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article imageAlgae from waterways could serve as a biofuel

By Tim Sandle     Apr 3, 2015 in Science
Detroit - Water-borne algal blooms from farm fertilizer runoff cause environmental pollution and potential health concerns. Scientists have a new solution: collecting up the algae to make biofuels.
The proposal is that algae could serve as a feedstock for biofuels, and the feedstock leftovers could be recycled back into farm soil nutrients. This idea was presented at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Biofuels include fuels manufactured from biomass conversion (such as plant matter or, in this case, alage.) Algae can be converted into different types of fuel, depending on the process and the part of the cells used. If the oily part of the algae biomass is extracted this can be converted into biodiesel. Whereas the carbohydrate content of algae can be fermented into bioethanol or butanol fuel.
A recent interest in algae has come from scientists based at the Western Michigan University. The idea is to treat algal blooms in wastewater and to harvest the algae as a prime biofuel source. One advantage of using algae over other biofuel starting ingredients is that algae grows two to eight times faster than similar land-based ethanol feedstocks, like corn.
The complexity is with extracting the algae from the water. For this, Lab Manager reports, the Michigan scientists have created what they are terming an “algal turf scrubber." This is connected to a pumping station to divert the algal mass to a processing plant.
As an added feature, the waste left following the biofuel’s fermentation and distillation steps is high in nutrients and carbohydrates. This "waste" material can be recycled back to farm fields for use as an organic fertilizer.
In related news, Digital Journal reported last year that duckweed, the tiny floating plant and often seen as an unwanted weed, could have an economic value as a source for biofuels.
More about Biofuel, Algae, Wastewater
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