Innovations

U. of M. Develops One-Minute Oil Change

November 1, 2012
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Phil Savage, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, has been”pressure cooking” algae for oil.

Phil Savage, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, has been”pressure cooking” algae for oil.

University of Michigan engineering researchers have demonstrated that they can “pressure-cook” algae for as little as a minute and transform 65 percent of the biomass into biocrude. The findings were presented Nov. 1 at the 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA.

“We’re trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms,” said Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor, and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan. Savage’s organism of choice is Nannochloropsis.

To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage’s lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae’s temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out.

Previously, Savage and his team heated the algae for times ranging from 10 to 90 minutes. They saw their best results, with about half of the algae converted to biocrude, after treating it for 10 to 40 minutes at 570 degrees.

Why are the one-minute results so much better? Savage and Faeth won’t be sure until they have done more experiments, but they have some ideas. “My guess is that the reactions that produce biocrude are actually much faster than previously thought,” Savage said.

Faeth suggests that the fast heating might boost the biocrude by keeping unwanted reactions at bay. “For example, the biocrude might decompose into substances that dissolve in water, and the fast heating rates might discourage that reaction,” Faeth said.

The team points out that shorter reaction times mean that the reactors don’t have to be as large. “By reducing the reactor volume, the cost of building a biocrude production plant also decreases,” Faeth said, though both she and Savage cautioned that they couldn’t say for sure whether the new method is faster and cheaper until the process is further developed.

One of the advantages of the wet method is that it doesn’t just extract the existing fat from the algae – it also breaks down proteins and carbohydrates. The minute method did this so successfully that the oil contained about 90 percent of the energy in the original algae. “That result is near the upper bound of what is possible,” Savage said.

Before biocrude can be fed into the existing refinery system for petroleum, it needs pre-refining to get rid of the extra oxygen and nitrogen atoms that abound in living things. The Savage lab also is developing better methods for this leg of biofuel production, with a biocrude that was 97 percent carbon and hydrogen earlier this year. A paper on this work is currently under review.

The research, “The Effects of Heating Rate and Reaction Time on Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Microalgae,” was funded by the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program of the National Science Foundation. The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

More Like This…

HOME Algae Industry Jobs

Copyright ©2010-2012 AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article in its entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact editorial@algaeindustrymagazine.com. A.I.M. accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

From The A.I.M. Archives

— Refresh Page for More Choices
The Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) released the following statement calling on the EPA to include Carbon Capture and Utilization strategies in rules proposed June 2, 20...
Four years after the first optimistic calculations, the experimental cultivation of algae at Wageningen University in the Netherlands appears to be meeting expectations. ...
Kazuaki Nagata reports from Japan that while the Fukushima nuclear disaster has prompted vigorous discussion about alternative energy in Japan, there is a lack of a paral...
Jamie Radford writes in the Illawarra Mercury that Pia Winberg, from the University of Wollongong, believes that the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia (NSW) is in...
Starting in the early 70s, agencies in the former USSR invested more than 20,000 person-years of research and development to produce Bio-Algae Concentrates (BAC) that hel...
Biofuels derived from the oils produced by algae may offer a low-cost sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. To achieve this goal, optimization of cost effective strate...
Following a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) was recently asked t...
Channelnewsasia.com reports on three young Spaniards who harvest seaweed, a culinary delicacy, as a way for them to stay out of Spain’s troubled financial waters. 35-year...
Bookending the upcoming Algae Biomass Summit, Sept. 29-Oct.2 in San Diego, will be industry tours to give attendees a first-hand look at the latest progress in technical ...
Expanding from its initial work in algal biofuels, General Atomic’s (GA’s) Advanced Biological Processes team has focused on the rising need for food globally, specifical...
Oregon State University researchers are combining diatoms, a type of single-celled photosynthetic algae, with nanoparticles to create a sensor capable of detecting minisc...
Portuguese cement facility, Secil, and microalgae biotechnology company, A4F, also based in Portugal, have formed AlgaFarm, a joint venture to develop the use of cement f...
Arizona is taking advantage of its open land and ample sunshine to assume a leadership position in the algae biofuel field. The state is home to two national algae testbe...
Solazyme, Inc. and Versalis, the chemical subsidiary of Eni S.p.A., one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, today announced a partnership to expand the commerci...
Hortidaily.com reports that in Nevele, Belgium, Tomalgae is growing algae in a former tomato greenhouse. Their company was formed when tomato cultivation entrepreneurs Pi...
On September 25, 2014, a photobioreactor for the cultivation of algae was officially unveiled during a seminar at Thomas More University College in Mechelen, Belgium. Und...
Iran-based Qeshm Microalgae Biorefinery Co. (QMAB) has launched a biofuel being marketed as BAYA®, produced from a species of Nannochloropsis (strain 6016) isolated from ...
In October 2014 an unusual AlgaePARC research paper entitled Design and construction of the microalgal pilot facility AlgaePARC was published in the Journal of Algal Rese...