oil in either high rate algal ponds or photobioreactors. This oil can then be turned into biodiesel which could be sold for use in automobiles. Regional production of microalgae and processing into biofuels will provide economic benefits to rural communities.


Butanol can be made from algae or diatoms using only a solar powered biorefinery. This fuel has an energy density 10% less than gasoline, and greater than that of either ethanol or methanol. In most gasoline engines, butanol can be used in place of gasoline with no modifications. In several tests, butanol consumption is similar to that of gasoline, and when blended with gasoline, provides better performance and corrosion resistance than that of ethanol or E85.
The green waste left over from the algae oil extraction can be used to produce butanol. In addition, it has been shown that macroalgae (seaweeds) can be fermented by Clostridria genus bacteria to butanol and other solvents.


Biogasoline is produced from biomass such as algae. Like traditionally produced gasoline, it contains between 6 (hexane) and 12 (dodecane) carbon atoms per molecule and can be used in internal-combustion engines.


Methane, the main constituent of natural gas can be produced from algae in various methods, namely Gasification, Pyrolysis and Anaerobic Digestion. In Gasification and Pyrolysis methods methane is extracted under high temperature and pressure. Anaerobic Digestion is a straight forward method involved in decomposition of algae into simple components then transforming it into fatty acids using microbes like acidific bacteria followed by removing any solid particles and finally adding methanogenic bacteria to release a gas mixture containing methane. A number of studies have successfully shown that biomass from microalgae can be converted into biogas via anaerobic digestion. Therefore, in order to improve the overall energy balance of microalgae cultivation operations, it has been proposed to recover the energy contained in waste biomass via anaerobic digestion to methane for generating electricity.


The Algenol system which is being commercialized by BioFields in Puerto Libertad, Sonora, Mexico utilizes seawater and industrial exhaust to produce ethanol.

Vegetable oil fuel

Algal-oils could potentially be used as vegetable oil fuel.

Hydrocracking to traditional transport fuels

Algae can be used to produce 'green diesel' (also known as renewable diesel, hydro-treated vegetable oil or hydrogen-derived renewable diesel) through a hydrocracking refinery process that breaks molecules down into shorter hydrocarbon chains used in diesel engines. It has the same chemical properties as petroleum-based diesel meaning that it does not require new engines, pipelines or infrastructure to distribute and use. It has yet to be produced at a cost that is competitive with petroleum.

Jet fuel

Jet fuel, airplane
Rising jet fuel prices are putting severe pressure on airline companies, creating an incentive for algal jet fuel research. The International Air Transport Association, for example, supports research, development and deployment of algal fuels. IATA's goal is for its members to be using 10% alternative fuels by 2017.
Trials have been carried with aviation biofuel by Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, and Virgin Airlines.
In February 2010, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced that the U.S. military was about to begin large-scale oil production from algal ponds into jet fuel. After extraction at a cost of $2 per gallon, the oil will be refined at less than $3 a gallon. A larger-scale refining operation, producing 50 million gallons a year, is expected to go into production in 2013, with the possibility of lower per gallon costs so that algae-based fuel would be competitive with fossil fuels. The projects, run by the companies SAIC and General Atomics, are expected to produce 1,000 gallons of oil per acre per year from algal ponds.


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