Fuel from algae
FOR YEARS scientists have been searching for ways to make fuel out of algae, and now they have succeeded. It is an economical process that has up to now eluded most researchers. At the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, a team of researchers from Yale University in America presented a breakthrough toward a long-sought viable process, which turns algae into biodiesel.
The new process extracts fatty molecules from algae, which are called lipids, and transforms them into usable fuel in a single process. The process makes biodiesel from algae much cheaper, faster and greener than current multistep methods that require separate stages and chemicals. The reaction involves supercritical carbon dioxide, which at elevated pressures and temperatures fills its container like a gas but is as dense as a liquid.
Algae have great promise as a next-generation biofuel, which is a fuel that is sustainable and renewable. It has more oil per pound than corn and soybeans, and does not divert crops from the food supply and can potentially be grown in sewage water and seawater without impacting the freshwater supply.
Supercritical carbon dioxide is used in a number of commercial and industrial processes, from decaffeinating coffee to a greener process for dry cleaning clothing. The process developed by Yale University is nontoxic, which makes it an attractive alternative to some of the harsher, potentially toxic chemicals used in existing algae-to-biofuel technologies.
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