Algae biofuel is one of the most promising alternative fuels on the market – so far we’ve seen cars and even planes adapted to run on it. The main drawback thus far has been high production costs and energy usage – until now. Using a new “cost-effective harvesting method” featuring microbubbles, a team from the University of Sheffield believe they have found a way to make algae a more commercially viable fuel source.
The main problem with creating algae biofuel is removing the water from the algae so that it can be processed effectively. This usually requires a large investment of time and energy, but the UK-based team believes that by producing microbubbles in an algae solution, the algae particles can be made to float to the surface of the water, making them easily extractable.
According to lead professor Will Zimmerman, the microbubble method uses 1,000 times less energy than previous methods and can be utilized at lower costs. “We thought we had solved the major barrier to biofuel companies processing algae to use as fuel when we used microbubbles to grow the algae more densely,” Professor Zimmerman said. “It turned out, however, that algae biofuels still couldn’t be produced economically, because of the difficulty in harvesting and de-watering the algae. We had to develop a solution to this problem and once again, microbubbles provided a solution.”
A number of airlines, including Lufthansa, British Airways, United, and Virgin, are already investing in algae biofuels – and the market is expected to grow exponentially. In fact, earlier this week Etihad, national airline of the UAE, piloted the Gulf’s first biofuel-powered flight. Even the US Navy is experimenting with algae-based fuels and other biofuels.
More information of the team’s research can be found in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering.
Via Business Green
Lead Photo by U.S. Navy