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Innovative NREL Refining Process to Boost Global Algae Fuel Market

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Published on : Feb 11, 2016

Algae can be converted into different kinds of fuels, based on the part of the cell and technique used for conversion. Algae can be used to make bio-butanol, biodiesel, jet fuel, and methane. Micro algae are capable of producing a huge amount of usable oil and biomass in bio reactors and the algal ponds. One of the key trend driving the global algae fuel market is innovation.

Recently, scientists at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a new bio refinery process, which is proven to be the more effective at creating ethanol from algae as compared to previous research. Here are the details of this technology.

Research Prior to Novel CAP Approach

This process is called Combined Algal Processing (CAP). Details of this process are available in an NREL’s paper, published in the journal Algal Research. This research is based on the previous work done at NREL. In this work, researchers examined two potentially promising strains of algae, called Scenedesmus and Chlorella. These strains were examined to determine their applicability as bio products and biofuel producers. The research concluded that the strain Scenedesmus performed better in the process and recorded impressive total fuel yields of worth 97 gallons gasoline equivalents each ton of biomass.

Combining CAP and Scenedesmus to Drive Lipids Recovery

Using the CAP process and Scenedesmus, researchers at NREL were able to recover around 82 to 87 per cent of the lipids, even post ethanol’s fermentation and distillation. This indicates that the initial fermentation and distillation of sugars present in the pretreated biomass slurry does not significantly impede lipid recovery.

Furthermore, these results have led researchers to conclude that the innovative CAP process is able to reduce the cost of algal biofuel production by approximately US$10/GGE as compared to the lipids only process, which cuts down the modeled cost to US$9.91/GGE. Although this is as low enough to compete with petroleum, this novel approach can be combined with reduced costs for biomass production to offer a path forward. This research was funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.