Research into the composition of algae biofuel finds little in common with oil

Scientists in Russia have used high-resolution mass spectrometry to determine the composition of a biofuel obtained from the microalgae Spirulina platensis.

Two biofuel fractions obtained using a special algal mass treatment method were studied, allowing the researchers to prove algae biofuel has little in common with oil in terms of composition. Published in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry, the research from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) determined that the composition was similar to “brilliant green” antiseptic commonly sold in Eastern Europe.

‘Third generation’ biofuels produced from algae are increasingly being seen as a solution to fossil fuel dependence and global warming, leading to substantial research on their development. Unlike ‘first generation’ biofuels produced from feedstocks such as corn, algae fuels need neither pure water nor fertile land to grow – meaning they wouldn’t lead to conflicts over land use.

The team from MITP claim that acquiring more information on the composition of algae biofuels will help improve their production. Algae biofuel is usually produced through a process known as hydrothermal liquefaction, where wet biomass is heated to 300 degrees Celsius and then compressed at a pressure of 200 atmospheres.

Professor Evgeny Nikolaev of Skoltech, who is a corresponding member of RAS and the head of the Ion and Molecular Physics Laboratory at MIPT, said: “The investigation of hydrothermal liquefaction products of microalgae by means of mass spectrometry is important for increasing the efficiency of biofuel production.

“Further work needs to be focused on the application of algae varieties with the highest possible lipid content and growth rate and the creation of such varieties using genetic modification methods. This will allow us to find the most effective raw material for biofuels.”