Algae Fuel Production
Algae fuel or algal biofuel is an alternative to liquid fossil fuels that uses algae as its source of energy-rich oils. Several companies and government agencies are funding efforts to reduce capital and operating costs and make algae fuel production commercially viable. Like fossil fuel, algae fuel releases CO2 when burnt, but unlike fossil fuel, algae fuel and other biofuels only release CO2 recently removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis as the algae or plant grew. The energy crisis and the world food crisis have ignited interest in algaculture (farming algae) for making biodiesel and other biofuels using land unsuitable for agriculture. Among algal fuels' attractive characteristics are that they can be grown with minimal impact on fresh water resources, can be produced using saline and wastewater, have a high flash point, and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled. Algae cost more per unit mass than other second-generation biofuel crops due to high capital and operating costs, but are claimed to yield between 10 and 100 times more fuel per unit area. The United States Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles (39,000 km2), which is only 0.42% of the U.S. map, or about half of the land area of Maine. This is less than 1⁄7 the area of corn harvested in the United States in 2000.
After harvesting the algae, the biomass is typically processed in a series of steps, which can differ based on the species and desired product; this is an active area of research.
Often, the algae is dehydrated, and then a solvent such as hexane is used to extract energy-rich compounds like triglycerides from the dried material. Then, the extracted compounds can be processed into fuel using standard industrial procedures. For example, the extracted triglycerides are reacted with methanol to create biodiesel via transesterification. The unique composition of fatty acids of each species influences the quality of the resulting biodiesel and thus must be taken into account when selecting algal species for feedstock.
An alternative approach called Hydrothermal liquefaction employs a continuous process that subjects harvested wet algae to high temperatures and pressures—350 °C (662 °F) and 3,000 pounds per square inch (21,000 kPa).
Products include crude oil, which can be further refined into aviation fuel, gasoline, or diesel fuel. The test process converted between 50 and 70 percent of the algae’s carbon into fuel. Other outputs include clean water, fuel gas and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae_fuel
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