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Algae used to produce biodiesel from coal emissions

By Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota (Sherco Generating Station) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota (Sherco Generating Station) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) are looking for new algae-based technologies to capture power plant emissions and convert them into a range of products including biofuels and other chemicals.

“We’ve been running bioenergy experiments with algae on campus for over a decade,” said Wei Lao, associate professor of biosystems and agriculture engineering at MSU

“We’re now testing a novel technique not only to mitigate power plant emissions, but also to turn them into new sources of revenue.”

Previous research has revealed that photosynthetic green algae is capable of capturing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but this is not enough to match the output of a conventional power plant.

A 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant releases between 3,000 and 4,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each day. To match this would require thousands of acres of land to culture sufficient amounts of algae.

Liao and his team are now working to condense this process into something viable from both an energy and economic point of view. To do this, they will apply a process called “biomass cascade conversion”, according to an article on MSU Today. This process can fully optimise the components of algae for the production of high-value chemicals and biofuels.

An environmentally friendly, high efficiency carbon dioxide absorbent is a key product of cascade conversion, one which absorbs carbon dioxide at a relatively high rate and requires significantly less space. For this the reason, the MSU Today article argues that biomass cascade conversion presents significant economic benefits for the environment and the power plant.

Polyurethanes, biodiesel, and value-added chemicals and fuels suitable for a range of applications are byproducts from cascade conversion.

Liao’s team will work with PHYCO2, a California-based firm that specialises in producing algae for industrial applications, to provide the algae colony for the project. A partnership with the T.B. Simon power plant on the MSU campus meanwhile, will provide a venue to facilitate the experiment and host the team’s equipment. 

Register now for Biofuels International 2017 for two days of essential learning to network with experts, sharpen your biofuels knowledge and improve your skills, on 4-5 October.

By Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota (Sherco Generating Station) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons