A team of chemical engineers at the University of Arkansas has developed a way to convert common algae into butanol—a renewable fuel for combustible engines.
“We can make cars go,” said Jamie Hestekin, assistant professor and leader of the project. “Our conversion process is efficient and inexpensive. Butanol has many advantages compared to ethanol, but the coolest thing about this process is that we’re actually making rivers and lakes healthier by growing and harvesting the raw material.”
Hestekin’s team is currently working with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to grow algae for biofuel at the Rockaway Wastewater Treatment Plant in Queens. Algae live on nitrogen, phosphous, carbon dioxide and natural sunlight. To effectively grow the algae, researchers run nitrogen and phosphorus-rich creek water over the surface of troughs, then harvest the algae every five to eight days by vacuuming or scraping. By extracting and treating carbohydrates from the plant cells with acid, the researchers can convert the carbohydrates into simple sugars and then organic acids through fermentation. To finalize the process, the organic acid butyric is isolated and converted through electrodeionization into butanol. The advantages of butanol compared to ethanol are many. Butanol is converted easily and therefore, less expensive. It releases more energy per unit mass, can be mixed in higher concentrations, and is less corrosive than ethanol. Its source—algae—is not in demand on the food market, and can be grown almost anywhere. Along with being a renewable source of fuel for cars, creating butanol from algae also helps clean rivers and lakes by removing excess nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer runoff.
Gracias 2 ~University of Arkansas~